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Rookies Opening Eyes At Rookie Camp

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs go into their last few days of rookie camp in Kitchener with a handful of standouts who will push for a spot in the big club’s training camp.

A hat-trick by Christian Hanson has furnished notice of his intention to continue but a handful of other players are in the mix.

Not the least among them is Nazem Kadri, the club’s first-round draft choice. Kadri has scored one goal in the tournament and has impressed coach Dallas Eakins with his speed and determination.

“It feels good,” said the 18-year-old London Knight. “I hadn’t been on the ice since the world junior camp. It’s going pretty well.”

Kadri insists the approach is the same.

“It doesn’t change no matter who you are playing. I just want to step on the ice with the same mentality as when you are playing junior.”

That said, the Leafs rookie needs to change elements for employment and health reasons.

“In junior when he is approaching the blue line with speed, he dekes, dangles or uses his speed,” said Eakins, the Marlies and prospects head coach.

“Here he is being challenged at the blue line and we’ve had some big-time turnovers from him. That cannot happen in the NHL because those end up immediately in your net. It’s not a huge thing. It’s just a different way to think about the game.”

Meanwhile, centreman Tyler Bozak has played two games. He too has a goal but it’s his overall play that has left Eakins impressed, especially since the former University of Denver star had his second year truncated by a knee injury.”

“Bozak has been great. I was actually worried about Tyler coming off his knee injury and how he would respond,” said Eakins. “He has been excellent. He is winning face-offs, he’s competitive and he’s really impressed me.”

Though largely unheralded, defenceman Carl Gunnarsson has stood out. No surprise, really, since the 22-year-old has a large advantage in experience.

Gunnarsson, was the 189th player chosen by the Leafs in the 2007 draft but a dramatically effective late season in Sweden and noticeable playing time with the Swedish national team at the World Championships rekindled the Leafs’ interest.

Gunnarsson is a defence-first rearguard with an unerring first pass out of the zone.

“I never thought now that I would play in NHL. It wasn’t my goal last year, but now it’s a different situation. I’ve got to do everything I can to take a spot on the team.”

Viktor Stalberg, a six-foot-three Swedish left winger who played at the University of Vermont last season and scored 24 goals has won praise for his skating and willingness to go to the trouble spot. Jonas Gustavsson, another Swede impressed in his only game as well. He surrendered a goal in his only contest.

The Leafs play the Pittsburgh Penguins at tonight at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium.

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