Toronto Maple Leafs Early Season Stock Report
The Toronto Maple Leafs are seven games into their 2013 season and sitting at a pedestrian four wins and three losses. Under normal 82 game circumstances, it would be too early to be too positive or negative on how the Leafs have come out of the gate, but the shortened season is already 14 percent complete.
There is a saying in Leaf Nation that the Leafs don't have one 82-game season, they have 82, one-game seasons with the way the fans and media rise or fall with every win or loss.
Having said that, it's early, but let's take a look at who's stock has risen, fallen and who is holding firm in their place on the blue and white roster.
Rising Fast: Defensive Play: Frattin, Kadri, JVR
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Aside from some struggles against the New York Rangers and the New York Islanders, the Toronto Maple Leafs have shown much improvement in their defensive play. Their cohesion in their own zone is light years ahead of last year and they have given up less odd man rushes than we have seen in the past.
Randy Carlyle has the players buying in, and the results have them a few spots ahead of last year compared to other teams.
The 25-year-old native of Edmonton is the fastest rising Leaf so far, and has gone from being the last forward cut out of camp to the third leading scorer on the team with six points.
Frattin was called up to replace injured first line winger Joffrey Lupul three games in to the season, and has delivered back to back game winning goals for the Leafs playing a very confident, all around game along side Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov.
The ultra-talented Kadri has been the Leafs' favorite lightning rod for controversy in his first few years in the organization, with public coach's criticism and management call-outs being the norm up until this year.
Although Kadri was a major player in the Toronto Marlies' run to the Calder Cup final last year and one of their top scorers this year, he was not a lock to make the team.
Kadri made the team, centering a brand new third line and has come out of the gate with seven points to lead the Leafs in scoring. He has been the most consistently dangerous forward thus far, at the same time responsible on the south side of the puck.
James van Riemsdyk
New Leaf JVR has adjusted well to life in the blue and white and is tied with Frattin for the most goals on the team with four.
It took a bit of prodding by coach Randy Carlyle, but JVR is going to the dirty areas strong, and reaping the benefits of replacing Lupul on the "first" line with Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel.
Rising: Bozak, Kostka, Franson, Reimer, Fraser, McClement, Komarov
This is Bozak's third full season with the Toronto Maple Leafs after splitting his rookie year between the Leafs and the Toronto Marlies, and there is clearly some solid growth in his game. He was mentioned in much trade speculation before the season, but has silenced it somewhat with his solid all-around game.
Bozak has five points in seven games centering the Leafs' top unit, and has been their best man in the face off circle. Bozak gets knocked as a legitimate number one center, and there may be some merit to that, but he is proving to be a valuable player, who is better than many number two or three centers out there.
Some call it typical Leaf folly that defenseman Mike Kostka went from zero games in the NHL, to playing close to 30 minutes a night including power play. There have been hiccups and struggles along the way and Kostka is a minus-six to start the season. It is still a debate whether Kostka can handle the work load and remain effective, but regardless, his stock has risen in the organization and throughout the league.
Franson could never seem to get on track last season under coach Ron Wilson, and it is clear he likes Carlyle much better. Franson has been a healthy scratch in three of seven games this year, but has been excellent when in the line up. He is fairly mobile for his size and his offensive instincts are very good. He should be a mainstay on the Leafs blue line from here on in.
After struggling with injuries and poor play last season, Reimer is starting to find the quality in his game that he had when he burst in to the line up two years ago. He has not given up the crease since replacing Ben Scrivens four games ago and has a three and one record. He is starting to put all the goaltending questions on hold, for now.
The 27-year-old bruising defenseman made the Leafs roster out of camp and has seen spot duty in the first seven games. He gives the Leafs a nasty presence low in their own zone and makes opponents think twice about taking the puck to the net. He has shown a surprisingly good first pass.
The Leafs brought McClement in for some size, leadership and responsible defensive play and he has delivered on all three. He started centering the fourth line with Colton Orr and Mike Brown, but after moving up in line up a bit due to injuries, he has shown a little more.
Not much was known about the Finnish league and KHL veteran coming in to this season, but he has proven to be a solid NHL hockey player with surprising grit for his size. Komarov has speed, smarts and guts and has been very effective on the forecheck and penalty kill. He should stick with the Leafs all season.
Falling: Power Play: Gardiner, Kessel, Phaneuf, Scrivens, Brown
The power play was a positive among many negatives last year for the Toronto Maple Leafs finishing 10th in the league at 18.53 percent.
This season, they sit in 21st overall at 15.32 percent with some troubling signs in their approach. The Leafs have been using Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel as their primary trigger men and both are firing blanks thus far. Phaneuf can't seem to hit the net and Kessel is too predictable on the half boards. The Leafs may want to consider more movement in their approach.
The young blue liner was the brightest star last season and dominated the AHL this year before suffering a concussion four games in to the Marlies' season. He has not been able to regain his form thus far and has been sent down to the Toronto Marlies a couple times already as a clear sign from his coach.
I fully expect him to bounce back to the top of his game very soon, but his stock has dipped a bit nonetheless.
Kessel has faced constant scrutiny of his all-around game since he arrived in Toronto with his goal scoring prowess as his only saving grace. Kessel scores and scores regularly is always the mantra to keep the critics straight. He has been a solid performer this season, but after seven games, he has yet to score a goal.
His slump to start is made more troubling by a shortened season, where prolonged streaks can make or break you more than ever. Kessel gets paid to score and as each goalless game goes by, his stock falls and his frustration grows. If the Leafs lose more than they win, his stock will take the brunt of the hit.
Like Kessel, Phaneuf has not been horrible this season, but more is needed out of him. He garners the most minutes on the Leafs' blue line and has struggled at times with a minus-six after seven games. Phaneuf is also one of the triggers on the power play and he sits with no goals and one assist so far.
He can bomb the puck from the point, but he misses the net far too often and has already injured a teammate with a rising errand shot. He has yet to deliver one of his bone crushing hits either to put the fear in to opposing forwards. His coach has taken some of the blame for playing Dion too much, but he simply needs to be better if he is going to be a leader on the ice, and his stock continues to creep down.
In three starts this season, Scrivens has only had 10 bad minutes in the net so his stock has not taken a large hit. He was pulled in his last appearance after a couple of shaky goals and has not seen the net since. Randy Carlyle gave him the ball out of the gate and his stock has dipped simply because he lost his chance so quickly.
Brown has always been valued for his straight ahead, fearless and physical game, and he brings the energy every time he gets out the bench door. It is beginning to become apparent though, that Brown is injury prone and can't stay in the line up on a consistent basis. It may be that he is just too small for his style of game and his stock is dipping because of it.
Holding: The Rest
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The rest of the players that have appeared on the roster this season are simply holding firm on the play that they have delivered before.
Players like Clarke MacArthur, Nik Kulemin, John-Michael Liles, Carl Gunnarsson, Mikhail Grabovski, Mike Komisarek and David Steckel have been up and down in their play this season and have not shown large movement either way.
MacArthur has been solid, but only had one goal before suffering a minor injury last week. Nik Kulemin just got his first goal as well, but has been very involved in things night after night. Liles, Grabovski and Gunnarsson have been their usual selves with solid yet not spectacular play. Mike Komisarek looked poised to have a fresh, quiet and steady season before he had a brain cramp and smashed a stick into his eye this week. Steckel has been a healthy scratch the most, has not played enough and gets a reprieve.
Dwight Wakabayashi is a contributor to Bleacher Report NHL Toronto Maple Leafs and a Featured Columnist with Bleacher Report UFC.
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