Maple Leafs Forwards Set to Reward Fans on the Way to the Cup

Graeme BoyceCorrespondent IAugust 23, 2009

RALEIGH, NC - JANUARY 15:  Jason Blake #55 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates off with Jiri Tlusty #11 after Blake scored a hat trick with an empty netter in the final seconds of their 6-4 win over the Carolina Hurricanes during the game on January 15, 2009 at RBC Center in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Enough has been said about the Leafs new-look vaunted blue line corps, not to mention Brian Burke's intimations about acquiring a Top Six forward to complete his re-tooling.  So today I'm going to have a look at our current high scoring forwards.

A parade of Toronto GMs over the past three decades are often accused for not giving their young picks a chance to develop, who ultimately bring in over-the-hill vets to appease local mainstream media demands, and recognize the value of the franchise and in a Steinbrenner approach need to see money spent on Owen Nolan or Eric Lindros types, while trading away all promising stars and never building a team for the future. 

Flashback: I clearly remember proudly watching each night an "awful" team featuring Rick Vaive and Bill Derlago, and a host of other characters, like Jim Korn and Rocky Saganuik, not to mention Darryl Sittler and Ian Turnbull, though also playing in an era featuring youngsters Jim Benning, Fred Boimistruck and Bruce Boudreau, who in an 81-82 season at least finished ahead of the Red Wings

Our current corps is now well protected specifically by Colton Orr.  The psychological impact on these so-called smaller players will be immediate.  Orr will enjoy the limelight, as he did in New York.  He won't score goals.  He will enable Blake and Grabovski that opportunity—and these two are the only players under six foot, fyi.

Blake had 63 points last year.  He really must've felt the pressure last year and, frankly, he responded very well.  He'll score more than 25 goals this year.  Grabovski, in his rookie season last year, potted 20 goals, and was supremely entertaining, in a productive and pesky kinda way. 

With all opposition bodies flattened in our new and improved defensive zone, Toronto's forward will be finding lots of room to skate out and pick up speed across the neutral zone, with and without the puck.  Forechecking and cycling effectively was a large part of the scoring success the team enjoyed last year.

Entering into this fray will be skilled players like Niklas Hagman, Nikolai Kulemin and John Mitchell.  Given some good luck around the net, it's not unreasonable that Matt Stajan, Lee Stempniak and even Poni and might each get 20 goals.  Hagman had 22 last year, Kulemin (who will have more confidence now) had 15, and Mitchell had 12.

Disappointly, Stajan had 15 last year, Stempniak had 14, and Alexei Ponikarovsky managed 23.  If one goes off his butt, like Domi's infamous goal, we'll thank Orr accordingly, but hopefully Wayne Primeau snaps home a few, as well as wild card Rickard Wallin.  Speaking of wild cards, I predict Jamal Mayers will contribute more than 7 goals... before the Olympics.

With training camp around the corner, one of the youngsters will crack the opening day lineup, from among this group Christian Hanson, (namesake—but no relation) Darryl Boyce and possibly either Tyler Bozak or Jiri Tlusty. 

Most likely the latter will succeed.  As opposed to years gone by, now that Tlusty has accordingly been given the time to improve and gain his confidence with recent jaunts in the NHL, he will make an impact.  I didn't think Grabovski would pop 20 in his rookie season. 

So, it's not unreasonable to expect and believe Tlusty will achieve the same lofty level this year, especially with all the room on the ice, up and down and around open boards; the freedom to wheel and deal like we Leafs fans have never seen before.

Where did that Bruce Boudreau kid end up anyway?