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Maple Leafs Notebook: Liljegren Pushing for Opening Night Spot

Now in his fifth year in the organization, Timothy Liljegren is making a hard push to become an everyday NHL player.

GRAVENHURST, Ont. -- A total of 13 NHL games over two years definitely falls into the 'under' category for a first-round draft pick from 2017 but that's where defenseman Timothy Liljegren finds himself at this stage of his career.

Presented with a good chance to compete for a bottom-pair role with the Toronto Maple Leafs on a regular basis, the Swedish player knows this is the time where he has to make things happen.

"I'm going into my fifth year now," Liljegren said two weeks ago. "I need to get things done."

After shedding their roster over the last couple of days, the Maple Leafs practiced as one group for the first time at training camp on Thursday. Liljegren found himself skating on the right side of fellow Swede Rasmus Sandin as the third defense pair. The odd man out appeared to be Travis Dermott, who occupied that role for most of last season.

Dermott was a last-minute scratch with a calf injury for the team's pre-season game against the Ottawa Senators on Monday. Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe indicated that they were thinking about possibly putting him into both Monday and Tuesday games before the injury took place. 

Dermott skated with Alex Biega as the extra pair.

"Lily's an important guy for us in the organization and we've said that for a long time and I'm happy how he's progressed," Keefe said of Liljegren.

Of his 13 NHL games, 11 of them came during the 2019-20 season when Liljegren was called up to fill the void for an injured Morgan Rielly. He recorded just one assist in that span and mustered a 44 percent Corsi possession rating.

In the 2020-21 season, the Leafs were freakishly healthy on the back end and Liljegren played just two regular-season games. He scored two goals and had nine assists in 21 games with the Toronto Marlies.

"I was happy with the way I played with the Marlies," Liljegren said. "I feel like I'm ready for the next step."

Aiding in Liljegren's chances to get more playing time is the choice the Maple Leafs made in the off-season not to add a veteran defensive free-agent signing like they had in Zach Bogosian.

That leaves the door open for Sandin, Lilegren and Dermott to get a regular rotation on the bottom pair.

"I think it's pretty well established who our top-four guys are," Keefe said of his defense. "It's been very clear that there's a healthy competition happening."

Nylander back in Toronto

William Nylander stayed in Toronto as he was not permitted to join the team because he's not fully vaccinated according to the team. He has received his second shot but has not cleared the two-week threshold to be considered fully vaccinated and permitted into the arena in Gravenhurst.

With Nylander out, Ondrej Kase moved up to the second line to skate with John Tavares and Ilya Mikheyev.

"I think Kase has shown really well," Tavares said of Kase's training camp. "He's extremely talented, obviously has had really good success in the league. and just very crafty. Thinks the game really well and I think he's only continuing to feel more and more comfortable."

Keefe has been high on Kase's play throughout camp, saying he could compete for a top-six and be a player that can move up and down the lineup.

Matthews going to Olympics, Wrist Update

Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews was one of the first three players named to Team USA's Olympic team for 2022.

"It's been a bit since the US kind of sat on that podium at the top so hopefully we can obviously change that," Matthews said.

Forward Patrick Kane and defenseman Seth Jones were the other players named to the roster.

Matthews was a full participant in practice on Thursday. He underwent wrist surgery on Aug. 13 and how shown steady signs of progress in his recovery.

"He's had no setbacks, continued to push, "Keefe said of Matthews. "Today's would have been by far the longest session that he's had, was there right to the end. I saw him doing a little bit extra himself afterward and getting some extra shots off so all that's very positive"

Matthews said it would be "cutting it close" to be in the lineup in time for the team's last preseason game on Saturday. Earlier this week, Matthews said he was "hoping for that first game" of the regular season for his return.

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