Carl Gunnarsson: The Leafs Best Rookie in Years
For Carl Gunnarsson, the Toronto Maple Leafs' blue line is a very difficult place to be right now. According to capgeek.com, the Leafs have the most salary committed to defense in the league at $28.325 million. Which is an awful lot for what was the league's worst defensive team last season.
Granted the problems were not just with the defenseman, the forwards weren't supporting them much and neither were the goaltenders. With Dion Phaneuf and Jean-Sebastien Giguere joining the defensive core, the Leafs have upgraded in terms of talent and cost.
It is surprising that after almost earning a roster spot with the Leafs after last year's training camp, many journalists, pundits, and fans don't have Gunnarsson among the Leafs' top-six defensemen. Most recently, fellow B/R writer and Hockeybuzz contributor Ken Beckett has deemed Gunnarsson in need of AHL seasoning and has elected to keep Brett Lebda and Jeff Finger with the big club.
At this point I am sure that Finger would just like to play, be it with the Leafs or Toronto Marlies. The Lebda issue is intriguing but at the same time Lebda's best season is almost identical to Gunnarsson's rookie season. The difference being: Lebda played more games and it was seven years into his pro career.
Gunnarsson came into last season as an unknown. The big Swede has no experience playing in North America, and many didn't even know who he was. By the end of the preseason, Gunnarsson's stock sky rocketed.
He was first in line to receive a call up should a defenseman go down, and when Mike Komisarek was injured, Gunnarsson didn't look back. Playing 43 games and recording 15 points as a rookie is a huge leap forward in development for a player who is playing pro hockey in North America for the first time.
Even more astounding, Gunnarsson logged over 20 minutes of ice-time a game, while having the highest plus/minus on the team at plus-eight. That's a rookie defenseman having plus-eight on the worst defensive team in the league.
You would like to think that would earn, if not a top-four job, a spot on the team.
Gunnarsson has the potential to become a great puck-moving defenseman, so why waste his talent and slow his progression by playing him in the AHL?