One Thing the Toronto Maple Leafs Stars Must Prove in 2013-14 Season

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One Thing the Toronto Maple Leafs Stars Must Prove in 2013-14 Season
Claus Andersen/Getty Images

With the Toronto Maple Leafs now sitting at 4-1-1 in the NHL's preseason, attention should shift to the looming regular season.

The Leafs will begin the regular, 82-game campaign next Tuesday night in Montreal against the arch-rival Canadiens. It will also mark the beginning of a new season, where the focus will shift from last season's heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the Boston Bruins to improving and breaking through to advance to the second round of this season's playoffs.

To do so, however, the Leafs will have to up their game.

Sure, a healthy Jake Gardiner will help on the blue line. So will the new addition David Clarkson (though he will be gone for the first 10 contests).

Keep in mind though, the Leafs are likely going to be without one of their top players of last season, Cody Franson as well. The current cap situation in Toronto just doesn't make it seem like there is a way to get Franson signed. It would take some sort of other move to keep one of the team's top powerplay blueliners.

Ultimately, it will fall to the team's leaders and top players to take their game to the next level to help Toronto make a deeper run this postseason.

Here is what each of the Leafs top guns must do in 2013-14 to make Toronto a better team.

 

Phil Kessel

After the last few seasons, I don't think there's anyone out there who will question Phil Kessel's offensive prowess.

With a point-per-game average in each of the last two seasons, Kessel has established himself as one of the league's premier offensive threats. This, despite playing with Tyler Bozak, who is still far from being a true No. 1 center.

Even Kessel can still work on some parts of his game, however.

Last season, Leafs fans were relatively impressed by Kessel's more determined backcheck.

Many believe the philosophy of defensive-minded head coach Randy Carlyle played a big part in the new-found aspect to Kessel's game.

There is still some room to improve though.

Kessel still has plenty of work to do when it comes to playing in his own zone.

If he were to work on that part of his game and become a better two-way player, Toronto's top line would become even more intimidating.

 

Dion Phaneuf

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Being one of Toronto's favorite whipping boys, Dion Phaneuf is far from the perfect NHL defenseman.

He is, however, incredibly undervalued by many of his own fans.

This is a player who captains one of the most scrutinized sports franchises on earth, plays over 25 hard minutes of hockey every night, was the second leading penalty killer for one of the league's top penalty-killing teams last season, was among the defense leaders in scoring and the list goes on.

All this, despite having defensive partners who played at an AHL level (Mike Kostka and Korbinian Holzer) for much of the season.

Dion's main problem is how he handled the puck in his own end.

Unlike many other top-tier defensemen, Dion Phaneuf struggles mightily when it comes to clearing the puck out of his own zone. And by clearing, I don't mean dumping it out and turning it over, or icing it.

Phaneuf needs to work on carrying the puck and his defensive zone passing. Guys like Cody Franson and Jake Gardiner are excellent at calmly finding a forward with a first pass, or skating the puck out of the zone themselves.

Dion needs to be able to clear his defensive zone more efficiently as well.

 

Joffrey Lupul

Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Joffrey Lupul simply needs to find a way to stay healthy.

Over the course of the last two seasons in Toronto, Lupul has tallied 85 points in 82 games. Very impressive numbers. Problem is, he's missed 48 of Toronto's 130 games during that span.

Lupul skates very well, plays a physical game when necessary and is undoubtedly a gifted offensive talent.

It's his health, however, that has Leafs fans wondering how many games he'll miss each season.

I understand that sometimes, there is nothing you can do to prevent injuries from happening.

With the frequency that Lupul is hit with the injury bug relative to other players, though, he should at least look into what he can do on the ice to avoid situations that could lead to trouble.

 

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