Brayden Irwin’s parents are Toronto real estate agents which kind of fits. His career will rise or fall on his ability to make the slot and the blue ice his home.
The Leafs signed the 23-year-old University of Vermont product Monday as he capped a four-year career with the Catamounts that crested with this year’s 15-goal season.
Irwin, all of six-foot five and 215 pounds, brings the requisite size to handle the rough going and, his Vermont coach insists, the touch as well.
“The skill set is there,” said Kevin Sneddon. “The hands are soft, he’s got a quick release. The skating isn’t the best part of his game, but he has finally understood how to use his frame. He’ll play aggressively.”
Irwin is a poster boy for the kind of NCAA player coveted by Leafs’ GM Brian Burke. Undrafted by an NHL team, Irwin had little more than his size going for him when he hit Vermont.
“I think I’m a bit of a late bloomer,” he said after his first game-day skate with the Leafs. “I think I was still trying to figure out my game at that time,” he said of his draft year.
After a good rookie season, Irwin capsized. He had the size, but not the strength. It took three years until his game jelled in his senior year.
“His core is strong now,” Sneddon said. “When he came to us he fatigued early and when he got tired he skated straight up. The work he has done off the ice has allowed him to hold his ground on the ice.”
“I really matured over the last couple of years,” Irwin said. “I didn’t put up the points I would have wanted to, but I thought each year I was making progress. I knew if I continued to work hard, good things would happen.
His linemate of three seasons, Leafs winger Viktor Stalberg is convinced Irwin is straight goods.
“I played with him for my first three years. He’s going to be a good player one day. How quickly he gets there is up to him, but he gets around the ice pretty good.”
Leafs’ coach Ron Wilson said he will put Irwin in the lineup, either at home against Buffalo on Thursday or Saturday when the Leafs host Boston.
The Leafs have lost just two of their last 10 games in regulation and face a Thrashers team fighting Boston for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Goalie Jonas Gustavsson
gets the start. He is 7-1 since the Jean Sebastien Giguere and Dion Phaneuf
joined the team.
A Leafs loss would officially eliminate the team from the post season for the fifth consecutive season, a franchise record. With five games remaining after tonight, the Leafs are one win away from matching last season’s total of 29 wins.