After a summer of some uncertainty, Noah Gregor is prepared to bring some stability back to his hockey life.
Signed to a professional tryout by the Maple Leafs earlier in September, the energetic forward has started training camp on the fourth line with centre David Kampf and new winger Ryan Reaves.
Naturally, Gregor would like to find himself in a similar position once the pre-season ends in two weeks.
“If that’s where I end up, I’ll be excited to be there and I think it should be a good line,” Gregor said on Friday.
“I like to play with speed. I think that’s my biggest attribute, is playing with speed, getting in on the forecheck, being physical, trying to create turnovers and hopefully that transitions and translates into offence. I’ve shown at times that I can score at this level. I’d like to try be a little more consistent with that.”
When the 2022-23 National Hockey League season ended, Gregor figured he had done enough with the San Jose Sharks to ensure that he would be qualified by the club. In 57 games, Gregor scored 10 goals and had seven assists, providing some enthusiasm from the fourth line.
Despite thinking his exit interviews with the Sharks were positive, the six-foot, 188-pound Gregor did not receive a qualifying offer from San Jose general manager Mike Grier, making him a free agent.
Gone were the ties that Gregor had with the Sharks going back to the 2016 NHL draft, when San Jose picked him in the fourth round.
“It was something I wasn’t quite prepared for,” Gregor said. “I thought I was going to get qualified by San Jose. And when that didn’t happen, (the summer) was a little different. I’ve never gone through anything like that. It took a little bit to wrap my head around.
“I also had a lot of belief in myself that wherever I ended up, that things would go well.”
The Leafs signed Gregor on Sept. 6 after he had a couple of final positive conversations with Leafs general manager Brad Treliving and coach Sheldon Keefe.
“They had reached out quite a bit throughout the summer,” Gregor said. “I continued to talk with other teams as well, but they were probably at the top of my list the whole summer of teams that showed a lot of interest in me.”
A native of Beaumont, Alta., Gregor spent his youth as a fan of the Edmonton Oilers, naming Ales Hemsky and Taylor Hall as favourites. Some of Gregor’s fondest hockey memories include going to watch parties at the old Rexall Place during the Oilers’ Stanley Cup run in 2006.
Gregor’s dad, Colin, played in the Western Hockey League and in the minor pro ranks, and older brother Liam, who played in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, also provided guidance.
“That’s why I played hockey, really, was through the family,” Gregor said. “They were big influences.”
While the Leafs have cap issues, there is a clear opportunity for Gregor to earn a roster spot.
“He has tenacity, he has the ability to score and finish,” Keefe said. “Maybe he has a little more offensive ability than what he’s been able to show in the NHL. He has a good foundation to his game.”
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NO-HITTER NO FUN
Reaves didn’t hesitate in summing up his play in his first Leafs camp scrimmage.
“I was horrible,” Reaves said with a big smile. “That’s probably the worst I felt in a long time. I don’t really like these scrimmages because I’m more of a lay-the-body kind of guy and you don’t exactly want to do that here.
“I don’t want to lay anybody out and hurt anybody. Last thing I want to do.”
Max Ellis scored the lone goal in the 25-minute game, beating Joseph Woll to give White a 1-0 victory against Blue.
Do some players, though, prefer scrimmages over drills?
“Personally, yeah,” Auston Matthews said, also with a grin. “I wish we could have went a little bit longer, but it’s always good to get back in that rhythm.
“Both (scrimmages and drills) are important, trying to get the structure pieces down. I can understand you need a little bit of both.”
After Matthew Knies moved in with captain John Tavares during his time with the Leafs at the end of last season, that arrangement could be in the cards again for the 20-year-old. During camp, Knies will stay in the Leafs’ downtown hotel, but he has plans — provided he makes the team — to move back in with Tavares before finding a place of his own. “I’m still kind of getting used to the city so I’m not sure where to go yet,” Knies said. An educated guess: He’ll be searching for his own home in the coming weeks … Keefe on defenceman Conor Timmins: “He has put in a ton of work. Not just over the summer, but from basically the trade deadline on, he was in development mode and had a great attitude, has worked extremely hard. We expect him in here pushing (for a job). He’s going to play lots in the pre-season and get an opportunity to win a job and make things difficult on us.” … Both groups will practise on Saturday at the FPC before one heads to Ottawa on Sunday morning for the pre-season opener that afternoon against the Senators.