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Looking At The Roster As The Season Nears

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Pics | Recap | Game In 6 | Post | Coach | Tlusty | CuJo | Stralman | Blake

The Maple Leafs play the Columbus Blue Jackets at Air Canada Centre on Sunday afternoon and let’s hope they can settle more then they did Saturday in a 4-3 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

All the Leafs proved Saturday was Curtis Joseph is a slow starter which isn’t really news. He endured a sub-par preseason in his first stint in Toronto and that turned out okay.

Joseph’s four goals against in 22 shots notwithstanding, the Leafs provided fewer clues than usual as to the exact makeup of the club come Monday.

The Maple Leafs were playing their second night in a row. Sunday's game is the third in two-and-one-half days or fourth in less than four days. You do the math.

“I’m actually glad that’s happening,” said Leafs coach Ron Wilson. “It gives me a little bit of insight on where the players are mentally. Do they give up a little bit or feel sorry for themselves?”

Luke Schenn did nothing to discredit what has been a commendable preseason. A minor injury to Jeff Finger makes Finger doubtful for the first game or two. Not much should change when Finger comes back so it’s wise of Ian White to eagerly embrace an experiment that moved him from defence to wing. He looks a little out of place but will do no real harm.

“I challenge myself to be a flexible player and to do my job whenever it may be and whenever I am called upon,” White said. “I can’t play goalie but maybe I’ll start working on it next summer.”

The best two Leafs Saturday were Niklas Hagman and Mikhail Grabovski who netted his fourth goal of the preseason. The puck followed the duo around all night. Jason Blake was always going to make the team but he scored a couple of  goals and showed the kind of jump that was noticeably absent last season when he has told he had with a highly treatable but nonetheless shocking leukemia.

“I feel better. I don’t know if I’m a better player but I feel better,” Blake said. “That’s half the battle, mentally I wasn’t in it.”

Swedish rookie Jonas Frogren’s positioning and confidence are on the rise. He’s a lock.

Just as interesting, Saturday night at least, was the players who did not play, particularly Dominic Moore and Mark Bell. Moore showed plenty of the speed the Leafs need in the early season and he should stick. Bell, however, hasn’t clicked. If incumbents Moore and Boyd Devereaux make the team Ryan Hollweg could be at risk. Hollweg has been a ready fighter but otherwise inconspicuous.

The goaltending has never been in question. Vesa Toskala will play 60 games or so, Joseph should be on hand to do the rest and it’s way to early to worry, if at all, about the veteran’s game.

“Sometimes there’s an adjustment, new teams and new players and certainly I’ve let a few in that I shouldn’t have,” Joseph said.  "Sometimes that happens. I know the first year in Phoenix, the preseason was horrendous but the season went really well. I have that on my side."

Justin Pogge plays what should be his final year of minor-pro with the Marlies before graduating to the NHL

The Leafs will carry 23 players.

They have 11 sure-fire bets to play at forward: Hagman, Alex Steen, Matt Stajan, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Jason Blake, Nik Antropov, Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Moore, Devereaux and Jamal Mayers

Jiri Tlusty looked better against the Wings but hasn’t been prominent. Robbie Earl probably needs more seasoning. Kyle Rogers will definitely be sent down but he is a real prospect, he has size, good skating and real imagination.

The givens on defence are Schenn, Finger, Tomas Kaberle, Anton Stralman, Carlo Colaiacovo and the club’s go-to defenceman Pavel Kubina. Fighting for spots are Mike Van Ryn and Staffan Kronwall and Ian White, although White’s ability to play up front should help him.

“I definitely think I got a chance to make the team,” Kronwall said Saturday.  “I’m not going to complain if I’m not making the team. They gave me a chance and that’s all I can ask for.”
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