Why the Maple Leafs inked Bobby McMann to a two-year extension: ‘He’s blossoming’

Just five months ago, it seemed possible Bobby McMann might not play again for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The 27-year-old forward had been placed on waivers to start the Leafs season as the team’s roster was trimmed down to size. That came after McMann had suffered a knee injury last season and saw limited action during training camp and preseason as he worked his way back to full health.

Looking back, it’s a wonder none of the other 31 teams in the NHL took a flyer on McMann. Because in those five months, he’s proven himself not just as an everyday NHL player, but one who can play with consistent energy and score timely goals. Just two seasons after spending time in the ECHL with the Newfoundland Growlers, McMann has scored 10 goals in 40 games this season. That’s good for 1.04 goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, which is fourth among all Leafs.

And it’s reason enough why the Leafs wanted to ensure McMann doesn’t go to unrestricted free agency, as he could have this offseason. The Leafs announced a two-year extension for McMann on Wednesday, with an AAV of $1.35 million.

McMann and the Leafs engaged in extension talks ahead of the trade deadline before those talks broke off as the Leafs reassessed their roster. Talks then picked up again on Tuesday before a deal was quickly agreed upon.

Inking McMann to a swift extension now instead of waiting until the offseason suggests the organization sees McMann as an important part of their roster planning into next season. The added belief from management and the coaching staff in McMann’s continued development also suggests he could be in line for more consideration of a middle-six role for the majority of next season, instead of being limited to fourth-line minutes.

Head coach Sheldon Keefe was asked Wednesday about his hopes for the rest of the season for this Leafs team and singled out McMann.

“While there isn’t change with the actual personnel on forward as of late, we do have a little bit of change in the sense that you’ve got the emergence of someone like Bobby McMann, and how he’s blossoming and giving us additional options,” Keefe said.

McMann has proven that he can do a lot with a little, scoring his 10 goals with just 10:34 ATOI this season. Only Ryan Reaves has averaged less time on ice among the Leafs forwards.

“The longer I play and the more games I play, I get more comfortable making reads rather than thinking,” McMann said on March 9 after scoring the team’s opening goal. “That’s where my game has grown. I just get to react and my skill takes over. I think that’s what’s coming out now.”

But climbing and defying the odds has been central to McMann’s story for, well, his entire career.


The Maple Leafs’ 27-year-old rookie: How Bobby McMann defied the odds

McMann is a native of Wainwright, Alta., (population 6,606) and went undrafted not just to the NHL but the WHL. When his peers were playing in the WHL, McMann was still playing under-18 AAA hockey. He spent his summers catching pucks from his father, Cecil, alone in rinks and trying to fire 10,000 shots on net every offseason to hone his offensive game. Three years of Junior A hockey barely boosted his profile, but enough for him to get recruited to Colgate University. The small New York state-based school isn’t exactly an NCAA powerhouse, but their hockey team could offer McMann the necessary ice time to develop his game.

McMann added physicality and bonafide hard-checking energy to compliment his sizeable frame and signed an AHL contract with the Toronto Marlies.

His first professional hockey season was split between the Marlies and ECHL’s Wichita Thunder before he broke the Marlies’ goal-scoring record for a rookie (24) the following season. For likely the first time in his career, he had built up enough confidence in his game to decline the option to return to the ECHL for the playoffs, instead insisting he was at least an AHL player.

That confidence, matched with his ability to produce by beating defenders wide and charging to the net, earned him an upgrade to an NHL contract for the following two seasons.

And there was a time earlier this season when McMann’s time on the roster looked in doubt, too. McMann was going to be a healthy scratch for a Feb. 13 game against the St. Louis Blues. But an illness hitting the team opened up a spot for McMann, and he didn’t let go, scoring his first NHL hat trick.

He’s stayed in the lineup since.

And as his extension proves, he won’t be leaving any time soon.

McMann’s value to the Leafs moving forward comes in his versatility. He has the size, the energy and the willingness to forecheck that makes him a capable fit in a fourth-line role. Should the Leafs go heavy on middle-six forward additions this offseason, McMann could be tasked with driving play on the fourth line.

But given his ascent and the trust he’s earned from the coaching staff, he looks like he could be a candidate for a consistent third-line role that could be built on speed and defensive reliability. Though Calle Jarnkrok was moved to the Leafs’ top line during Wednesday’s practice, the inevitable return of Mitch Marner from his injury will likely send Jarnkrok back lower down the lineup. It’s there that he’s formed strong chemistry with McMann.

McMann believes Jarnkrok possesses the smarts and the innate ability to find him with the puck when he drives toward the net.

Showing that he can hang with experienced NHL players only increases the likelihood McMann will play a more vital role next season. He’s undoubtedly now part of the Leafs plans into 2026 in a way few could have imagined heading into this season, and that’s a credit to McMann himself.

“You just take what’s given to you more, rather than thinking, ‘OK, how do I play this two-on-one.’ You’re like, ‘I see an opening, and I’m just going to take it.’ And that’s more (about) the reaction of just playing the game and having fun,” McMann said. “You see a shot or a pass and you just try and make it. Whether it’s the right play or not, you’re making it with confidence. And usually, that turns out well.”

Just as he’s done throughout his entire career, McMann’s game has continued to grow with confidence. It’s easy to call McMann a late bloomer, but it’s just as easy to believe that throughout his next two seasons with the Leafs, his game might continue to climb and surprise people.

(Photo: Dan Hamilton / USA Today)

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