Jonas Gustavsson’s unofficial debut performance is bound to generate some buzz after the Monster stopped 35 of 36 shots in backing the Maple Leafs’ prospects to a 3-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins’ youngsters in the opening game of the rookie tournament inside the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium this evening.
The Leafs’ kids gained a 1-0 edge late in the first frame as the collegiate trio of centre Tyler Bozak and wingers Viktor Stalberg and Christian Hanson combined on a 5-on-3 opportunity to beat Pens goaltender Patrick Killeen, with Stalberg finishing a right-post tap in off of a cross-crease feed from Bozak.
The Leafs would generate opportunity in only short spurts throughout much of the following two periods as Gustavsson looked unbeatable in upholding the Leafs’ slender lead, especially in some third period offensive onslaughts from the Pens. With under ten minutes remaining on the clock, the Pens would eventually strike off a tip-in from Joe Vitale that went through the wickets of a handcuffed Gustavsson.
The Leafs would respond quickly, however, after winger Greg Scott, signed out of Seattle of the WHL last off-season, broke in along the right flank and released a harmless looking wrister from the half boards that was fumbled by Killeen and allowed to trickle past the goalie line to give the Leafs’ prospects the deciding edge.
Alex Berry would then ice it with an empty netter after Joel Champagne found him with a pass that cleared the zone.
The tilt featured two rounds of fisticuffs, with Berry squaring off and losing to Zach Sill and Richard Greenop faring well against Ryan Schnell. Overall, Burke would’ve been pleased with the Leafs’ level of physicality.
*Among the names of interest, it could be said that only Stefanovich “disappointed,” as he was pretty quiet all night. Bozak, Stalberg and Hanson, three ’86 born players fresh out of college, shared a lot of ice and were quite bright individually and as a unit. It was odd to see a #42 in Blue and White (Bozak) playing with skill and intensity to match. Stalberg caused ample problems for the Pens’ D with ranginess, pace and size. Stalberg and Hanson stood out as just flat out physically superior to the opposition they were lining up against. Bozak also won the lion’s share of draws on the dot, which is no doubt an element that will help endear the University of Denver product to Leafs’ brass if it carries over against professional opposition.
*The first observation made of Nazem Kadri was that he could certainly use a little more mass in his upper body, but it wasn’t like the London Knight showed any hesitation in involving himself physically. His quick stick and feet were a bright spot all night, and his testiness was a pleasant surprise. When speaking to head of amateur scouting Dave Morrison for our in-depth interview piece in the Annual, the one characteristic of Kadri that Morrison emphasized as being a major plus is his desire to be a difference-maker. Even in a low-key affair like tonight’s game, Kadri was opening for teammates and calling for the puck shift in and shift out. Kadri could and likely will use the upcoming season to continue to mature physically, but I don’t think we’ll have to wait too much longer than that for Nazem’s arrival.
*Drafted coming off of a season in which he played chiefly a defensive role for the Memorial Cup-winning Windsor Spitfires, scouting reports have indicated hints of offensive potential in 2009 second round pick Jesse Blacker’s game. Offensively, his reliable first pass ability as well as some sharp vision on the powerplay stood out tonight. Notwithstanding one occasion in which he was caught flat footed, beat down the middle and resorted to taking a tripping penalty, he was very solid in his positioning and physical play on the defensive side of things. If tonight’s any indication, there’s certainly reason to believe Blacker could develop into a serviceable two-way player down the road.
*Jamie Devane’s sheer size is certainly an attention-drawer to anyone observing live, but he’s exactly as advertised: a major project player.
*Last but certainly not least, Gustavsson was indeed a monster tonight. Anyone in attendance tonight can attest to how he dwarfs the net and creates one of the biggest snow angels ever seen, as highlighted in a five-save scramble that brought parts of the crowd to its feet. He uses his unique combination of size and athleticism so efficiently, letting his ample upper body do most of the work when challenging shooters while also being able to get from post to post and scramble for rebounds quickly if necessary. He certainly won over the crowd inside the Aud in no time, and let us hope it was a preview of what’s to come this season.