The Toronto Maple Leafs are one loss away from being out of the playoffs. The Leafs are without their Captain Mats Sundin and Nikolai Antropov, the two offensive leaders on the team, down the stretch are both out now.
Sundin and Antropov have led this team in almost every offensive category. This means that the remaining centers on the Leafs’ current roster have a total of 37 goals, going into tonight.
I never said it was going to be easy, but they have to begin at some point. Tonight is that point, and tonight is that start.
The youth movement begins with Jiri Tlusty, Jeremy Williams, Robbie Earl, Kris Newbury, Anton Stralman, and Alex Foster all in their rookie season going into tonight. Foster will be making his NHL debut.
Players getting a real chance to make an impact are Alexander Steen, Matt Stajan, and Tlusty. They are going to be filling in those high valuable minutes occupied previously by Sundin and Antropov.
After the deadline, the Leaf's GM Cliff Fletcher started the youth movement by dealing Wade Belak, Chad Kilger, and Hal Gill. This made room for the younger offensive rookies, and more minutes to the defensive core.
Those minutes were given to Ian White, Carlo Coliocovo and Anton Stralman. These three young defensemen have played quite well since the deadline, and are continuing to improve. Ice time, experience, and consistency builds strong defensive defensemen, and it's starting to show in their play.
Starting tonight, and for the rest of this season, we'll see if the youngsters can grow, develop and propel themselves into better producing players. Stajan and Steen have shown they can be consistent defensive minded 3rd line players, but can they achieve greatness, become top line players, maybe one day play in an all-star game.
Only time will tell.