Now is the time to see if Nik Antropov can take the next step in his development and Leaf coach Pat Quinn is giving him that chance. During the Leafs' 2-0 win over the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night at Air Canada Centre, Quinn shook up his lines and put Antropov with Alexander Mogilny and Shayne Corson.
While many feel that Antropov should spend a season down in St. John's, Quinn wants to see what Antropov can do with some skilled linemates.
"We're giving him a cookie," said Quinn during Monday's practice. "Let's see what he does with it."
Quinn has a point. If the Leafs aren't going to send Antropov down any time soon, then they need to find out if their young centre can play with the big boys.
Playing with Mogilny and Corson in his first game drew mixed reviews. Antropov had a good scoring chance at the side of the net that was stopped by Bruins goaltender Byron Dafoe in the second period. He also turned over the puck in the same period to Boston forward Mikko Eloranta but Curtis Joseph made a great save on the breakaway.
"It was a difficult game as a line," said Mogilny. "Maybe Nik wanted to do a little too much. He should have maybe kept it a little more simple in certain situations. Maybe he was a little nervous and he tried to overplay in some areas and that's when you get in trouble."
Quinn wasn't shy about how he used Antropov nor should he be. Antropov played the most minutes of any Leaf forward through the first two periods and also saw time on the power play.
Since the Leafs drafted him with their first pick in the 1998 NHL Draft, Antropov has teased the team with his talent. He's big and is an imposing figure around the opposing team's net. While many had Antropov going in the second round, he impressed the Leafs early on and scored 30 points in his rookie season three years ago.
However, like his scouting report suggests, Antropov struggles with his skating which he hasn't been able to overcome. Over the last year, Antropov has been either played on the fourth line or relegated to the press box. But if he's to improve, he needs the kind of ice time he received Tuesday night. Sitting him will only slow is progress.
To be fair, Antropov has been plagued with injuries during his three seasons in Toronto. Seventeen months ago, he underwent reconstructive knee surgery. It usually takes a hockey player two years to fully come back from an injury such as Antropov's. And while his skating still needs improvement, Yanic Perreault has always had questionable skating ability and he's turned out to be a solid hockey player, so there is hope.
"Perhaps there was a few too many turnovers, but for the most part he wasn't bad (in Tuesday's game)," said Quinn. "Everybody is watching Nik and that may help him if he deals with it properly and it may help him become a better player sooner."