The Toronto Maple Leafs have demoted 2013 first rounder Frederik Gauthier to the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League. The 21-year-old center was called up to replace forward Ben Smith, who suffered a hand injury in mid-December and scored two goals and one assist in 18 games.
Gauthier showed promise replacing Smith on penalty killing unit, used his size effectively on the fourth line with Matt Martin and Nikita Soshnikov and appeared to be able to keep up with the pace of the NHL, which did not appear to be the case in a seven-game stint last March.
After signing with Colorado last summer, Smith was reacquired by Toronto on October 24 after being placed on waivers and has two goals and one assist in 24 games. His return provides head coach Mike Babcock with a secondary option on draws after Tyler Bozak, who leads the team with a 56.4% face-off winning percentage.
Smith is second on the club at 53.2%, while Gauthier is third at 51.2.
Another possible motivation for the move is the Leafs being able to meet the minimum requirements for exposing players for expansion this June. Each team has to expose two forwards and one defenseman who have played 40 games this season or 70 combined games in the last two seasons.
Smith has played 28 games and only needs to play 12 more to meet the 40-game plateau, but that would also entail Toronto re-signing the unrestricted free agent before the Expansion Draft.
Toronto plays in their second game of a four-game post All-Star road trip against the Blues in St.Louis on Thursday.
Blues GM Doug Armstrong fired head coach Ken Hitchcock and replaced him with associate coach Mike Yeo, who was supposed to take over for the Stanley Cup winning bench boss after the season. St. Louis made it to the Western Conference Final last season, but lost David Backes, Steve Ott and Troy Brouwer to free agency and traded veteran goalie Brian Elliott to Calgary.
The Blues went 4-9-0 last month and are two points out of a wild card spot.
Babcock shook up his line combinations at practice in St. Louis on Wednesday and went with the same combinations at Thursday’s morning skate. Nazem Kadri lined up between James van Riemsdyk and Mitch Marner, Tyler Bozak skated with Leo Komarov and Connor Brown, William Nylander and Zach Hyman with Auston Matthews and Smith was reunited with Martin and Soshnikov.
The status of Morgan Rielly was not clarified at the morning skate. The defenseman once again skated with Frank Corrado and Babcock indicated that Rielly’s return would be a game time decision.
Frederik Andersen and Jake Allen get the start in goal.