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What We've Learned So Far

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
   
  
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The Leafs and the Philadelphia Flyers meet tonight at the Air Canada Centre at the pivot point of what will be a backbreaking run of five games in as many nights.

So far the Leafs have gone 2-1. Saturday, they travel to Buffalo for a game against the Sabres before they are allotted a day off on Sunday. Hey, even God rested on Sunday.

By the end of the weekend, the pre-season will be at its midway point. So where are we?

Well based on the first three games, we can categorize things nicely.

As advertised:  After a fine finish last season, goalie Jonas Gustavsson was once again solid in London. For him, the season could start right now. Fourth line centre Mike Brown played well in London. A good skater and a fearless player, Brown is a prototypical fourth liner. Luke Schenn certainly looks more engaged than he did last season. Lost in the gnashing of teeth over his poor start was some solid work in the second half so his solid play comes as no surprise.

Better than expected: Mike Komisarek rocked the house in his only game. A controlled, surly Komisarek would go a long way in bettering the club’s blue line. Phil Kessel was a blur in his only appearance. He too could start the season right away. Jay Rosehill has been absolutely predatory in the pre-season. He has bettered his stock. Defenceman Matt Lashoff greatest adversary has been a glut of defencemen. He has shown himself to be a lower case, low maintenance defenceman. Christian Hanson has advanced, albeit incrementally. Not so for Mikhail Grabovski whose conditioning and aggressiveness have left Leafs’ coach Ron Wilson absolutely giddy. Luca Caputi, a bit of an afterthought has been solid in the pre-season.

Quiet: For veterans, there is little wrong in this category. Kris Versteeg and Colby Armstrong, two high-profile summer acquisitions have rounded their game into shape. Same with Tyler Bozak and Nikolai Kulemin who should play their second game tonight. Francois Beauchemin is enjoying an uneventful pre-season. Brett Lebda has done little to dissuade the coaching staff from the notion that he should be on the team on opening night.

Up and down: Marcel Mueller is an impossible prospect to ignore. He is exceptionally strong on the puck and a wonderful skater. He has a terrific shot. But just as obvious is Mueller’s discomfort with North American rinks which have resulted in a steady trail of errant passes. He delivered a widowmaker in London that resulted in Christian Hanson being jolted to the ice. Clearly an upper echelon prospect, Mueller looks destined to develop into a valuable NHL player. Knowing exactly when would be nice.

The jury is still out: Put Nazem Kadri in this camp. Kadri is skating well but he has been unable to generate much. Last night in London saw Kadri play a little better but the dynamic player who opened eyes last year has not been in evidence.
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