How Do the Toronto Maple Leafs Stack Up Down the Middle?

Mark RitterSenior Writer IJuly 26, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 01:  Jeff Finger #4 (R) and Mikhail Grabovski #84 (L) of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates after Finger scored in the third period against the Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center on December 1, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. The Leafs won the game 3-1.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

With the acquisitions of defensemen Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek, plus the addition of Swedish goaltending sensation Jonas Gustavsson, the Toronto Maple Leafs should be able to keep their goals against average down.

The question is, who will put the puck in the net at the other end? It says here, if you are counting on the scoring to come from the centre position, don’t hold your breath.

The Maple Leafs are poised to open the 2010 season with four centers, Mikhail Grabovski, Matt Stajan and John Mitchell, who are poised to fill the No. 1, 2 and 3 spots. Tyler Bozak, Christian Hanson and Andre Deveaux are set to battle it out for fourth line duties.

When you consider either Grabovski, Mitchell or Stajan will be your number one centre on opening day the outlook is pretty grim. Grabovski, Stajan and Mitchell had a combined 47 goals last season while putting up an atrocious minus-28 rating.

To say the Leafs will be in tough against the majority of NHL teams is an understatement, in fact, the Leafs look to be dominated down the middle on more nights than not.

Mikhail Grabovski is a skilled, offensive minded player that lacks the size to be a legitimate number one centre in the NHL. Grabovski had career highs in goals, assists and penalty minutes last season, but struggled mightily defensively.

At times, Grabovski was able to heighten his game, especially against his former team, the Montreal Candiens. Like many other NHL players, Grabovski is inconsistent with his effort, struggles in his own zone and is considered to be a bit of a puck hog.

On any other team Grabovski would be considered a second or third line centre, on the Leafs he may very well see first line duty, which says a lot for the Leafs depth at this position, or lack-thereof.

Matt Stajan led the Leafs in faceoff percentage last season at 51.4 percent and tied for the team lead in assists with 38. While not a physical force, Stajan does play a decent two-way game and has the ability to play on the Penalty Kill. Stajan has limited offensive upside, for that reason he is most suitable for second or third line duty.

John Mitchell played his first full season with the Maple Leafs last year, posting 12 goals and 17 assists, good enough for 29 points. His offensive totals are hardly intimidating and his minus-16 rating makes you wince.

At just 24-years of age, Mitchell may very well have some untapped potential but, to consider him anything other than a third line centre would be suicidal.

Tyler Bozak has spent the past two seasons in the NCAA with the University of Denver. At 6-foot-0, 180 pounds, Bozak is undersized for the center position. He certainly does not fill the mold of a “Brian Burke” type of player.

That said, Burke spent a lot of time and effort in signing Bozak, so you have to think he will be given every opportunity to make the team out of training camp. Bozak is known as a two-way player with a bit of “Jam.” He’ll be in tough to make the team; if he does, he’ll get fourth line duty.

Christian Hanson is the son of Dave Hanson, he of the movie “Slap Shot” fame. At 6-foot-4, 228 pounds, you’d assume Hanson was an intimidating Physical force, but he is not known for that part of the game. Hanson is a decent skater and has the ability to shut down his opponents. In my mind this player is a project, probably destined for the Marlies.

Andre Deveaux, a native of Freeport, Bahamas, spent most of the 2008-09 season with the Maple Leafs' AHL affiliate, Toronto Marlies. In 21 games with the Maple Leafs last season, he had one assist, was a minus-3 and spent 75 minutes in the penalty box.

This offseason the 6-foot-4, 232 pound Deveaux signed a one-year contract extension and is expected to be on the Leafs radar for the coveted fourth line centre role. Deveaux isn’t going to score you many goals, but his drive and physical presence should get him the nod as the Leafs fourth line centre.

It’s going to be a long season down the middle, hopefully it’s not too much of a nightmare. With a little good luck and some spectacular coaching the Leafs should be competitive, but don’t expect any miracles.

Until next time,

Peace!

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