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Wilson In Mid-Season Form At Prospect Camp

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Nazem Kadri reminds Ron Wilson of a young Tony Amonte.

Mikhail Grabovski and a host of other young Maple Leafs will thrive without the threat of being constantly filled in by bigger opponents.

It took goalie Vesa Toskala an inordinate amount of time to come clean about his groin and hip injuries last season.

Those are just some of the remarks that sprang off the tongue of Leafs’ coach Ron Wilson in an informal scrum Monday with reporters at the club’s prospect camp.

It may be summer but Wilson, the Leafs outspoken coach was in mid-season form in discussing last year’s team and the prospects for next year.

On seeing Kadri, the Leafs’ seventh-overall draft choice, skate for the first time:

“He’s definitely quick. It’s probably wrong for me to compare him to anybody but when I watched I thought I was seeing a young Tony Amonte. I hope that doesn’t disappoint anybody, he was a very successful scorer in the NHL who was a 40-goal scorer but that’s what came to mind. I don’t know if he’ll be that good but there are similarities, same skating style, he shoots off the wrong foot. I was impressed."

On the Leafs’ acquisition of free agents tough guy Colton Orr and hardrock defenceman Mike Komisarek:

"When you see our free agents and a couple of deals that Brian has made, we are certainly going to be able to be able to protect him if the player is ready to play. Number one in my mind is someone like Mikhail Grabovski. He won’t have to be pulling himself off the boards anymore like he did last year. He’ll be an even better hockey player when we get those guys into the lineup."

On the long wait for word from Swedish goaltender Jonas Gustavsson:

"We are kind of waiting with bated breath. Hopefully we can get him on board because he’s a good goalie first of all and obviously it will be competition for (starter Vesa Toskala) Tosk. Tosk is our number one guy and I think it’s healthy that he is being pushed by somebody. If we don’t get Jonas, Brian will have to get a free agent or make a trade."

On the new-look Leafs:

"First and foremost, we needed to make ourselves bigger and Brian has accomplished that. We needed to change the tenor of our team. People are thinking boy you go across the blue line against the Leafs, this is a huge defence and getting bigger."

On Toskala’s hesitancy to go public with his injuries last season and Burke’s use of the media to question his practice habits:

" Vesa was banged up and he didn’t come clean with many of us last year about what was really ailing him. I thought defensively we actually kept people from the front of the net, but this year we’ll be a lot more rugged. IF you want to go to the front of the net, we’ve got two or three guys and I am including Luke (Schenn), (Mike) Komisarek, Garnet Exelby. There’s one guy in each pair who can pound you or be mean in front of the net.

"I’ve known Vesa a log time. That’s the way Vesa is. The harder you dig he puts up an even stronger wall. It only came down near the end when Brian called him out in the paper. That’s when everything came forward. That was probably the best thing he could have done because it enabled him to get the surgery a little earlier and get way ahead in his rehab, which he is. Whoever is going to be the backup will obviously put on some pressure. Vesa is like any athlete, he needs a little push from behind."

On what new goaltending consult Francois Allaire will bring for Toskala, who doesn’t have the height Allaire usually looks for in goalies:

“Vesa is still basically a butterfly goalie, almost every goalie is. I don’t think Vesa can do some of the things a Francois Allaire dream goalie can because he’s not big but there are a lot of little things Francois will help Vesa with. Also, Francois works out his goalies up extraordinarily hard. That will help Vesa down the road, how hard he is going to work at practice, which was for us, at times, an issue.

On the goals for next season:

"We would like to make the playoffs next year. We will do our best to do that. I think for the next couple of years we are going to be spending a lot of time developing players. If we can make the playoffs while we are doing that, then great. Primarily, if I am going to have five, six rookies on our team again, which is a real possibility, we have to make sure they get better as hockey players."

On what Allaire can do for Pogge:

"I think he can help him a lot but the ball is totally up to Pogues. The ball is in his court as to how he is going to accept coaching, how he is going to dig down. He will be challenged this year. James Reimer won the ECHL championship, he was the MVP. Pogues is going to be pushed, not for the job with the Leafs, but pushed for the job with the Marlies. If Pogues is open minded, he’s going to get some of the best coaching any young goalie could get."

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