The Brian Burke era begins tonight.
While the Leafs have premiered nine new NHL players this season, things will be different the instant Christian Hanson hits the ice tonight in Philadelphia with a Maple Leaf on his chest and the number 20 on his back.
Hanson is Brian Burke’s initial trace of paint on the canvas, the first discernable addition Burke has made since taking the Leafs job in November.
With the Leafs agreeing to terms with University of Denver star Tyler Bozak
, another highly-coveted collegian, Burke will have another coup.
Despite unsparing criticisms of the roster, Burke has moved methodically. He tinkered with injury predicated Marlie callups such as Phil Oreskovic, Boyd Deveraux, Jeff Hamilton and Tim Stapleton. He landed a couple of second-round draft choices for Nik Antropov and Dominic Moore but none of these moves spoke to the kind of imagination and organizational impetus Burke was brought here to galvanize.
But Burke’s relationship with Hanson’s father Dave goes back two decades. The two skated in the off-season together in Minnesota and knew each other from their roughhouse days in the minor leagues. When Christian Hanson left the University of Notre Dame, his potential salary was limited by the entry level salary cap. The decision wasn’t about money. The Leafs lack of depth made them more attractive, but the credibility of the coaching staff and general manager played a huge part in the decision.
Presumably, the same circumstances apply to Bozak, a Regina native who becomes the Leafs’ second high-profile US collegian this week.
When he arrived, Burke outlined his specifications. The Leafs, he said, had to be bigger and meaner.
While Hanson will never approach his father’s legacy of mayhem, he is six-foot-four, 228 pounds and he likes the high-traffic areas. He is a good skater and his installation on the first line with Jason Blake and John Mitchell is a harbinger of his status as a player who will someday play on the Leafs’ top two lines.
Bozak, a smaller, more offensive version of Hanson, will bear the same expectations.
Clearly, Burke’s deep roots in USA Hockey are producing results.
Wilson called Hanson the equivalent of a first-round draft choice and there is still one more big fish: Boston College’s Matt Gilroy, one of the final three candidates for the Hobey Baker award, the highest award in U.S. Collegiate Hockey.
The Leafs have another prospect, Viktor Stalberg who enjoyed a breakthrough third season with the University of Vermont so a rush of talent from the collegiate, totally unexpected at the beginning of season, will impact the roster if not next year than the year after. Watch for high profile moves from Burke especially with a window in the no-trade clauses of Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina opening at the draft.
For now, the pleasure will have to be confined to watching Christian Hanson, the very first Burke Baby.