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Maple Leafs expect to go through tough first training camp under Babcock

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TORONTO - Morgan Rielly has never played for Mike Babcock, so he's not sure exactly what to expect at the Toronto Maple Leafs' training camp. He just knows it won't be easy.

"He expects our team to be one of the hardest-working teams in the league," the 21-year-old defenceman said. "He wants the guys to be ready for a tough training camp, and I think that's good."

Camp begins Thursday in Toronto as the Leafs go through their physicals. The on-ice portion begins Friday in Bedford, N.S., and that's when players will get an up-close look at what made Babcock a Stanley Cup- and gold medal-winning coach.

"I think the players will immediately see who Mike Babcock is and just the way he runs his practice, how detailed he is and how he holds players accountable by simply what will be accepted and what won't be," general manager Lou Lamoriello said in a recent phone interview. "I don't think anything has to be said. I think that Mike's reputation precedes who he is today and what he will do."

Babcock has a reputation as one of the best hockey coaches in the world. And he comes to the Leafs with plenty of big expectations because of his US$50-million, eight-year contract.

"We know what to expect out of him and what he wants out of us," winger James van Riemsdyk said. "Obviously there's been more changes here than any other season (in the) past that I've been a part of. There's going to be a different feel around here."

Signing Babcock to that deal was just one part of the Leafs' tumultuous off-season. President Brendan Shanahan fired GM Dave Nonis, eventually replacing him with Lamoriello. The previous management group traded Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins on July 1 and filled the roster with several players on one-year contracts.

Forwards Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau, Shawn Matthias and Mark Arcobello and defenceman Matt Hunwick signed one-year deals, and the Leafs have defenceman Mark Fraser and forwards Brad Boyes, Curtis Glencross and Devin Setoguchi in camp on professional tryout agreements.

"I just think the more talent you have, the more competition you have, the more you find out about one another," Babcock said last week at a Leafs season-ticket-holder event. "To me, the tougher the situation gets, the more you learn. And that's what you're trying to find out. I want to have the best camp we possibly can have."

Seventy-three players will begin training camp, and Babcock hopes to whittle that number down after three practices and scrimmages outside Halifax. Top prospects Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen are part of that group, but they aren't good bets to make the opening night roster.

The Leafs want to bring their young players along slowly, and Babcock believes that a roster-spot tie goes to the veteran.

"We've got to give our veteran guys an opportunity to show us what we can do," Babcock said. "Let's find out what they are. In the meantime, if you're a young guy and you want to play on the Leafs, take someone's job."

Wanting to encourage competition, Babcock will also spend time trying to learn about his players, from captain Dion Phaneuf and forwards van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak and Joffrey Lupul, to the team's young defencemen, Rielly, Jake Gardiner and Stuart Percy.

Babcock said he likes the mobility the Leafs could have on defence and hopes to instil discipline team-wide.

"We're going to implement a good plan in training camp so they understand exactly how they play," he said. "And to me it's real simple: Structure protects the individual, and structure allows your skill to come out. We'll be a structured, hard-working team that makes our fans proud."

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