All you had to do was take one glance at Leaf players going through their physical to realize that summer is over and the start of a new NHL season is just around the corner. Players were supposed to leave for St. John's, Nfld. on Tuesday to start training camp, but terrorist attacks in New York and Washington changed those plans and it was uncertain when and where the Leafs would commence their camp.
With all the changes the team has gone through over the last two months, the Leafs will use this training camp to figure out where everyone will be playing.
"We have a lot of changes this year and training camp is very important for us to get familiar with everybody," said defenceman Dmitry Yushkevich. "We have to see what we can to as a team."
While newly acquired Alexander Mogilny, Mikael Renberg and Robert Reichel have grabbed most of the headlines, the Leafs will also have new faces on the blueline. With Danny Markov traded to Phoenix and Tomas Kaberle involved in a contract dispute with the team, others will be given a chance to make an impression. Still, Yushkevich likes the potential of the defence.
"Those young defencemen (Bryan McCabe, Aki Berg) who played for us last year will be more mature and they'll get better," he said. "We're going to miss Tomas, but we hope that he will be back with the team soon."
One Leaf who's trying to lay claim to one of those spots is Nathan Dempsey. The 27-year-old, who was drafted in the 11th round of the 1992 entry draft, has only played in 45 NHL games, but hopes his offseason training will help him finally make the big club.
"I try and maintain the same consistency in my workouts," said Dempsey. "It was a good summer to get myself in shape and get ready for camp".
The Leafs will also be taking a look at another defenceman, Karel Pilar. He was a surprise second-round pick in this year's entry draft but is highly touted by the organization. While many teams had Pilar rated much lower, the Leafs like his offensive skills and think he has a chance of making the team this year. Regardless of whether Pilar makes the team or not, the young Czech won't be intimated by NHL players.
"I played in (the World) championships and I played against some guys from the NHL," said Pilar. "I didn't have a problem with these guys."
As for Renberg, he comes back to the NHL after a one-year absence from the league. Renberg, who played in Sweden last year to spend more with his daughter, doesn't think the time off will affect him.
"It was a good year for me to be home in Sweden," said Renberg. "I had a good year with my club team and with the national team but to tell the truth I missed the NHL and I look forward to finishing my career here in the league. I think we have really good players on this team and this team looks really, really strong."
The degree of strength of the team will become more evident when training camp begins whether that actually is in St. John's or in Toronto.