Ilya Lyubushkin 'super-excited' to be with Maple Leafs again

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The Russian Bear is out of hibernation.

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Ilya Lyubushkin, who arrived in Toronto late on Friday night after he was acquired by the Maple Leafs from the Anaheim Ducks 24 hours earlier, is going to get right back into it with his new (and old) team on Saturday night.

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The 29-year-old defenceman will be in the lineup when the Leafs play host to the New York Rangers at Scotiabank Arena.

“Super-excited,” Lyubushkin said after taking part in the Leafs’ optional morning skate. “It’s easy to join this team for me because I know this organization, I know the guys, my teammates. It’s unbelievable.

“I don’t think too much about (the quick turnaround). Just get ready for the game, play my game. Not surprised (by the trade). I was ready for this.”

For the first time, Lyubushkin will play on the same team with his close friend, Leafs goalie Ilya Samsonov.

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Lyubushkin will wear No. 46, as he did when he played in 38 games (including seven in the playoffs) for the Leafs in 2021-22. And he will line up with Morgan Rielly to his left, reuniting a pair that did some good things for Toronto two seasons ago.


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“They just seemed to complement each other well,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “Lyubushkin brought a lot to our team in terms of physicality and competitiveness and (making it) hard to enter our zone, hard to be around our net, which was something that we really needed at that time and I think you still need it.

“You get Rielly a partner that he has done well with, and it’s a good place for us to start, Lyubushkin coming in with some familiarity there. And we get (TJ) Brodie on the left side, too. That move (to get the right-shooting Lyubushkin in a trade) is able to sort of snap some things into place for us.”

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Timothy Liljegren, who has been nursing an undisclosed injury, was on the ice for the skate and said after that he “felt good” and indicated he would play. Keefe said Liljegren’s possible participation would be a game-time decision, but that it was “encouraging” for the defenceman.

There will be a boost up front as well as winger Calle Jarnkrok will play for the first time since he suffered a broken knuckle in practice on Jan. 26. Jarnkrok missed the past 13 games, during which the Leafs went 10-3-0. Nick Robertson would be scratched to accommodate Jarnkrok’s return.

Samsonov will start in goal for Toronto. Igor Shesterkin, who was named the National Hockey League’s third star of the month after going 7-0 in February, will start in net for the Rangers.

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The Rangers have won 11 of their past 12 to take a commanding lead of first place in the Metropolitan Division (five points ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes), but will be wary of Auston Matthews, the NHL’s first star of the month for February.

Of Matthews’ 53 goals this season, four have come in two games against the Rangers.

“We were hoping he had the flu,” Rangers coach Peter Laviolette jokingly said. “He’s a guy who finds ways to score goals. He finds them from everywhere. They have other good players too, high octane. We have to make sure we’re ready to play good defence, keep things in check, keep things in front of us.”

The Leafs will get their first look at 6-foot-8, 241-pound Rangers rookie forward Matt Rempe. The Calgary native is sporting a pair of shiners and has 32 penalty minutes, as well as a goal and an assist, in his first six NHL games. Three times already the 21-year-old Rempe has fought, and the NHL has taken notice.

“I’m a Canadian kid, growing up in Calgary, first game in the NHL in Canada,” Rempe said. “Saturday night, Toronto and the Rangers, going to be a big game, so I’m really excited.

“(The last couple of weeks) have been unbelievable. It’s a lot of fun. Very eventful. Every time I throw on a Rangers sweater, it’s a dream come true. Got a goal, had some fights, it has been awesome.”

And how about Leafs enforcer Ryan Reaves?

“I have a lot of respect for him,” Rempe said. “Real tough guy and he has carved out a great career for himself.”

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