Takin' a T/O With BT: Letters Galore for the Toronto Maple Leafs
Today was an eventful one for the NHL, as announcements around the league ranged in their ramifications.
While the Toronto Maple Leafs weren't outwardly busy, there were still happenings that they're undoubtedly tied to.
In an announcement that was expected and hoped for but unknown as to when it would arrive, Toronto's forlorn son said good-bye in an unknown shade of blue, as Mats Sundin decided to hang up his blades.
Over the past days, the faithful have also discovered that—for a second consecutive year—there will be no one to honour his former responsibilities as his letter will be left unattended.
His other role—that of a dynamic Swedish forward—may have finally found it's replenishment as well.
Those later two items are those that directly concern the Leafs and their fans, and rightly so—it deals with a future that's been made brighter just over the past three years.
Three years ago Luke Schenn was appearing in his second season for the Kelowna Rockets and making people take notice of what the team's staff saw in him.
Seen as such a promising leader that he was invited to sit-along as the Rockets went to the Memorial Cup in 2004/05, Schenn turned heads in his own way and right away.
While others garner attention with top-tier offensive production in junior hockey, Schenn proved that he had the mettle and moxy to play a top-end defensive game and keep the opposition's top units in check. He also had the head to lead under pressure and motivate his teammates in big-time situations.
Both were big reasons for his inclusion on the 2007/08 Gold Medal-winning World Junior squad for Canada.
Both also ended up being big reasons why he caught the eye of the Toronto Maple Leafs as they persuaded themselves to trade up to the number five pick in the draft in 2008 for the burly Saskatchewan native.
The following year, as the Leafs sat without a Captain in their first 'Sans Sundin' season, and Schenn wowed everyone.
His poise, positioning, and understanding of the game had everyone talking about the Leafs' first true top-pairing shut-down defender in eons, while many of those same people had him pegged as the man to one-day wear the 'C'.
Despite not being amongst those named as Alternates (Tomas Kaberle, Mike Komisarek, and Francois Beauchemin), there's no reason not to expect the Schenn will one day don the captaincy...
Three years ago Viktor Stalberg was entering his first season at the University of Vermont. While he had displayed prolific scoring ability in the junior ranks in Sweden, his draft status wouldn't indicate it.
The sixth-round pick was more of a project than anything, with everything being dependant on his ability to acclimatize to the North American style and ice surface.
As he began to round into his 6'3 form, people began to take notice. Stalberg's game was adapting to the new culture, but it was buoyed by an intensity and aggressiveness that's hard to teach younger players—especially those with lofty resumes who are accustomed to coasting as we sometimes see out of North Americans.
Climbing to his pinnacle in his final year of school, Stalberg found himself as a finalist for the Hobey Baker, and one of the most-talked about players in internet circles as all were expectant of his pro abilities.
The Swede didn't disappoint. After a rookie tournament that had many in awe of his physical gifts and how well he used them, Stalberg shot to the top at the big boys' camp as well, scoring six goals and earning ice time in eight of nine preseason games.
Now he's settling in for his first NHL campaign as those keen to see him are twitching with excitement.
While Schenn may be the heir-apparent to Sundin's Toronto-crown, it's the three crowns of Sweden that Stalberg may rest under during his Toronto years.
Faced with the legends of Salming and Sundin, Stalberg will have to avoid becoming like Steen and Stalberg—two countrymen with lofty expectations, but unable to join the ranks of the sweet Swedish "s."
Schenn meanwhile, may one day have the expectations of Conacher, Kennedy, Keon, and Clark if he's ever given the "C."
Sometimes, as history dictates, there's more to a letter.
Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report, and reports for Hockey-54—The face of the game! If you want to get in contact with Bryan, you can do so through his profile, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out all of his previous work in his archives.
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