Earlier this week, I was able to catch up with a few Leafs at Lakeshore Lions Arena. I’ve gone a few times already this August, and the closer we get to the opening of camp, more and more players are showing up. Notable attendants have included Finger, Tlusty, Bozak, Hamilton, both Mitchells, Schenn, The Monster, Toskala, Mayers, Poni, Stajan and Oreskovic. More than likely, some players were missing due to Olympic camp tryouts and practices.
Tyler Bozak was clearly excited to be in Toronto and on the ice with his new team. Whether he was making his way from the dressing room to the ice or taking part in the scrimmages, he always had a smile on his face. My initial impression of him was that he was rather small, though not as small as Dale Mitchell, and that he didn’t have the intensity and size for the NHL. Having seen more of him, its clear to me that he does have the passion and the skill to make up for his lack of size, and that he could be an impactful NHLer with his speed and soft hands. Some sources have him listed as a six-footer but I would question that.
Cliff Fletcher was also sporting a wide grin as he walked up to The Monster after the practice session, and approached the new Leaf as Jonas left the ice. Fletcher asked Jonas how everything was going, to which Jonas replied that everything was going good and that he was just trying to get used to everything. I studied The Monster while he was out on the ice and was thoroughly impressed by him. I would never put any stock in whether he was making saves or not, or if he allowed bad goals. Those things don’t mean a whole lot during practises and drills. What I was impressed by, however, was the efficient manner in which he went post to post. He is much bigger and covers more of the net than Toskala, so that is always a bonus. His reflexes and positioning were what stood out the most. He seems to have all the tools, and I look forward to seeing what he can do this season. When I asked Fletcher what his expectations were for The Monster, he said “We took a lot of time and did a lot of work getting him, so we definitely believe in him.” Much like Bozak, Gustavsson looked excited to be a part of his new team.
Tlusty, Stajan, Poni and John Mitchell all looked sharp and ready for training camp to begin. I would surprised if any of the four were not on the opening night roster. Stajan and Poni are pretty much a lock, but Mitchell and Tlusty may have to battle for spots. Of the two, Mitchell is more likely to make the squad as he can handle physical play and could be an effective player on either the 3rd or 4th lines if need be. Tlusty would be better served playing a top six role, even a top line role, and the opportunity may be more open with the Marlies than the Leafs, however there’s little doubt where Tlusty has his sights set or what the Leafs expect of him this year, and that’s to earn his way into the line-up out of camp. He has shown what he can do in the AHL when he is on his game, and it’s just a matter of time until he brings that to the NHL.
This weekend will be the annual prospects camp. Last year’s Leafs edition featured Kulemin, Mitchell, Champagne, Schenn, DiDomenico, among a host of other prospects. This year we will see players like Stefanovich, Kadri, Reimer, Kadri, Hanson, Bozak, Hayes and others. Hopefully a few players will step up and take the tournament by storm. It will be my first look at Kadri on the ice as a Leaf, as it will be for a majority of fans. While I believe he will have a good camp, I think Stefanovich will be the player that has the biggest impact. Who do you think it will be?