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Who's Next For The Maple Leafs?

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

Mike Ulmer will discuss his latest blog on Thursday, June 18 at 1 p.m., so submit your questions and comments now.

From 1995 to 2008, Mats Sundin was the face of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ franchise.

He succeeded Doug Gilmour who more or less succeeded Wendel Clark who arrived a little while after Darryl Sittler and Borje Salming who succeeded Frank Mahovlich and Dave Keon, more or less.

Syl Apps and Ted Kennedy, Charlie Conacher and Turk Broda, Joe Primeau and John Bower and Rick Vaive. The stars have not all abutted of course, but there have been enough to give the feeling of slightly interrupted pantheon of greatness.

The Leafs need a star. This has been demonstrated superbly by the unwillingness of coach Ron Wilson and GM Brian Burke to name a captain.

It is, I think, a sound decision. The captaincy denotes, or at least it should denote, an elite player, they guy who carries the flag.

The Leafs Next Big Thing doesn’t have to be the captain. But he has to have all the elements of stardom.

This is Toronto. Fans love the Leafs but they are accustomed to a franchise player, a benchmark performer they can follow through good seasons or bad.

The requirements are simple yet stringent. The player should be one of the top two or three players on the club in terms of talent. He needs to have abundant character. With the Leafs in a drastic overhaul, he is going to have to be young, the better to relate to a youthful roster.

So who is it going to be? Well, let’s look at the roster.

Luke Schenn carries immense promise, but he is just 19 years old and his game, he maxes out as a shutdown defenceman with some offence, may not be splashy enough. He certainly is a candidate, probably the best one.

Niklas Hagman has more than enough jam but he is by nature an excellent support player.

Nikolai Kulemin and Jiri Tlusty will take years to immerse themselves in the game. An outside bet for the future is Tyler Bozak. Signed by the Leafs as a college free agent, Bozak is a hard-working two-way centre who should play soon.

There are no candidates among the current crop of free agents. Florida defenceman Jay Bouwmeester may not have the personality for the job. The Sedins bring obvious marquee appeal but will be dreadfully expensive as a set. The Flames’ free agent Mike Cammalleri is more sniper than heart and soul guy.

Of the players considered at large Dany Heatley and Wade Redden have huge holes in their games that would preclude them becoming the face of the franchise. Only Vincent Lecavalier would have what it takes.

And what of the draft? John Tavares, Burke’s longtime target, would fit nicely as would Matt Duchene and, assuming his offence maxes out, Brayden Schenn.

So who is going to the Leafs next big thing? Bring your thoughts, ideas and theories. We will be live chatting on Thursday at 1 p.m.
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