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Leafs training camp more important this season

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
by Tony Care.

Probably more than any other year in recent memory, the Leafs need this upcoming training camp to get in synch. After coming off a subpar regular season, but a good playoff run, the team didn't stand pat.

Knowing that his team simply wasn't good enough offensively to compete with New Jersey and Philadelphia, general manager and head coach Pat Quinn added scorers Robert Reichel, Mikael Renberg and Alexander Mogilny to the roster. The Leafs also traded for Travis Green who will probably centre the team's third line.

With many new faces on the two scoring lines, the players need time to gel and thus this training camp becomes important. Logic suggests that captain Mats Sundin will centre Gary Roberts and Renberg on the top line. In the playoffs, Roberts and Sundin played extremely well together with their complementary styles providing a real boost to the attack. Sundin also has played with Renberg on the Swedish National team, but both will still need to get their timing down.

In the playoff series against New Jersey it was evident that the Leafs lacked scoring depth. While the trio of Sundin, Roberts and the departed Steve Thomas produced, no other line could step up and take some of the burden off the top unit. So Reichel and Mogilny should form the basis of a solid second line, possibly joined by Shayne Corson.

Reichel has been away from the NHL for two years, but is a good playmaker and should complement his linemates. Mogilny, coming off a 43-goal season with New Jersey, should maintain that level this year. The Russian sniper has proved to be a better player when he's not the main man. Fortunately for himself and the team, that role belongs to Sundin.

Corson was hurt during most of the season, but rebounded to have a terrific postseason. He says he's feeling much healthier this summer and his rugged style should free space for both Reichel and Mogilny. However, this line will need time to develop some type of chemistry before the season starts.

Green was brought in to replace the departed Yanic Perreault. He's a good two-way player but thrives on face-offs, which was Perreault's specialty.

Much to the surprise of many, the Leaf defence played better than advertised in the playoffs. This unit blocked an incredible amount of shots against Ottawa and New Jersey, but some questions need to be answered during training camp. During the off season, the Leafs traded Danny Markov as part of the deal that brought both Reichel and Green to Toronto.

Markov was a steady performer whose departure means the Leafs lose some experience on the blue-line. Compounding the problem is the Tomas Kaberle contract stalemate with the team. The two sides remain at an impasse which may drag on for awhile. While he struggled at times last year, Kaberle is improving and there's a reason why Quinn didn't want to include him in the failed Eric Lindros trade talks.

Bryan McCabe and Aki Berg surprised many with their play last season and look to have another strong year. The Leafs also expect to see how this year's second-round pick Karel Pilar will perform as he will be vying for a spot.

Curtis Joseph remains an elite goaltender. The only question surrounding him is whether the contract talks with the club will affect his play if an agreement isn't reached before the season begins. One interesting player to watch at this camp is rookie goalie Mikael Tellqvist. If he can show the Leafs enough early on, look for him to play between 15 and 20 games. Many in the organization think he could be the goalie of the future and even Sundin raved about his Swedish teammate at the World Championships in May.

All in all, there are many players secure in their position, a handful of new players who will be looking to mesh with the returning squad and a cluster of youngsters looking to make their mark in the NHL.
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