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Top-10 training camp storylines

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
by John McCauley

Mats Sundin must carry the offence for the Leafs again this year.
Graig Abel Photography
TORONTO - As summer wilts into fall, hockey begins its annual rejuvenation.

Training camp starts Thursday with medicals for 65 players vying for spots on the Toronto Maple Leafs roster. In the days and weeks to come the team will hit the ice in preparation for its 76th season.

But just like most years there are questions surrounding the Leafs as they try to improve upon their Eastern Conference Final appearance in 2002. Here are the Top 10 storylines to follow as GM/coach Pat Quinn and his staff selects this year's Blue and White warriors:

No. 10 -- How will newcomers Tom Fitzgerald and Aaron Gavey fit in with the Leafs? Fitzgerald is a veteran with good penalty killing abilities and leadership qualities. Gavey is a hard-working forward that makes up in heart what he lacks in talent.

No. 9 -- Will Karel Pilar be able to continue his progress and become a top-four defenceman? He had achieved that goal in the playoffs prior to breaking his thumb. Barring a setback he should be able to get back to playing at that level.

No. 8 -- The Leafs have a glut of centres heading into the season and that's not a bad thing. Mats Sundin, Travis Green, Robert Reichel, Alyn McCauley, Shayne Corson, Darcy Tucker, Brad Boyes and Nik Antropov all will get a chance to play pivot. The real question is who can make the easiest transition to the wing?

No. 7 -- Robert Svehla enters his first Leaf camp with plenty to prove. He's replacing a player in Dmitry Yushkevich who was adored for his heart and determination. A good start will go a long way to silencing any critics of the trade and making his first season a more enjoyable one.

No. 6 -- Health is always an issue in the preseason but for Mikael Renberg it's paramount. Entering his second year in T.O., the playmaking winger needs to stay out of the trainer's room. A horrible hamstring injury hampered him for the last part of the year and kept him out of the playoffs for the most part. Combine that with a boating accident this summer and hopefully the injury bug has had its fill of him.

No. 5 -- Pencilled in on the Leafs' blueline are Bryan McCabe, Tomas Kaberle, Aki Berg, Jyrki Lumme, Svehla and Pilar. The battle for those final spots should be one of the more interesting to watch. Anders Eriksson, Wade Belak, Marc Moro, Ryan Bonni, Richard Jackman will make the decision a tough one.

No. 4 -- The signing of Ed Belfour and Trevor Kidd solidified the Leafs goaltending issues. Both will be with the big club barring injury, which is always a risk with veteran players. Youngster's Sebastien Centomo and Mikael Tellqvist will be given the load in St. John's. They are both quality prospects for the future.

No. 3 -- Alyn McCauley vaulted himself up the depth chart with a great playoff last spring and now he has to prove it wasn't a fluke. McCauley will be battling Robert Reichel and his salary for ice time as the team's second-line centre. His defensive game will have to take a backseat if he wants to put up the numbers needed to keep the spot.

No. 2 -- Gary Roberts is out until after Christmas and his replacement will likely be a prospect. The most likely candidates are Nik Antropov (as soon as he is healthy) and Alexei Ponikarovsky. Antropov is coming off another knee surgery but he needs to clear waivers in order to be sent back to St. John's. Ponikarovsky is a favourite of Pat Quinn and looked ready for the NHL last year.

No. 1 -- Who will play as Mats Sundin's wingers? Jonas Hoglund and Mikael Renberg created the Tre Kroners line last year but injuries kept them separated most of the time in the second half. Alex Mogilny is always a possibility but Quinn doesn't like to put all of his eggs in one basket. Corson could be a candidate as well. The honour is up for grabs.
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