Ryan Hollweg’s spot in the Maple Leafs dressing room is one removed from the locker Darcy Tucker used to occupy.
There’s some poetry in that. While nowhere near as prolific a scorer, Hollweg does bring the quality that dripped off Tucker: grit.
“I’ve always looked up to Darcy as a person and a player,” Hollweg said, “but I’m my own player. I can’t worry about what happened here in the past.”
Hollweg was flipped to the Leafs by the New York Ranger for a fifth-rounder in the 2009 entry draft. A capable goal scorer in junior, he is a banger who scored just five goals in 200 NHL games with the Rangers.
He can skate and he knows his way around his own end and while these things garner little attention in some NHL districts, several thousand Leafs fans a night recognize something other than a fight or a goal.
“I’m excited,” said Hollweg, a member of the infinitesimally small California-born hockey fraternity. “I have always played a physical game and I know Toronto fans have always embraced that kind of player.”
He hasn’t had much of a chance to earn that embrace. Hollweg has played just once and racked up seven penalty minutes. The bright side, he is plus-one.
Hollweg knows the defensive side of the game is what will catch the eye of coach Ron Wilson. With Jason Blake, Dominic Moore, Jiri Tlusty, Boyd Devereaux, Mikhail Grabovski
, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Matt Stajan, Jamal Myers, Alexander Steen, Niklas Hagman and Nik Antropov more or less guaranteed to make the team, he must beat out Robbie Earle, Ben Ondrus and John Mitchell for what amounts to a spot on the fourth line.
The Leafs will continue to explore their possibilities tonight as the Pittsburgh Penguins play at Air Canada Centre at 7:30.
The Penguins will ice a strong lineup that includes superstar Sidney Crosby. Evgeny Malkin is not expected to play.
The game gives Wilson another chance to match up his team against top drawer offensive talent.
Wilson said he figures to use rookie defenceman Luke Schenn
in every pre-season game except Saturday night’s contest in Buffalo. That will give the Leafs staff eight chances to evaluate the progress of their highly-touted fifth-overall draft choice.
The Leafs coach said Schenn “looked great in a lot of situations last game. He reminds me of (Sharks defender) Marc-Edouard Vlasic. He has a great ability to understand the defensive part of the game.”
Tonight’s game will mark the first start for goalie Vesa Toskala. Wilson plans to use Toskala three more times in the pre-season
The Leafs turnaround and head to Buffalo Saturday for a date with the Sabres. Monday, the Maple Leafs are home against St. Louis.
Expect some line juggling. Grabovski will start out with Nik Antropov and Nikolai Kulemin