September 8, 2004(TORONTO)--
While most hockey fans will have their attention on the World Cup Semifinals and Final this week, a group of top Maple Leaf prospects will be trying to win the attention of Leafs' management, including general manager John Ferguson.
The Maple Leafs GM should get a good idea of the depth of his organization this week as the Maple Leafs send a squad of 23 players to participate in the Montreal-hosted 2004 Rookie Tournament. It's the type of format the Leafs, themselves, used to host annually in Kitchener, Ontario and an event Ferguson says is another example of the team's commitment to player development.
The tournament is also a chance for the Leafs' youngest players to get their feet wet and gain some confidence before stepping onto the ice with the likes of Mats Sundin, Brian Leetch and Ed Belfour.
| John Ferguson is looking forward to assessing the talent of the Maple Leafs prospects. |
(Graig Abel Photography)
"This type of tournament provides us with the opportunity to assess players against those with similar age and experience prior to seeing them on the ice in the big camp against established players," said Ferguson. "It provides the players with a good environment to experience a week that will be highly competitive."
While many players on the rookie roster are expected to be at the main camp later this month, this tournament won't necessarily make or break anyone's chances at cracking the NHL roster.
"It's a fitting component of our strategic plan which places an emphasis on our commitment to player development on and off the ice," said Ferguson. "It's a chance to get to know the players and also work with them; familiarize them with mental preparation and developing the proper lifestyle."
For many of the Toronto prospects, it will be their first chance to make an impression on the Leafs GM. At this time last year, the Maple Leafs were about to depart for training camp in Sweden, which meant a number of players had to be left behind and attend camp in Kitchener.
"Certainly there were players who were highly regarded coming out the Kitchener camp last year," said Ferguson. "Ben Ondrus, Martin Sagat and Jeremy Williams are players who had good camps. Williams went on to have a great year and we were able to see him in St. John's at the end of the season. For other players like John Mitchell and Shaun Landolt, it's a chance for us to assess their strides as they enter the second year of development since their draft."
Other players on the roster to watch include goaltender Justin Pogge, Toronto's first choice (in the third round) of the 2004 Entry Draft, forward Chris St. Jacques, who led the Western Hockey League in playoff scoring and the Medicine Hat Tigers to the Memorial Cup Final, and defencemen Dominic D'Amour and Brendan Bell.
Bell went into last year's training camp with high expectations after being a late addition the Sweden camp roster, and spent the full season in St. John's. D'Amour, meanwhile, anchored a defence that helped the Gatineau Olympiques to a Memorial Cup appearance.
The Leaf rookies will arrive in Montreal on Thursday, September 9 and face the Florida Panther rookies in their first game of the tournament Saturday, September 11. Toronto matches up with Ottawa and Montreal on Sunday and Monday, respectively, with the tournament Final and Consolation Game on Tuesday, September 14.