With the Draft and the beginning of Free Agency yet to happen, it’s a bit of a fool’s errand to predict what the Toronto Maple Leafs roster will look like in October.
However, with the playoffs in full swing the good people of Leaf Nation need to get excited about something, anything.
Therefore, I introduce to you 2010 Leaf Camp invitee and my dark horse to crack the starting lineup, Korbinian Holzer.
Nein Weise you say? Hear me out.
With Kaberle a virtual lock to be traded, there are three guaranteed roster spots on the Toronto blueline this year. They belong to Dion Phaneuf, Luke Schenn and Mike Komisarek (remember him?)
Unless Francois Beauchemin is dealt (more likely than you may think—Burke is a wild man) then he's a lock for the fourth spot.
That leaves three remaining spots.
The next roster slot will more than likely be filled by the very promising Carl Gunnarsson. The young Swede really came in to his own last season as he averaged roughly 21 minutes per game after he returned from an elbow injury.
Poised and surprisingly responsible in his own end for such a young player, Gunnarsson, or Gunner as he's called by his teammates, also possesses a great first pass and a very heavy point shot.
A seventh round pick in 2007, he's looking like a real gem.
So that leaves two spots on the blueline and several players scrambling to make the cut.
Let's look at them individually.
Often a healthy scratch last year, Finger has regressed defensively and finished the season a career worst -11.
Now entering year three of his preposterous four year $14 million deal, Finger will be under the microscope if he even makes it to camp.
He's a prime candidate for a trade if not an outright release.
In what is now recognized as a fleecing by then Thrashers GM Don Waddell, Exelby was brought here in exchange for Pavel Kubina to add "truculence" to a soft Leaf blueline.
However, when not a healthy scratch Exelby was either on the losing end of a fight or getting undressed by opposing forwards.
He's since asked for a trade and will not be a Leaf in 2010.
Mike Van Ryn
He's not currently under contract but reports indicate that his rehab is going very well and he's eager to get back on the ice, as a Leaf. And according to Ron Wilson, via James Mirtle of The Globe, the feeling may be mutual,
“We missed him last year, and I think to an extent we’ve missed him a lot this year,” Wilson said. “You look at our record last year, when he was in the lineup, and it was five or six games over 500 [13-8-6]. … He’s a good guy, great in the room, too. Hopefully, things will work out for him and we can help in his comeback next year.”
With 16 players signed and just $11 million left under the cap, Van Ryn could be signed to an incentive laden contract.
He's a highly productive player on both ends of the ice when healthy and a great locker room presence. Even money he's back this year. (For more on his rehab, read the April 6th post on www.pensionplanpuppets.com )
That leaves one spot for Juraj Mikus, Keith Aulie and Phil Oreskovic.
Mikus has had a similar journey to the NHL as Gunnarsson but is a much more raw talent.
His size (6'4" 190) and offensive ability are tantalizing but he'll need another year in the AHL for seasoning.
Keith Aulie came over in the Phaneuf/Stajan deal.
A giant of a man at 6'6", he will need to work on his skating before having a legit shot at the big club. Nonetheless, he looks like a young Hal Gill and should be a fixture on the Leaf blueline by 2012.
Phil Oreskovic is a nasty, punishing stay at home type who offers little offensive potential. However, he's fairly polished and has the game that Burke loves. He's got a legit shot at the final spot.
Korbinian Holzer has been playing in the German League, The DEL, which is a men’s league, since the 07/08 season.
The competition is not far off from the AHL and the league even has a number of ex-NHL'ers.
He finished second among defensemen on his team with 22 points in 52 games (behind Patrick Traverse) and even chipped in a very truculent 74 penalty minutes.
Furthermore, he played on the German Olympic Team this past winter in Vancouver and did not look out of place playing against the world's elite.
Holzer's skating is outstanding and he has the size needed to compete on an NHL blueline (6'3" 205.) Although an extra 15 pounds wouldn't hurt.
I realize this kid's a long shot but remember that Kaberle came seemingly out of nowhere in '98/99, jumping to the NHL from the Czech league to score 22 points in his first season.
Stranger things have happened.
As always, comments are welcome.