The Blue and White were in action on Saturday as the first day of on-ice sessions took place at MasterCard Centre. A few possible opening-night line combinations were already on display.
Ron Wilson and his coaching staff had what one could call the three top lines as follows:Phil Kessel
-Tim Connolly-Joffrey LupulNikolai Kulemin
-Mikhail Grabovski-Clarke MacArthurNazem Kadri
-Tyler Bozak-Colby Armstrong
While Connolly had scrimmaged with a few of his teammates before camp started, Saturday’s scrimmages had more of a game feel to them. It was a valuable first experience working with Kessel and Lupul.
“Chances wise we had a lot but on the bench we were talking about things we could change and help each other out to know where we will be on the ice,” Connolly said.
The line that had the most chemistry was the Kadri-Bozak-Armstrong unit that played together at times late last season. The trio caught the eye of the head coach.
“Bozie (Bozak) looks really focused and Army (Armstrong) wants to make up for all his injuries last season and when he played we were a much better team,” Wilson said. “Nazie looked half a step to a step quicker then he seemed to last season.”
Armstrong was very pleased with the way the line played and he liked the vision that his two linemmates bring to the table.
“They’re both really skilled players, they’ve got vision, 160 degrees, they can see all over the ice so it’s nice to play with those kinds of guys,” Armstrong said.
The Leafs are counting on Lupul who not only brings a big presence to the top line but can also score when needed. The winger has had health woes the last couple of seasons but he is finally fit and taking part in his first training camp in two seasons.
“It’s very important that he is healthy and he looks good on the ice, he looks strong,” Wilson noted.
“He isn’t behind conditioning wise like he was last year and it’s good to see him healthy.”
The Maple Leafs’ eight preseason games begin Monday against the Ottawa Senators at Air Canada Centre. With so many games scheduled, Wilson said that fans will only see the top two lines in one of the first three games and that he would like to see his top lines play in four or five preseason games.
The preseason is a chance for the coaching staff to give some long looks at a few of the young players in camp.
“We have to give long looks to (Matt) Frattin, (Joe) Colborne and Nazem Kadri
.” Wilson said.
One of the reasons for the assessments will be to see if anyone is ready to crack the opening-night lineup but to also get their feet wet.
“They might not always play on a line that you see at practice or a scrimmage as I mix things up and have them show what they can do and gather experience as well,” Wilson said.
The auditions begin Monday night.