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Tellqvist may not be ready for Leafs this year

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
by Tony Care

He's been called the goaltender of the future.

The Leafs are giving him every opportunity to be the new backup goalie to Curtis Joseph. He's already had success in his native country of Sweden and Leaf captain Mats Sundin has already seen a glimpse of what he can do.

However, in reality it's just too soon to tell whether 21-year-old (he'll be 22 on September 19) Mikael Tellqvist can become a quality No. 1 goaltender in the NHL. With Glenn Healy now retired, it's obvious the team wants Tellqvist to step in and show he's capable of playing between 15-20 games this year.

The goaltending depth in the Leafs' system is not strong. Mike Minard, Jamie Hodson, Sebastien Centomo and Corey Schwab are all in training camp, but it's doubtfully that any of them will make the final roster. If Tellqvist doesn't impress the Leafs this camp, the team will need to look into bringing in a veteran backup.

You could see the talent that Tellqvist brings to the organization, but the young Swedish netminder still has a lot to learn.

"He's done well for the Swedish National Team," said Sundin. "But it's a total different game when you compare it to the National Hockey League. I'm sure he's realizing that the smaller ice surface is a big difference and he'll see that in the exhibition games. The pucks are coming at him quicker and he has to make decisions a little quicker. Obviously he has an adjustment time I'm sure, but if he keeps working on his game and he adapts I think he has a bright future."

Tellqvist's development looks promising. The Leafs drafted him in the third round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. The native of Sundbyberg, Sweden spent last season with Djurgardens of the Swedish Elite League. In 43 games he recorded five shutouts with a 2.08 goals against average. He also helped Djurgardens to a playoff championship and backstopped Sweden to a 3-2 win over the U.S. in the bronze medal game at the World Championships.

While some would consider those accomplishments impressive, Tellqvist feels he may not be ready for the NHL just yet.

"I said to myself that I will probably end up in St. John's," said Tellqvist. "If I don't it would be a big bonus for me."

Aside from the smaller ice surface there are many other differences between the North American game and the international one. For one, almost all of the best players in the world play in the NHL and the game is faster and more physical. Tellqvist has quickly learned how difficult the NHL game is.

"The toughest part is the angles," he said. "It's a little bit tougher for me and here, you face more shots."

It's difficult for any young player let alone a 21-year-old goaltender to make the jump from International hockey to the NHL. The good news is, barring any failed negotiations, that Joseph will be the Leafs' No. 1 goaltender for the next three to four years. If Tellqvist can adjust to the NHL, he should be ready by that time.

"He's got a chance, but it's going to be a long road," said Sundin.

Notes: The Leafs will hold some form of training camp in St. John's after all. The team, which has been waiting since Tuesday to fly east, took a charter flight to St. John's on Saturday night. The Leafs will hold their Blue and White scrimmage on Sunday and then play the Canadiens Monday.

The team will then travel to Montreal for a Tuesday night game and play in Ottawa Wednesday. With the NHL cancelling all weekend games due to the tragedy that hit the United States, the Leafs will play five games in the next seven days.

"There's more anxiety knowing that we're leaving then there was when we thought we might stay," said Leafs forward Darcy Tucker. "I think that's just for the simple fact that our security was breached before (the hijacked planes in the U.S.) and it leaves that thought in everyone's mind."
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