A lot has changed in a year for Leafs Nation and with their need for a top-line centre, Brian Burke has done his best to bring in as much talent as possible to add strength down the middle.
Since the Kessel trade, Burke has been under scrutiny for not getting Kessel, a centre, and has been the focal point of Burke's tenure as the Toronto Maple Leafs' GM.
When Burke took over in November 2008, the depth chart for the Leafs had a lot of upgrading that needed to be done.
Just to refresh your memory, here is what the Leafs had down the middle at the time Burke took over:
- Matt Stajan
- Mikhail Grabovski
- John Mitchell
- Christian Hanson
Relying on these players, along with another few Toronto Marlies' players that made an appearance, it was clear that this was going to be a challenge.
When you look at the charts now, the belief is that the Leafs are a playoff-contending team.
Here is the depth at centre that we now see for the team going into the 2011-12 season.
Projected First Line: Joffrey Lupul-Tim Connolly-Phil Kessel
2010-11 Stats: 68 GP, 13 G, 29 A, 42 PTS (with Buffalo)
He may not be Brad Richards, but Tim Connolly is a great addition to the Leafs' roster.
Connolly has never recorded more than 20 goals in a season, but when it comes down to it, Connolly wasn't signed to be a goal scorer. He was signed to be a setup man for sniper Phil Kessel.
If Connolly can find Kessel on a nightly basis, he has the potential to pass his career best assist total of 48 from the 2009-10 season with the Buffalo Sabres.
If a certain superstar from Tampa joins the organization this summer, that will be great. If not, Connolly is a perfect substitute and a great character guy for the Leafs to have.
Projected Second Line: Nikolai Kulemin-Mikhail Grabovski-Clarke MacArthur
2010-11 Stats: 81 GP, 29 G, 29 A, 58 PTS (with Toronto)
This was the most obvious of all the slides. After all three of the trio had career years, expect more of the same from Kulemin, MacArthur and Grabovski.
Grabovski is one of the players Burke had inherited when joining the organization and is likely one that will stay long term.
Although small, Grabovski brings a flashy, fearless style of play that is hard to find in the NHL. If he isn't moving through defensive parings, he is passing the puck to either MacArthur or Kulemin.
The trio complement each other in a way the Leafs have not seen for a while. This will be the second line of the Leafs next season, and if they continue to roll and Kessel's line struggles, expect these three to become the top line in Leaf-land once again.
Projected Third Line: Nazem Kadri-Matthew Lombardi-Colby Armstrong
2010-11 Stats: 2 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 PTS (with Nashville)
2009-10 Stats: 78 GP, 19 G, 34 A, 53 PTS (with Phoenix)
Lombardi is a great depth guy to have when he is completely healthy. I put the stats he had in his last two seasons because of the season lost for Lombardi due to the concussion he suffered.
He is a 20-goal scorer and is a speedy guy to have up the middle. When combined with the hands of Kadri and the toughness and character of Armstrong, you have a third line that is perfect for all situations.
In terms of Lombardi, if he can recover from that concussion and have a career year, he is also a good guy to pair up with Kessel.
Projected Fourth Line: Colton Orr-Tyler Bozak-Mike Brown
2010-11 Stats: 82 GP, 15 G, 17 A, 32 PTS (with Toronto)
Bozak has fallen down the depth charts but not off the team. He is an excellent NHL player but was asked to do a lot when he was the top-line center with a player like Phil Kessel on the wing.
A fourth-line placement suits Bozak quite well. He will provide some finesse on a line that is usually reserved for the enforcers of the league. This is still the case, as he will have Colton Orr and Mike Brown fill those roles on the wings.
Allowing the Leafs to roll four lines is essential for them to be successful in the NHL in 2011-12. With Bozak on the bottom six, they have the ability to do that.
I mean, when your fourth-line player has the capability of scoring beauties like the video here, it shows how far the Leafs have come.
2010-11 Stats: 74 GP, 6 G, 11 A, 17 PTS (with Colorado)
The depth of the Maple Leafs spans further than the four players listed.
Philippe Dupuis is an example of an NHL-level player that may play most of his season with the Marlies. The Leafs will give him a shot, and if he performs well, you may see him as a regular.
Last season was Dupuis' first full NHL season, and with some more development, he can be a key bottom six forward for the Leafs. If not, he's only on a one-year deal.
2010-11 Stats: 75 GP, 20 G, 22 A, 42 PTS (split between Providence Bruins and Toronto Marlies)
Colborne was the centerpiece in the Tomas Kaberle deal and with a great training camp, could crack the season-opening roster.
He has amazing size and is projected as the future No. 1 center for the Leafs. He is only 21 years old and has already shown that he can play at the NHL level. He made his NHL debut for the Leafs in their season finale against Montreal and recorded an assist on their only goal of the night, scored by Phil Kessel.
With the recent signing of Michael Zigomanis, the Leafs have a great AHL team as well.
Jerry D'Amigo is also a player worth mentioning when it comes to the Leafs depth at centre.
Tell me what you think Leafs fans? With this kind of line up down the middle, are the Leafs playoff contenders in 2011-12? What moves do they need to make to solidify a playoff spot? The comments section is below, don't be shy, let your voices be heard Leafs Nation!