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Gunnarsson Blazes Onto Maple Leafs' Lineup

Mark RitterSenior Writer INovember 26, 2009

LONDON, ON - SEPTEMBER 17:  Carl Gunnarsson #36 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates with the puck in a pre-season game against the Philadelphia Flyers on September 17, 2009 at the John Labatt Centre in London, Ontario. The Leafs defeated the Flyers 4-0. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Written By: Mark “The Hard Hitter” Ritter

At 6’2” and 196 pounds, Carl Gunnarsson is hard to miss. Thank goodness the Toronto Maple Leafs spotted him in the seventh round (194th overall) in the 2007 NHL entry draft, because the 23 year-old has “got’s skillz”.

In case you missed it, the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Tampa Bay Lightning Wednesday night by a score of 4-3. A big part of that win was none other than the aforementioned Gunnarsson, who had three assists on the night and posted a plus-three to boot.

Gunnarsson, who had registered two assists with two penalty minutes in 12 games with the Maple Leafs AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies this season, made his NHL debut with the Leafs on November 14th versus the Calgary Flames, a game that saw him take 27 shifts for a total of 21:18 of ice time.

To date, Gunnarsson has played a total of six NHL games, only one of which has he been a minus player (-1 against the Carolina Hurricanes). For the most part, Gunarsson has been a solid addition to the Leafs. He is considered an all-round defenseman, with strong passing skills and, more recently has exhibited a penchant for shooting the puck.

“Uzi”, as I am calling Gunnarsson due to his “oozing” talent, is a smart player, one that exhibits an uncanny calmness for a player of his age and experience. Despite being off the radar at the beginning of training camp, Gunnarsson has defied the odds and cracked an already deep defensive lineup that seemingly was written in stone at the beginning of the season.

Now, six career NHL games does not make a career. That said, if Gunnarsson manages to stick with the big club long enough to make an even bigger splash it may open up an opportunity for the Leafs to contemplate trading one of their top tier defenseman.

I am a believer that you have to give something up to get quality back in return. With that in mind, I am not talking about moving a Garnet Exelby or a Jeff Finger, two players that would see the Leafs get very little in return. I am suggesting the Leafs look at making a deal which may include the likes of Tomas Kaberle or Francois Beauchemin.

The reality is, barring some big off-season acquisitions, the Leafs are at least two full seasons away from being a legitimate playoff contender—and I am not talking about sneaking in with the 16th overall spot.

Entertaining the idea of trading Kaberle, who despite his no-trade clause may be open to a move, or Beauchemin just makes sense. What comes back the other way would likely be a collection of draft picks and/or one or more legitimate NHL players, preferably a centre that could dish the puck to Phil Kessel.

To be fair, my foreshadowing is very premature. As I mentioned earlier, six NHL games is not enough to make a solid assessment on a rookie player, and it is very unlikely that Gunnarsson could fill the shoes of Kaberle or Beauchemin. In today’s NHL you must look to the future in order to get better, you have to try to play from a position of strength and, to use a poker reference, when a premium hand presents itself, you gotta go all in. Gunnarsson may be that hand.

Brian Burke has a lot of work to do. The emergence of Gunnarsson would go a long way in giving Burke some good cards to play with, but what the flop brings is anyone’s guess.

Until next time,

Peace!

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