Every professional hockey organization, particularly one in the Leafs‘ current plight, must exhaust every possible avenue when it comes to importing young talent into their system.
In addition to the chance to evaluate the progress of your developing prospects front-and-centre, the upcoming rookie tournament provides a valuable opportunity to invite undrafted youngsters for a 3 game trial run. Last year this event proved fruitful for the Maple Leafs, who uncovered a hidden gem by the name of Darryl Boyce. The Summerside native was already preparing for life-after-hockey at the University of New Brunswick when, after a fantastic championship-winning campaign with U of NB he was signed to a minor-league contract and invited by John Ferguson Jr. to play in the 2007 rookie tournament in Kitchener. I was incredibly impressed with the little-known Boyce last fall and Leafs management shared this sentiment. By January, Leafs management was so impressed that – in one of Fergie’s final moves before his dismissal – they upgraded Boyce’s contract to a two-way, NHL deal.
After an incredible and expeditious journey, Boyce realized his NHL goal on January 24th after being called-up to replace the injured Alexei Ponikarovsky. That night his storybook season came to an unfortunate finale after separating his shoulder, but the future is bright for Boyce.
While this type of occurrence is a rarity, the Leafs hope for a similar result with both Eric Wellwood and Thomas Stajan, two invitees scheduled to participate in this weekend’s competition for the Blue and White rookies. The surnames of the pair are by no means a wild coincidence: Thomas is the cousin of Matt Stajan and Eric is the younger brother of former Leaf Kyle Wellwood. Both are eligible for next year’s draft.
Stajan, who’s bounced back and forth between Owen Sound and Brampton, was off to a rather non-descript start to his OHL career with only 14 points in his first 67 games, but was mostly limited to fourth line minutes. The 19-year-old experienced a bit of a break-out last season in an expanded role, posting 25 goals and 19 assists for 44 points in 60 games played. Thomas dons #14 like his cousin and plays a similar brand of game as a centerman who’s responsible defensively, diligent and able to chip in the occasional goal going forward.
Eric Wellwood, a left-winger, stands 5â€²11 and weighs a wispy 160 pounds. The Windsor Spitfire is a crafty and skilled player but he’s yet to hone his talent and translate it into success on the scoresheet. Wellwood posted only 9 points last season and as an offensive-minded player at his size, this simply doesn’t cut it. He’s only 18 and potentially a late-bloomer, but this may very well be a case of filling out the roster with a player related to the organization just as the Windsor Spitfires did when originally drafting him. (Kyle too played for Windsor).
Other undrafted players in attendance:
Greg Scott, Seattle Thunderbirds – the Maple Leafs signed the right-winger in July. The Maple Leafs were in the market for right-wing depth and are hoping to have uncovered a hidden gem here. Scott is touted for a great set of wheels and his burgeoning scoring touch. Scott exploded with 38 goals last season with the Thunderbirds. He hits hard despite his average size and is considered to be very coachable as a player with the right attitude towards the game.
Scott Landgon, Niagara University – Also signed by the Leafs in the off-season, Langdon is a sizable, hard-hitting defenseman discovered by Leafs scouts who regularly took in NU games to evaluate the progress of prospect Kyle Rogers.
Michael Ouzas, University of New Brunswick – Ouzas was signed to a minor league contract by the Marlies late last season after recording impressive numbers (1.91 GAA, and .924 save percentage) with the University of New Brunswick. The Maple Leafs could use another goaltending prospect in their ranks behind Justin Pogge and James Reimer.
Hopefully this group alongside some of the lower-round draft picks of ’08 will provide some intrigue when the likes of Luke Schenn and Mikhail Stefanovich aren’t on the ice.
There still seems to be plenty of confusion surrounding the Jonas Frogren situation amongst my readers. I managed to get the following confirmed with GM Cliff Fletcher yesterday: The NHLPA has filed a grievance on behalf of Jonas Frogren which effectively allows him to participate in the upcoming season while the terms are settled in an arbitration process. If the arbiter rules against the Leafs and Frogren, it will simply mean that the two sides have to go back to square one and re-negotiate a valid deal.
Cliff had this to say when pressed about the Patrick O’Sullivan rumours: “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”