Jeremy Williams Making Case For Full-Time Duty With Toronto Maple Leafs

Josh LewisSenior Analyst IDecember 14, 2008

He is one of the most intriguing, enigmatic young players to come through the Toronto Maple Leafs organization in years. And now he's grabbing attention again.

Simply put, Jeremy Williams knows how to put the puck in the net and the way he has responded to being called up to the NHL is nothing short of remarkable.

Williams was but a footnote to the Leafs' draft of 2003, selected 220th overall after such future stars as John Doherty, Martin Sagat, and Konstantin Volkov. In fact, he had been passed over in his original draft year, 2002.

But the diminutive right winger impressed during his second year with the Toronto Marlies, scoring at a point-per-game pace and earning a late-season call-up to the Leafs.

One game. One shot. One goal. It would become a familiar storyline for Williams.

In fact, the Regina native's first NHL goal marked the continuation of a unique Maple Leafs' trend. It was the third straight season that the Leafs had called up a prospect for one game at the end of the year and the player had scored. Matt Stajan did it in 2002-03, Kyle Wellwood did it in 2003-04, and Williams did it in the NHL's first post-lockout season.

But Williams would forge an impressive pattern of his own.

His next season was marred by injuries, but a bright spot came toward the end of the season when Williams was once again called up and once again lit the lamp in his only game.

No. 48 held a unique place in the history books for awhile. He was the only player in NHL history to have appeared in only two games and scored in both.

So imagine the fanfare in 2007-08 when Williams was called up again in the second half and, surprise, surprise, netted his third goal in his third career game.

Suddenly, the seventh round pick was making a name for himself.

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and Williams' streak was a good thing. This time he stuck with the Leafs for another 17 games and managed just one goal over that stretch.

With the Leafs out of playoff contention and nursing some injuries, this was Williams' big chance to prove he belonged in the NHL. Granted, he didn't get a lot of ice time, but Leaf fans, and presumably the organization itself, began to re-evaluate their confidence in the young winger.

Williams' chances of cracking the NHL seemed to be dealt a death blow this fall when he was cut from a rebuilding Leafs squad with a wide open competition up front. In fact, fellow 2003 pick John Mitchell made the team ahead of him.

But after potting 11 goals in his first 19 games with the Marlies, Williams got the call again when Niklas Hagman went on injured reserve.

What did he do in his first game? You have three guesses.

He scored! And he added an assist for good measure, his first in the NHL.

What did he do in his second game?

He scored again!

If Williams keeps up this play, Ron Wilson will have a tough decision to make when Hagman returns from injury. 

Williams can snipe as well as anyone in the Leafs organization, and that is a quality the team has lacked for a number of years. And isn't the purpose of a rebuild partly to give your prospects a chance to show what they can do? Well, Williams can do a lot and the Leafs certainly have nothing to lose by giving him a full-time roster spot. He is surely more deserving of a regular shift than Ryan Hollweg.

If the Leafs decide to send Williams back to the Marlies, they will be sending him a message loud and clear: you don't have a future with this team. If the Leafs don't think enough of Williams to let him play during a rebuilding season when there isn't a lot of talent up front, he most definitely will not earn a roster spot in the future when the team is building toward contender status.

Time is running out for Williams. He's almost 25. It's now or never and he has earned the opportunity to make it "now."