Thursday, September 23, 2010

What if Kadri doesn't make it?

Would it be the end of the world if Nazem Kadri doesn't make the Leafs? Or what if he spends some time split between the AHL and NHL this season? Would that be a huge failure? Check out some other guys who didn't crack the NHL and stick:

Eric Staal
1st NHL season - 11 goals, 31 points
then a year in AHL
then returns for 2nd NHL season - 45 goals, 100 points, Stanley Cup

Jason Spezza
One year split between NHL and AHL
then 1st full NHL year - 55 points
then a full year in AHL
finally 2nd full NHL season - 90 points

Steve Sullivan
Full year in the AHL
followed by 2 seasons split between NHL and AHL
then 1st full NHL season - 28 points
and this is followed by 8 consecutive 20+ goal seasons (including two 30 goal seasons) and a lot of those seasons were shortened due to injury.

Eric Fehr
3 seasons split between AHL and NHL
then his rookie year - 25 points
and last year in his 2nd season - 21 goals, 39 pts and turning out to be a really good player

Patrice Bergeron
rookie season - 16 goals
then a full year in AHL
2nd NHL season - 31 goals, hasn't really looked back except injuries have been a set back

David Backes
spent a season split between NCAA and AHL
then a season split between AHL and NHL
then his first full NHL season - 13 goals, 31 points
2nd full NHL season - 31 goals, 54 points

Andrew Brunette
Spent a full season in the AHL
followed by 3 up and down seasons split between dominating the AHL and struggling in the NHL
950 career games, and 660 career points later he's been one of the most consistant NHL scorers of the last decade.

These are just some of tons of examples of players who spent time in the AHL in some capacity and they all went on to do well in the NHL. If Kadri isn't quite ready, that's not really a big deal. Having said that, I hope he makes it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Leafs pre-season

Last nights game was bad. Here's a few quick thoughts:

- Lebda and Lashoff were not impressive at all. I was expecting more out of those guys. Of course it was only 1 game.

- Christian Hanson was really good! I'm all turned around on this guy

- Brayden Irwin and Marcel Mueller: These guys weren't great, but they are huge bodies, I wouldn't mind seeing one of them take a roster spot. Irwin was actually one of the best Leafs

- Mike Brown is quickly becoming one of my favourite players. I hope he can keep this up

- Nazem Kadri was pretty good

- Dion Phaneuf... was bad

- Tomas Kaberle was by far the best player on the team

- Jussi Rynnas, judging by his 1/2 game only, does not look NHL ready

Its only been 1 pre-season game, no big deal, these were my thoughts, I'll write about tonights game too.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Leafs Camp Update***

Watching the scrimmage's on the Leafs website, and listening to the comments from Wilson I'm going to narrow down what I think the final roster will look like:

Nikolai Kulemin - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel

*This line finished the year off together last year and they've started training camp together. Ron Wilson seems to like these guys and hopes they can build on the chemistry that they started to establish last season. These guys are all locks and probably will be the top line to start the year.

Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur (+Sjostrom?)

Grabovski has been the best looking forward in camp, hands down. I wouldn't have guessed it going in, but he's been amazing. MacArthur has shown that he's got a good set of hands and wheels and these two have been playing together. They could work out together for the year and Ron Wilson hinted that Freddy Sjostrom could be the other guy on that line if he's healthy for the start of the season, which he should be. That would be a speedy line.

Colby Armstrong - Nazem Kadri - Kris Versteeg

This was an interesting combo. I don't know if they'll stay together but they are a cool mix of grit and skill. By the sounds of things Kadri will be making the team, at least to start the year.

Mike Brown and Colton Orr

We already know Orr is on the team, so I'll move onto Mike Brown. I didn't expect a lot out of him but what I've liked so far is how fast he is. He's really quick out there and he looks pretty big. He's going to be a very solid 4th line winger. These guys are both locks.

So that equals 11 forwards, leaving 2 spots up front. Who are the prime candidates right now?

1. John Mitchell - He's got to be right in there, he was a regular last year and he looks pretty good, but not spectacular so far in camp.

2. Marcel Mueller - This guy can play. Here's a good article about him from Mike Ulmer

3. Wayne Primeau - not on my list below, Primeau was invited to camp without a contract. He looks really big and fast in camp and he might be the best option for a 4th line centre. What gives him an edge over guys like Mueller, D'Amigo etc. is that he's not a prospect and he could play 4th line minutes without worrying about hurting his development. He's also strong on draws which can't be said about any of our other centres. Last year he had an edge because of his PK ability but the additions of Sjostrom, Armstrong, and Versteeg should all but push him out of the penalty killing role. Still, I wouldn't be surprised to see him signed at the end of camp.

4. Jerr D'Amigo - Very interesting one, if you listen to the comments from Ron Wilson. D'Amigo was great in the rookie tournament and has turned some heads during the first days of practice at the main camp. Ron Wilson has mentioned D'Amigo a couple of times while talking to the media and said something to the effect of "I pretty much know what the team is going to look like come opening day.... I might have to make adjustments to accomodate D'amigo." So I think its safe to say he's still got a legitimate shot and should be one of the main focuses during pre-season. Keep in mind, at this time last year Stalberg was a fringe player on the outside looking in, but 2 weeks later was a lock to make the team because of strong exhibition games.

5. Luca Caputi - I still think he's got a great shot to make it, but he's got to prove his place on the team. Talent wise he's there, and I think a lot is going to depend on what kind of player Wilson has in mind to fill out the roster. Caputi has an edge because he is different. He's not a fast skater, but he has a great set of hands and could carve a niche as a player who stands in front of the net. He's got a unique skillset so a lot will depend on what Wilson wants.

6. Christian Hanson - I don't think he'll make it. He's a big guy, good skater, but his 2-way contract makes him an easy cut. I think he'll be one of the first to get called up, but I don't see him making it out of camp.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Leafs Training Camp

Brian Burke's final 23 man roster typically consists of 13 forwards, 8 defensmen, and 2 goalies. Keeping that in mind, I'm going to look at 20 forwards who will be competing for 13 spots to play for the Maple Leafs on opening night vs Montreal on October 7.


Nazem Kadri, age 20, 6'0" 188 lbs - This guy turns 20 the day before the regular season starts, he is of course the biggest name prospect coming to the Leafs camp, and he has a legitimate shot to make this team. He was the most prolific scorer in the OHL's playoffs with 27 pts in 12 games, and dominated the regular season. He has really proven himself in Junior and could be NHL ready. He still needs to have a solid camp to really prove that he belongs, but if his hands and ability to play physically can even closely translate from Junior into NHL pre-season then he will make the team. To get top 6 minutes he might have to make the team as a winger, even though he is a natural centre.

Jerry D'Amigo, age 19, 5'11" 196 lbs - D'Amigo would not have been expected to be in this position a year ago but he really broke out in NCAA this past season as an 18 year old. He was a point per game player, plays a two-way game and earned some attention from Burke and Wilson. He is a bit of a longshot but has had a ton of buzz around him this summer and could take a spot with a seriously strong camp.

Tyler Bozak, age 24, 6'1" 195 lbs - Bozak is a pretty much a lock to make this team after being called up late last year and really proving that he can play and produce at an NHL level. His 27 points in 37 games shows a lot of promise. The biggest question around Bozak is whether he'll be playing first or second line.

Luca Caputi, age 22, 6'3" 200 lbs - Another early October birthday, Luca was playing 2nd line at the end of last season, but he will have to prove his worth at camp. He managed 2 goals and 7 assists in 23 NHL games last year and despite being a below average skater, he can make an impact on a game. He's got some size and a good set of hands and could use his strength's to find a role on the team as a guy who drives to the net and finds rebounds, or stands in front on the PP. He will have to good because his spot is one that could be lost to a guy like Kadri, D'Amigo or Mueller, etc.

Mikhail Grabovski, age 26, 5'11" 184 lbs - Mikhail is a guy who will be gunning for the first line centre spot. He put up 35 pts in 59 games last year (47 point pace) and had 48 points the year before. If he can stay healthy and be as productive again this year then he will be a solid 2nd line centre, which is where I think he'll end up.

Kris Versteeg, age 24, 5'10" 182 lbs - Versteeg is a lock. The biggest offseason acquisition by Burke could play top line, and will play at least 2nd line. He's flashy, can score, plays a defensive game, kills penalties, is gritty. This guy should be fun to watch.

Mike Brown, age 25, 5'11" 205 lbs - Brown's 306 career penalty minutes in 142 career games tells you all you need to know. This guy is a scrapper, and should take some of the responsibility off of Orr to be the enforcer. Colton Orr was a very effective defensive forward under Tom Renney but was strictly an enforcer for Toronto last year and Brown should give the Leafs another heavyweight option. Brown, an NHL regular last year, was traded for by Burke in the offseason and he will make this team and play 4th line, or be the 13th forward.

Colton Orr, age 28, 6'3" 222 lbs - Colton Orr is a beast and Brian Burke really praised the way Orr played in his first season with Toronto. Colton scored a few gritty goals, and I actually agree with Don Cherry's assesment, that if Orr were to play more minutes he could be a solid defensive forward who could also chip in up around 10 goals. I don't think he will get those minutes and we should only expect another 4 or 5 goals from Orr, but he will bring the energy, forecheck, backcheck, and he will also continue to be the 2nd best ranked fighter in the NHL behind only Boogaard.

Colby Armstrong, age 27, 6'2" 195 lbs - Armstrong was the big free agent acquisition of the summer for Toronto. He is a lock to make this team, should be a third line energy player who will hit and fight and chip in with some offense. With a strong camp he could force his way onto the 2nd line.

Freddy Sjostrom, age 27, 6'1" 218 lbs - Freddy is a pure checking forward, just a solid defensive guy who should also be a lock for the 3rd or 4th line. However, a shakey camp by Sjostrom, coupled with a terrific camp from one of the younger guys could make things interesting. So Freddy needs to be sharp and the job will remain his to lose.

Christian Hanson, age 24, 6'3" 202 lbs - The last Leaf forward to sign this summer, Hanson inked a two-way deal which could make him an easy candidate to be sent down to start the season. If he doesn't play well enough to really seperate himself from guys like Mitchell, Sjostrom, and Brown, and then guys like Kadri or D'Amigo come out and shine, then it could be the AHL to start the year off for Hanson, again. This camp will be a big test for this guy, who if he uses his size could earn a spot.

Marcel Mueller, age 22, 6'4" 230 lbs - This beast was a star for Germany at the Olympics and posted amazing numbers in the DEL. He had 24 goals and 32 assists for 56 points in 53 games (keeping in mind that you only record 1 assist per goal in that league!). Mueller has the build of a power forward and could be the darkhorse at this camp. For all the fringe players, this could be the guy to watch out for, and he could very well end up on the roster come opening day. As of right now he'll have to be listed as a bit of a long shot.

Phil Kessel, age 23, 5'11" 180 lbs - Kessel is another early October baby, he'll be 23 just before the season starts. He is a lock for the top line, and is the star of this offense. I don't think I need to go on here.

John Mitchell, age 25, 6'1" 205 lbs - Johnny has earned himself a 1 year contract with Toronto but he'll have to work at camp to hold onto his spot. He is one of the fringe players with Sjostrom, Hanson, Brown, and Caputi who has a roster spot to lose. Mitch is a big boy and typically a favourite of Ron Wilson, so he might have an inside edge to be the 3rd or 4th line centre. He will need to have a really good camp to prove he deserves the minutes.

Clarke MacArthur, age 25, 5'11" 191 lbs - Clarke has scored 16 and 17 goals in each of the last two NHL seasons, and has proven to be a decent two-way player. If he can keep playing with that consistancy he should make as a third liner and could fight for 2nd line minutes, where he could give himself an oppurtunity to be even more productive. This camp will be big for MacArthur to try to gel with guys like Kessel, Versteeg, Kulemin, Grabovski, and Bozak and earn a spot as the 6th forward.

Mike Zigomanis, age 29, 6'0" 200 lbs - Veteran NHL journeyman Zigomanis has played for the Hurricanes, Blues, Coyotes, and Penguins and he could have a shot to make the team with a really great camp, although he'll probably be a key player for the Marlies. He's a faceoff specialist and penalty kill guy. A real grinder, and at 29 he's the oldest Leaf forward with a legit shot to make it out of camp. If there are injuries or both Hanson and Mitchell struggle at camp, that could be Zigomanis' chance to make it as a depth centre.

Jay Rosehill, age 25, 6'3" 215 lbs - Rosehill would not have been on anyone's list to make the team out of camp last year and he did. Could he surprise again this year after losing his place on the team? Its possible but not too likely. He takes on the same type of role occupied by Brown and Orr, but if he can have a really great camp he could be on the team to start the season. Count him as a long shot.

Brayden Irwin, age 23, 6'5" 215 lbs - This guy is a tower, another one of Burke's NCAA signings, Irwin came in and played 2 games with the Leafs after his college season ended last year, registering 3 shots on goal and 2 penalty minutes. He has been described by Burke as a potential top 6 forward, but he will have to adjust to the speed of the NHL game as he has a head for the game and tremendous reach and size. In his limited NHL action last year he found himself in good scoring positions a few times but couldn't find the handle. Irwin has a decent chance to make the team but he will have to have a great training camp.

Nikolai Kulemin, age 24, 6'1" 224 lbs - He started last year off in the minors after a shakey camp. I don't think he'll make the same mistake again as he just got better and better as his sophomore year progressed. Expect this guy to be driven and try to prove himself as a sniper. Kulemin has the shot and speed to be a first line player, and is a great defensive forward and probably the Leafs best hitting forward (2nd best now with Armstrong on board). I expect him to play first line, if not 2nd line depending on chemistry in camp.

Mikhail Stefanovich, age 20, 6'2" 202 lbs - Stefanovich is a real long shot here, but he was an absolute scoring machine with 49 goals in 56 games in Junior in '09, followed by dip to 25 goals but massively improved 43 assists last season. His QMJHL numbers are good, and the lanky Belarussian is known for his slick hands and knack around the net. He has the talent and could be a shocker to steal a spot if he comes to camp well conditioned.

So that's it, there's 20 guys, filter out 7 of them and you've got your Leafs, other guys coming to camp include Kenny Ryan, the recently drafted Brad Ross and Greg McKegg, undrafted free agent prospect Robert Slaney, and quality Marlies like Tim Brent and Darryl Boyce.