For the most part, the Maple Leafs featured the likes of Tomas Kaberle, Francois Beauchemin, and Ian White taking turns on the first power play unit on the back end, with Phil Kessel, Matt Stajan, Lee Stempniak, Niklas Hagman and Alexei Ponikarovsky getting the majority of power play time up front.
The 2010-11 season will see the Leafs employ a number of new faces on the power play. White, Stajan, Hagman, Ponikarovsky, and Stempniak have all moved on to other teams so they will not be returning, and with a final decision still not clear with regard to Kaberle’s future, it is tough to pencil him in at this point in time.
With training camp still a few weeks away it is tough to speculate on which line combinations the Maple Leafs will trot out on the power play, but there are a few options that seem to make sense.
Up front, the Leafs will likely employ a first line that includes Tyler Bozak or Nazem Kadri at centre, with Phil Kessel and Kris Versteeg flanking them.
Bozak (who has been asked to feed Kessel the puck, but who I believe could end up scoring a lot of goals) and Kadri (who can play sniper or set-up man) gives Wilson two very different, yet capable options on the power play. In Bozak, Wilson gets a player who isn’t afraid to go into the corners and is dangerous with the puck. Kadri could emerge as a perfect set-up man for both Kessel (a pure sniper) and Versteeg (who has 30-goal potential).
The fall back option would be to go with the enigmatic Mikhail Grabovski at centre, but with Nikolai Kulemin and Colby Armstrong likely penciled in to flank the second power play unit, Bozak and Kadri would seem to have the inside track.
Regardless of which players the Maple Leafs decide to employ on the power play, it looks as if, given the Leafs lack of size up front, that they will head into the 2010-11 season without a true big-body forward that can sit in front of opposing netminders in order to raise havoc and impede their view of the puck a la Dustin Byfuglien of the Atlanta Thrashers (formerly of the Chicago Blackhawks).
Colby Armstrong (6’2," 195 pounds) and Luca Caputi (6’2," 184 pounds) might get a shot at setting up in the crease on the power play, but, given their lack of size, would likely have a tough time keeping up with the big-bodied defensemen in the Eastern Conference (think Zdeno Chara, Tyler Myers, Chris Pronger, Colin White, Hal Gill, etc.).
With a big-body uncertain, the Leafs will likely need to employ a power play that features a lot of puck movement and the big shot.
On the backend, the big shot will come from the likes of Dion Phaneuf (who will need to shoot the puck more than the 87 times he did in 2009-10), Beauchemin (who led all Leafs’ defensemen with 170 shots in 2009-10) and, to a lesser degree, Carl “Uzi” Gunnarsson (who averaged over a shot per game last season and who I think may emerge as a legitimate PP threat this season).
With all this in mind, it is not out of the question that the Leafs first and second options on the power will look like this to start the season:
Kris Versteeg (LW)
Tyler Bozak or Nazem Kadri (C)
Phil Kessel (RW)
Dion Phaneuf (D)
Francois Beauchemin (D)*
*If Tomas Kaberle is not traded
Nikolai Kulemin (LW)
Mikhail Grabovski (C)
Colby Armstrong (RW)
Carl Gunnarsson (D)
Luke Schenn (D)
Of course, the power play units may emerge as something quite different if the likes of defensemen Mike Komisarek and/or Brett Lebda emerge as legitimate specialists, but I wouldn’t hold your breath on that one.
In 395 career NHL games Komisarek has never notched a power play marker while Lebda has lit the lamp a grand total of two times in 326 career NHL games.
The real competition will likely come from the forwards, where the likes of Versteeg (10 career power play goals), Armstrong (12 career power play markers), Kulemin (two career power play goals), Grabovski (eight career power play markers) and Bozak (two power play goals in 2009-10) will all have to earn their minutes and their rightful place on the power play.
One thing is for sure; given how poor the Leafs power play units were in 2009-10, it can’t get much worse, can it?
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Until next time,