Leafs Management Surveying the College Scene

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    With the rebuild process in full effect, the Toronto Maple Leafs are exhausting every single possibility when it comes to bringing quality young players into their system. Dave Nonis, senior VP of hockey operations for the Leafs,  was just on the Bill Watters show earlier this hour and discussed a number of topics pertaining to the Leafs, including the team’s approach to handling its NCAA prospects as well as possible interest in some of the prized college free agents.

    According to Nonis, the organization is looking to sign both Chad Rau and Alex Berry, current Leafs prospects, to contracts soon. Chad Rau is a prolific scorer with some skating issues, playing for Colorado College, and has been a point-a-game player over the past 2 seasons. He turned quite a few heads last season when he potted 28 goals in 40 games, earning himself a spot amongst the finalists for the Hobey Baker Trophy, awarded to the nation’s most outstanding player. On the other hand, Alex Berry is described as a “hard-nosed player” who’s enjoying a career season with 25 points in 30 games played. In addition to these two prospects, the Leafs are also going to make a tremendous effort to get prospect Viktor Stalberg under contract as well. Viktor is a 6’3 210 lb smooth skating powerforward currently playing for the University of Vermont, and is widely regarded as one of the top players in the country. He is enjoying a phenomenal breakout season with 20 goals and 35 points in 30 games played; his combination of size and speed is certainly something that bodes well in terms of a future at the NHL level.

    Nonis also mentioned that they’ve already got several lines in the water in regards to NCAA college free agents, having dispatched scouts to watch games and having Joe Nieuwendyk head up the entire NCAA operation. They’ve asked Joe to head out and see some games, talk to scouts and coaches and really be the point man when it comes to sitting down and presenting contract offers to some of these players. The Leafs will be looking to sign anywhere from 2 to 4 NCAA free agents in the coming weeks.

    The most intriguing name currently out there on the market is 24 year old Matt Gilroy of Boston University. The Terrers’ co-captain has been a prominent figure in the conversations of NHL executives for a long time, ever since coming out of nowhere and really bursting onto the NCAA scene with a bang. Originally cut from the team as a forward, Gilroy pleaded and pleaded with Boston’s coach for a shot. Realizing Matt’s geuine desire to play, the coach said that if he could lace up as a defenseman and worked hard during practice, there would be no promises, but he might get some game time. The fact that he had never played defense in his life did not faze Gilroy, and he accepted the challenge.

    Only a few weeks later, he made his Boston University debut and has not been out of the lineup since. Fast forward three years later to 2008 and Matt Gilroy is now a household name in NCAA hockey, and at the end of last season, as many as 20 NHL teams lined up with contract offers. The BU coaching staff remarked that it wasn’t unusual to see dozens of scouts in the stands every game to watch Matt play. Why didn’t he sign? Gilroy politely turned down the offers and explained that because the team and the coaches had given him a chance at a time when no one else would,  Matt owed it to BU to come back for one more season and help them bring home the NCAA championship. Now there’s the kind of character you don’t see everyday. But hey, that’s not the half of it. Here’s what Mckeen’s Hockey had to say about Gilroy’s skillset:

    “Gilroy is primed to be a star and could dramatically uplift the franchise that is fortunate to land him equally as much as a lottery pick. He’s smooth as they come with the puck, as he boasts unrivaled vision and passing skills. His ability to escape dangerous situations and orchestrate beautiful plays coming out of his own end has our scouts believing he could be special. Gilroy fits the prototype of a modern NHL defenseman and will be a mature 25-year old when he enters his rookie NHL season next fall. …While the hype over the John Tavares lottery is deafening, the courtship for Gilroy’s services could be just as fascinating and fruitful.”

    Having plenty of ties to Boston himself, it’s widely known that Brian Burke has had his eye on Matt Gilroy for a long, long time. Gilroy certainly brings the size, skillset, and character that Brian would look for when adding a young player to his core. And here’s where the Maple Leafs need to use their roster space and flex their financial muscles. Nonis explained on the Bill Watters show today that Matt Gilroy will not be subject to an entry-level contract, and can therefore be signed for any amount. Expect Brian Burke and Leafs to take full advantage. If they feel that Gilroy’s talent is indeed as advertised, expect them to make Matt’s wallet almost as big as his heart.

    Always a pleasure,

    Alex Tran

    [email protected]

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