Over the last few days, forward Zach Sill
has been drawing more and more praise from the Maple Leafs coaching staff.
“He’s got the most heart that I’ve seen in a long time,” interim coach Peter Horachek said following the Leafs’ 5-3 loss to the Ottawa Senators. “This kid works hard - excited, enthusiastic - I just love his approach to the game. He comes to the rink happy and battles every day, sticks up for his teammates, he does his job the right way.”
Sill gave the Leafs a bit of a spark on Saturday when he stepped in to defend Richard Panik, after Senators defenceman Mark Borowiecki delivered a hard and clean hit. The two engaged in a fight.
It’s an element the team has been missing prior to Sill’s arrival via trade in February.
“It’s not just one player like that, you need two and even more guys like that, the character guys,” Nazem Kadri said. “Zach sticks up for his teammates. He talks a lot on the bench and he’s a stand-up guy in the dressing room. He earns your respect.”
When Frazer McLaren and Colton Orr didn’t make the Leafs roster out of training camp, it left a physical void that was left to be picked up on a by-committee basis.
What’s particularly interesting are the circumstances that led to Sill’s arrival. He was thrown in as part of a package going to Toronto in exchange for forward Daniel Winnik. Much of the talk was about the second-round pick the Leafs acquired for the versatile Winnik, an unrestricted free agent.
Sill, also a free agent this summer, has managed to make the best of leaving a team that is contending for Stanley Cup to a franchise that is in the middle of building.
Players like Eric Brewer, Tim Erixon and Joakim Lindstrom are still trying to find their stride with the Maple Leafs, while Sill has seemingly found his role and embraced it to the fullest.
“It’s how I’ve always played,” said Sill. “I never really had the bigger skillset so I depend on my hard work and my grit and that kind of thing. Coming here from Pittsburgh it’s still an opportunity for me. However many games I have left, it’s up to me to make this opportunity work.”
Sill is playing for a contract, and could fit in to a nice role with the Maple Leafs for next season. He’s won the favour of his teammates, the coaching staff as well as fans.
“If the fans like the way I play, that’s a good thing,” Sill said. “But I’m just trying to do what I can to help the team right now. If it’s getting into a fight early or just sticking up for your teammates, it all helps.”