Jeff Marek hosts AM 640 Toronto's Leafs Lunch, weekdays from noon to 2pm. Marek, along with co-host Bill Watters have their finger on the pulse of Leafs Nation as Marek skates through his second season on the team.
October 10, 2006
(TORONTO) -- It's a scant four games into the 2006-07 campaign and already a few things are quickly becoming apparent about this year's edition of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
By and large, this is a much faster and harder-working Leafs team than we saw under Pat Quinn.
|Graig Abel Photography |
Outside of a couple of moments in the opener against the Senators, the Leafs cannot be accused of mailing in even a period of hockey. They looked particularly hungry and interested Saturday night against the Montreal Canadiens (and probably deserved a better fate than a shootout loss) and then again Monday night fighting off the frustration of trying to solve Florida Panthers netminder Alex Auld.
Kyle Wellwood may be the complement to the captain from Bromma, Sweden. As Leafs head coach Paul Maurice tweaks the way Mats Sundin is handled (with the emphasis on getting him the puck to finish as opposed to finding players for him to dish off to) the kid from Windsor looks like a nice fit to lob grapes to the tape of Sundin.
But can he survive the pounding he'll get as part of the top line up against the punishing checkers in the Eastern Conference over the course of an entire schedule?
And if you look at Wellwood's history, it takes him exactly one season to get used to a league before he catches on and explodes offensively. In junior he put up decent numbers for the Belleville Bulls in his rookie campaign (51) and then exploded for 188 points the following season.
In St John's he put up similar numbers in his first year pro (55 in 76 games), but then when Doug Shedden placed him on the top line with David Ling, he dined out to the tune of 87 points and a top ten scoring position in the AHL.
Last year with the Leafs, Wellwood (who started the year with the Marlies) put up 45 points NOT playing with Mats Sundin.
Andrew Raycroft is just fine, thank you very much. Outside of the Christof Schubert goal in the opening game against the Ottawa Senators, Raycroft looks like a different goalie than the one in Boston last season.
Gone is the flopping around and returned is the confident puck-stopper who gets square to the shooter and observes a principle of economy with his movement. Monday against the Panthers, Raycroft went long stretches without seeing a puck then had to stand up against a 5-on-3 penalty kill followed by a shootout.
Now, we won't be able to tell if the Leafs gave up too much for the former Bruins backstop until Tuukka Rask hits the NHL. And the question then becomes is he the next Miikka Kiprusoff or the next Kari Takko? Either way the presence of Justin Pogge in the system made this deal doable.
|Graig Abel Photography |
As a side note, speaking of Pogge, he looked quite average Saturday afternoon in his AHL debut as the Marlies dropped a 5-2 decision to the Manitoba Moose. He'll have those nights with the Marlies as most of their top defencemen are up with the Leafs (and injured to boot). Expect him to get the start Friday night against the Grand Rapids Griffins.
As much as everyone has been praising the Paul Maurice "get fit or get lost" mantra around the room, how about a little praise for the guy responsible for putting together the program and keeping the guys to it.
If you're interested in the types of hockey-specific exercises he put the Leafs through, head over to the Nike/Bauer web site (www.nikehockey.com) and take a peek for yourself. Even though there were some sore bodies at training camp this year by the end of the preseason these guys have started on a rhythm that could carry them through the season and keep them at their fitness peak. Matt Nichol has been the unsung Leafs MVP both in the offseason and the early parts of this year.
And if Carlo Colaiacovo is ever going to return to hockey it will be greatly due to the work and simulated training camp program put together by Nichol. In this area the Leafs have the best in the business.
Leafs GM John Ferguson drafted a beauty in Jiri Tlusty as he's looked strong as an 18-year old playing in the American Hockey League for the Toronto Marlies.
In four preseason games, Tlusty potted four goals and then popped his first of the regular season last Friday at the Marlies opener against the Syracuse Crunch. He has a great release, is strong on his skates and isn't shy about the rough stuff.
The only question about Tlusty revolves around where he'd best be served in his hockey development and, most importantly in his development as a person. Is it better to have him riding a bus among men with the Marlies or going to school and tearing apart the O.H.L playing with the Sault Saint Marie Greyhounds under head coach Craig Hartsberg?
It's always interesting to go back and re-select draft positions every now and then.
Although it's early in the Marlies campaign and this young man's career, if you went back now and re-did the draft, do you think Tlusty would still be available when John Ferguson went to the podium at GM Place in Vancouver at 13th position?