By JOSHUA CLIPPERTON
THE CANADIAN PRESS
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
TORONTO -- Tyler Ennis has had to prove doubters wrong much of his hockey life.
After a mostly miserable past 12 months, the diminutive winger is hoping one more return to the well can help get his career back on track.
Ennis signed a contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs for 201819 worth US$650,000 on July 6, less than a week after having the final season of his five-year, US$23-million deal bought out by the Minnesota Wild.
"I have a chip on my shoulder," Ennis said.
"There's a lot of people that have written me off.
"I'm just here to show them I have a lot left to give."
The 5-foot-9, 161-pound Edmonton native is being given every opportunity with the Leafs, occupying the left side of a line centred by superstar Auston Matthews and complemented by veteran winger Patrick Marleau at training camp as no-show William Nylander continues negotiations on a new contract.
Traded by the Buffalo Sabres to the Wild on June 30, 2017, things quickly went south in Minnesota for Ennis, who recorded just eight goals and 14 assists in 73 games with a career-low average ice time of just 11 minutes 58 seconds last season.
"It was tough," said Ennis, who will turn 29 on Oct. 6.
"I was optimistic and excited, especially getting the chance to play with my buddy [fellow Edmonton native Jared Spurgeon].
"But it was kind of clear it wasn't the right fit pretty quickly.
It's in the past. It's a learning experience, and I'm ready to move forward."
Ennis, who will likely make his preseason debut for Toronto on Wednesday night in Ottawa against the Senators, was set to earn US$3.65-million in 2018-19 before the buyout.
He will instead be paid just more than US$1.2-million by the Wild each of the next two years.
In the days after Minnesota cut ties, Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas reached out to see if there was a possible fit.
"We looked at Tyler as clearly a very talented player, and a skill player, and when we're looking at what we need to add to our team, he was in a unique circumstance," Dubas said.
"It didn't work out for him in Minnesota, but we've been able to see in Buffalo what he's capable of." Cut down by injuries at various points during his career, Ennis committed to coming to Toronto early to work out with teammates and focus on making sure his body was right with the training staff.
"He had a lot at stake moving forward and we thought we could provide him with a great opportunity," Dubas added. "Seeing how hard he worked in the summer gave validation to what he said he was going to do. We're excited about him."
Ennis said the feeling was mutual after he visited the Leafs' facility.
"Everyone was so welcoming," he said. "It's just an exciting team to be around. The atmosphere, the locker room has a good buzz.
"It was just a supereasy decision."
On the ice, Matthews has been impressed with the player selected 26th over all by the Sabres in the 2008 NHL draft.
"He's so skilled, so shifty out there, sees the play really well," said Matthews, who turned 21 on Monday. "He's a little smaller, but he works hard."
With 105 goals and 153 assists in 492 career games, Ennis has made a living by finding and creating space for himself.
He doesn't plan to change that formula. "I'm obviously not the biggest guy," he said.
"I've kind of learned growing up just to always be moving and shake defenders."
Should he make the Leafs, Ennis will no doubt be pushed further down the lineup when Nylander eventually returns to the fold, but he's made some early waves with teammates, including a shot block in one of the scrimmages at camp in Niagara Falls, Ont.
"I'm going to sell out," he said.
"If I'm not working hard and I'm not going the extra mile ... I know what I'm up against. I have to work twice as hard to gain respect again and show people I'm ready to put the effort in."
Ennis knows full well that he could be running out of chances in a league that continues to get faster and younger.
"I don't feel pressure, I feel excitement," Ennis said. "I'm a little bit older and experienced now.
I've had situations growing up dating back as a kid where you've had to earn a lineup spot.
"I just have to work hard and show people what I can do."
Just like he has time and again.