Tonight's officials will be Mike Leggo and Wes McCauley. Jay Sharrers and Pierre Racicot will be the linesmen. Those looking to tune in can watch on Sportsnet Ontario, listen on TSN 1050 and follow the Leafs on Twitter.
Paul Hendrick and Bob McGill preview tonight's game below. 2:45 PM:
Here are tonight's projected lineups for the Maple Leafs and Panthers
Toronto Maple Leafs
41 Soshnikov - 43 Kadri - 16 Brown
15 Parenteau - 39 Nylander - 11 Hyman
38 Greening - 23 Laich - 24 Holland
18 Michalek - 26 Smith - 40 Grabner
52 Marincin - 44 Rielly
51 Gardiner - 8 Carrick
29 Valiev - 20 Corrado
11 Huberdeau - 16 Barkov - 68 Jagr
24 Hudler - 21 Trocheck - 18 Smith
26 Purcell - 27 Bjugstad - 48 Shaw
28 Wilson - 41 McKegg - 22 Thornton
7 Kulikov - 5 Ekblad
51 Campbell - 6 Petrovic
46 Kindl - 3 Kampfer
2:30 PM: Connor Brown is slated to make his NHL debut tonight. Here's what he had to say about the opportunity...
On Coach saying he could have made the team out of camp:
Obviously I felt like I had a good camp at the beginning of the year and then a bit of a hiccup this year, getting injured for about 35 games there. I feel like I've got my game back on track and I'm playing well so it's exciting to get recognized.
How long did it take you to get your legs back after the injury?
I blocked a shot there in the seventh games of the season there in the American League, so it was a little fracture and it took about 12 weeks before I was back playing again. When you're out for that long your timing goes a little bit and so I feel back to normal now.
Is there any significance in wearing the number 16?
No, they just slapped it on but, actually, I have a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey with the number 16 from when I was a kid being from Toronto. That was a little added bonus to being able to wear number 16, that was the number I grew up wearing... Yeah, Darcy Tucker [wore 16 then], but mine says Brown, I got it custom made.
How important was playing with van Riemsdyk and Bozak in training camp to your development this year?
Yeah, I think it was huge for my confidence to be able to just know that I can compete at this level and I felt like I had a good camp in Halifax. Obviously getting injured this year I feel like my game is back on track where it was and it's exciting to get recognized. I'm going to come in here and try to play with confidence and play with skill and do my best.
How much does it help to come up to a team with familiar faces?
That's refreshing. Obviously you're a bit anxious coming here to an NHL room, but when you see a lot of the guys you've played most of the year with and, being from Toronto, I'm here in the summer a lot so I know a lot of the older guys as well. It makes it that much more easy and a little bit more comfortable to settle in.
What's the feeling today? Excitement? Nerves?
A bit of both, more excitement if anything. If I get a chance to get in tonight I'm really excited. We'll see where that goes.
When did you find out? What was your reaction?
Last night... Obviously you're really excited, at the time I was still just a little unclear if I was in or not. To be recognized and to know you're right there is awesome and to be around this room is pretty special.
Is this opportunity vindicating for all the hard work you've put in the past couple years?
Yeah, absolutely. I feel like I've come a long way as a player due to a lot of hard work and it's nice to get recognized and be noticed here.
2:15 PM: Rinat Valiev gets set for his fourth NHL game on Thursday night. Here's what he had to say on Thursday morning...
How do you feel you're settling in with the Leafs?
I feel really awesome, I'm just enjoying every moment being here and just, every practice, every game, I have been. I've been feeling so good about it to be here.
Did you feel a bit more comfortable playing here at home last game?
Yeah, it's more comfortable playing here at the ACC. It's your fans, we played here with the Marlies a couple of games or more. I feel more comfortable playing here too.
Do you think you're developing chemistry with your D partners?
Yeah, I've played with Frank [Corrado] and then with Connor [Carrick] and then we've switched with Marincin. It doesn't matter who I'm playing, it's just so comfortable to play with all the boys. There's no questions about it.
What do you know about the Panthers going into tonight's game?
I just want to have a good team game. I'm not trying to focus on anything. I just want to play my best and play hard.
2:00 PM: Here's what Mike Babcock had to say following Monday's morning skate...
What have you liked about Connor Brown?
Well I liked that -- obviously he got injured so that was a big setback, he was our best kid in training camp for sure and could have made our team. He got hurt but trained hard every day. He was with our team the whole time he was hurt basically. His therapy, he was in our meetings and all that and continued to put on size while he was injured, which is positive. He went down and got playing good and when everyone else got called up, instead of asking why not him he just got to work. I appreciate that. He's obviously got elite hockey sense, he's going to be a good NHL player for a long period of time. We'll get a chance to see him here tonight and for however long we'll need him or whatever. I think Bozak and these guys have eventually got to come back so when they come back, these guys can't all be here.
Was there a setback with Leo from yesterday?
Basically it was one of those things where if we were playing a playoff game here tonight, it might be different. But, he wasn't in a position, didn't feel he could recover the way he thought he could. Yesterday the trainers thought he might be alright, I don't know if he thought he'd be alright, so I think he's got a better chance to play Saturday I think is when we play next.
How has Zach Hyman transitioned to the NHL from the AHL after coming over from the Panthers organization?
He's a hard-working, honest guy. I knew him good because I had seen him at Michigan so much. He just works, he does things right, he takes the puck to the net, he's at the net, can help good players get the puck back, plays a heavy, heavy, heavy game and plays with good speed and tenacity. I don't even know how fast he is, I just know when you work as hard as he does you seem fast so he's... I think he's done a real good job for us getting the Nylander the puck back, which I think is real important. When you play with good players, if you can get them the puck back and get to the net you create space for them. He's a real good penalty killer and he'll play net-front on the power play as time goes on.
What's your impression of the atmosphere on the team?
I think the attitude has been good basically the whole year. We started tough, I think we were 1-10 or 1-9 or something like that and the attitude was good then. I think when Dion got traded, that was a big blow and then when [Polak] got traded that was a huge blow and you add the two of them because they were guys that did it right every day and were a big part of our leadership group. I thought it took us a while to recover from that and we seemed to recover and be playing more organized and better. We've got a real good Panthers team here that makes lots of teams look very ordinary with their size and their speed and their depth. It'll be a good test for us.
Did you ever get a stick from Jagr?
I never got that done yet, but I'll bet you -- Lou knows him so I could probably bribe Lou into getting that looked after.
1:30 PM: The Maple Leafs are back in action on Thursday night as they host the Florida Panthers at Air Canada Centre.
The Leafs are coming off of a 4-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night. Connor Carrick and Ben Smith scored for the Leafs before Zach Hyman and P-A Parenteau potted empty-netters to seal the win. Jonathan Bernier stopped 26 shots to seal his second win in three nights. Bernier will get the start once again on Thursday.
The Panthers head to Toronto after earning a 4-1 win of their own over the Montreal Canadiens. Vincent Trocheck, Nick Bjugstad, Jiri Hudler and Aleksander Barkov scored for Florida. Al Montoya stopped 27 shots in the victory. Roberto Luongo will start for the Panthers in Toronto.
Stay tuned for comments from Coach Babcock, the Leafs and projected lineups.