Jake Gardiner -promising rookie
Never in recent history has the Toronto Maple Leafs' roster had such depth in every position. Of course, the Leafs are bereft of elite talent of a Crosby or Stamkos, but even with four centers on the shelf with injury the Leafs never missed a beat, defeating a solid Red Wings team in the second-to-last preseason game.
With Matthew Lombardi perhaps ready to return from concussion injury, Tyler Bozak and Tim Connolly day-to-day and Nazem Kadri out two to four weeks with a knee sprain, Philippe Dupuis stepped in on the Kessel line and performed well in last night's victory. Because of this rash of injuries, Mike Zigomanis was recalled from the Marlies to perform fourth-line duties.
Last year, not to mention other Leafs incarnations since Burke has taken the helm in Toronto, would have been completely decimated by such a rash of injuries, especially at center ice where the Leafs in desperation used young Bozak to center the Kessel line last year.
One year ago, everyone—and I mean everyone—was calling to dump Grabovski in any possible trade scenario. Now, the landscape is completely different and Grabovski is being counted on to improve his on production of last season's 29 goals while centering the Leafs' de facto first line between 30-goal winger Kulemin and Leafs assists leader Clark MacArthur.
The fact is that instead of these injuries causing a crisis, it is looked on in Leaf Land as an opportunity for rookie Matt Frattin to start the year with the big club.
There have been rumbles of the Leafs having interest in Phoenix holdout and last year's Coyote point leader Kyle Turris, which I see as a great opportunity for the Leafs to bring "top talent" youth to the top six at the center position.
Will Jake Gardiner make the Leafs roster
Though with Bozak having a fine camp this year and showing promise, this is not the deal I would make as Damien Cox of the Star has purported. Instead, Carl Gunnarsson plus prospects or a third-round pick might pry Turis loose from the Coyotes.
The fact is the Leafs have such depth at defense that unless they can swing a trade before opening night, they will probably lose promising young rocker Matt Lashoff, being forced to put him on waivers.
The other possibility is to carry eight defensemen, rotating the fifth through eighth defensemen in and out of the lineup.
This dilemma is being caused by an embarrassment of riches at defense, where coach Wilson may never say again that roster spots are earned by merit if rookie Jake Gardiner is left off the opening night roster, as in my opinion he has had the best camp of any Leaf, leading the preseason Leafs in scoring and being a standout in every game he has dressed for.
Yes, the Leafs are deep in goal as well with James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson having solid yet unspectacular preseasons. Gone are the days when the Leafs would be consistently down 1-0 after the first shot on goal with Vesa Toskala in net. In the pipeline, the Leafs have several promising prospect such as Ben Scrivens—who had a solid preseason—as well as Jussi Rynnas, Mark Owuya and recent draft pick Garret Sparks.
The NHL is a team sport where winners are decided by attrition as much as talent, so the future bodes well for the 2011-2012 version of our Toronto Maple Leafs.