Toronto Maple Leafs Solid Lineup Set to Challenge For Playoff Berth

Graeme BoyceCorrespondent ISeptember 16, 2010

ATLANTA - MARCH 25:  Head coach Ron Wilson of the Toronto Maple Leafs against the Atlanta Thrashers at Philips Arena on March 25, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

With the training camp lineup announced and the recent Prospects Tournament concluded, this truly promises to be an entertaining and indeed breakthrough year for the Maple Leafs.  In spite of the tremendous speculation from several fronts surrounding the value of Tomas Kaberle and the possible acquisition of another talented forward in exchange, Toronto's starting lineup is imposing.

The Leafs' rookies certainly displayed sincere grit and talent.  Nonetheless, the outcome of their play was disappointing, but hopefully not a harbinger: win one, then lose two.  However, this might provide some inspiration for aspirants, with a only few youngsters realistically challenging for a spot on the roster.  There is a wild card to consider.

Attacking defencemen and goalies, at varying speeds, each aspiring to help their own team win The Cup, the Maple Leafs down the right wing will enjoy a potent offence led by Phil Kessel, who will undoubtedly vie for a 50-goal season, ably backed by newcomers Kris Versteeg, Colby Armstrong and Mike Brown, and very ably protected by the best fighter in hockey, Colton Orr.

Given these five names, the chances of right winger US Olympic star Jerry D'Amigo cracking the lineup are slim - not to mention Ken Ryan.

The equally balanced left wing has at the moment, and in no particular order of impact: Luca Caputi, Nikolai Kulemin, Fredrik Sjostrom and Clarke MacArthur, which leaves a spot for Marcel Mueller, or Brad Ross, though keeping in mind D'Amigo also shoots left.  

Skillfully winning face-offs, the Maple Leafs feature Tyler Bozak, Christian Hanson, John Mitchell and Mikhail Grabovski up the middle.  Maybe either Brayden Irwin (6’5 215) or Andrew Crescenzi (6’4 199) will manage to wrestle a spot from soon-to-be-an-NHL-star Nazem Kadri.

Other than their on-ice talent, ultimately The Leafs' success is predicated on several items noteworthy of consideration, such as unforeseen injuries and "sudden" trades.  While continually improving a young and eager team, success also requires the compatibility of players and their managers (and the media and fans), a constant tangible enthusiasm in the dressing room and, most importantly, an inspiring and motivating coaching staff, especially as the face and character of this team continues to change.

The wild card is Ron Wilson.  In light of MLSE's decision to remove championship-winning Preki from the TFC head coaching job, and GM Mo Johnston, Wilson is not untouchable.  Last year, as a result of a disastrous start after the first 10 games, Wilson decried the demotion of his youngsters and so a year later his team has been changed.  Thus assured, The Leafs' coaching job is his to lose, and he is now confident he has the tools to win.