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Rookie Tourney Builds Foundation

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

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Things in the rear view can be bigger than they initially appear.

Take the Leafs rookie camp, convened from Saturday to Tuesday at GM Centre in Oshawa.

The Leafs wrapped up the tournament Tuesday with a 4-3 loss to finish in second place.

Convened just before the big camp, the rookie experience more often than not ends with a trip back to junior.

There will be no overwhelming surprise when promising young players such as defenceman Jake Gardiner and winger Matt Frattin are advanced to the next stage. The out of nowhere candidate has yet to appear.

“This year is a little different. When you go back to past rookie tournaments someone has always come out of it to play for a full year with the Leafs or at least a large number of games,” said Marlies coach Dallas Eakins, the on-ice leader of the camp.

“I know a lot of people don’t believe in rookie camp but it’s not like we are putting our foot down right away. We are going to do the speed bump first then go a little faster and then we’ll jump on the 401.”

Take Mitchell Heard, undrafted by both the NHL and OHL teams, Heard turned heads by scoring three goals in two games.

“It’s a big eye-opener to see the leadership from the older guys,” said Heard, a 19-goal scorer with the Plymouth Whalers. “Being on time is a big thing here. I look up to those older guys and they show me the ropes.”

Director of Amateur Scouting Dave Morrison sees a steady upgrade in the prospects and points to big, tough players such as Jamie Devane and David Broll.

“On average we are quite a bit tougher than we were four or five years ago. I think it’s a function of keeping our picks and adding picks. You are able to get more of what you want and what you like.”

“I look at these tournaments for each player to see where his game is at, to seize the moment,” said Director of Player Development Jim Hughes.

“These experiences are good for their growth. They are stepping stones, building blocks that help build that foundation and it really starts in small tournaments like this.”
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