By John McCauley
April 18, 2006
(TORONTO) -- Another season comes to an end. Another Spring minus the Stanley Cup for Leafs Nation, but it didn't come without making some strides in the right direction.
|Jeremy Williams scored his first NHL goal Tuesday. |
(Graig Abel Photography)
It can be said that the Toronto Maple Leafs will be a better team for years to come because of what was learned in this shortened campaign. Twelve rookies wore the blue and white for one reason or another over the course of the campaign, the latest being youngster Jeremy Williams, who made his NHL debut in a 5-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The win gave Toronto a team record 26 home victories and 90 points, but it was the lowest total during the Pat Quinn era.
Williams and fellow Marlie John Pohl both were called up to replace Jeff O'Neill and Nik Antropov, who were sidelined with injury. Antropov had a minor procedure on his knee and will be able to begin his rehabilitation immediately.
Pohl opened the scoring by tipping home a Mats Sundin shot and assisted on another. It's hard to imagine a scenario in which he isn't on the big club full-time next year.
Williams made an impression as well. He potted his first-ever NHL marker on a laser beam to the top shelf on a 2-on-1. A scoring touch like that is something that could carry him to a strong NHL career.
"It was the greatest day of my life so far that's for sure," said Williams. "My grandpa passed away a couple weeks ago and that one was for him."
The same goes for a good percentage of the rest of the Brat pack.
At least three rookies will start next season on the blueline. Most probable being Staffan Kronwall, Andy Wozniewski and Carlo Colaiacovo. Pushing that trio in no particular order will be Brendan Bell, Jay Harrison and Ian White.
Up front you will have a sophomore duo of Alexander Steen, Kyle Wellwood. Matt Stajan's third year could be his best yet considering the way he finished the season playing his more familiar centre position. Real close could be newly-acquired Alexander Suglobov, the aforementioned Williams, and college standout Robbie Earl may have shot with his speed.
Combine those players with what John Ferguson does with his close to $15 million in cap space and it isn't that far fetched that with some key free-agent signings the Leafs will be right back at the top of the Eastern Conference this time next season.
Considering the how those same rookies have played this year, the Leafs dark days may be nothing more than a passing phase.