Young Maple Leafs Proving Themselves As Team Gets Hot

Derek HarmsworthSenior Writer IDecember 23, 2008

While the game Saturday night against the Penguins may have been their best game of the season, there was something distinctively refreshing about last night's win over Atlanta.

Going into Christmas, one can't be too displeased with where the Leafs are at right now.  Take last night's game for example.  Justin Pogge got the win, while Jeremy Williams scored and Matt Stajan also got a pair.

Nik Antropov had three assists.  John Mitchell and Alexei Ponikarovsky were factors as well.

Ah, breathe it in Leafs Nation.  Home-grown talent. 

And not just home grown talent performing good at the NHL level, but home grown talent propelling a team to victory in the National Hockey League.  Home grown talent filling the back of the net and making a few circus saves on an otherwise easy night.

And the team's top prospect, Luke Schenn, didn't even dress.

Refreshing isn't it?

While the Maple Leafs prospects cupboard certainly aren't overflowing, last night, and the start to this NHL season may be proving that there aren't as bare as one once thought.

And if the thought of home grown and developed talent becoming major cogs in this team doesn't get you excited, perhaps this will.

The Maple Leafs, at Christmas break, are still very much in the playoff hunt.

A team many, including their own beat writer Howard Berger, picked to finish dead last in the league is three points out of the eighth and final playoff spot in an Eastern Conference that so far, has a lot of indecision after the top two seeds.

And while I know it's still a long shot for them to make the playoffs, and I hear the argument that getting the better draft pick would probably be better, it's time "tank nation" get used to it. 

The Maple Leafs will not finish at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, or conversely, the NHL.

While I understand they are on a bit of a streak and could just as easily go on a losing streak and head the other way, the fact remains that this team is not as bad as the New York Islanders, the Tampa Bay Lightning, or the Atlanta Thrashers.

Of course we are speaking about this group.  A group that will likely change anytime starting after the Christmas break, so by then all bets will be off.

But looking at this group, it's hard not to get excited.  As young guys step up to the challenge and deliver night after night, propelling this team to victories, and a spot in the standings no one thought possible when the season started.

Certainly, it's at a time where this franchise must stick to it's vision.  This is a rebuild, and this team should still be treated as such.

But if the playoffs can come into sight for a rebuilding team, then hey, it's all gravy.

Which reminds me, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.