Thoughts from the Rookie Tournament, Game 1

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    I won’t go into a lot of detail about the game itself, as Alec covered that quite well.

    The news, for the most part, was good.   Many of the Leafs‘ prospects were impressive in their bids to earn a spot on the big club and/or the Marlies.   The following is a quick summation of some of the things that stood out to me from my vantage point at the game.

    Players who stood out:

    1. Jonas Gustavsson looked like the real deal.  It’s only one game, but his performance was very encouraging.  Laterally, he was very quick moving post to post, and did an excellent job of getting back to his feet quickly after dropping to his knees to stop low shots. He anticipated puck movement well and could not be faulted for the deflection that beat him.  However, he does need to work on rebound control.  The Penguins seemed to notice this about him and looked to be consciously firing low to the stick side for much of the game.

    2. Nazem Kadri received a ton of ice time, and did not look out of place at all.  He played on the wing during the first period, and at centre through much of the 2nd and 3rd.  While his faceoff skills were decent, he was much more effective using his speed along the boards on his off-wing (right wing) than he did as a pivot.

    3. Tyler Bozak and Victor Stalberg were arguably best two players on the ice, for either team.  Interestingly enough they started the game on a line with fellow NCAA-er Christian Hanson, and that line remained together for the majority of the game due to their excellent play in all three zones.  There is an obvious chemistry between the three players — could the “NCAA line” one day be a staple on the Maple Leafs?

    4. One guy who really stood out was winger John Kurtz.  His effort was quite impressive, and it seemed he was near the puck all night long.   His puckhandling, and in particular his agility while skating with the puck, were quite a pleasant surprise considering he has been somewhat of an unknown to date.   That might change quickly if he keeps up the sort of effort he displayed tonight for the rest of the tournament.

    5. Jesse Blacker was excellent for the most part.  He moved the puck well, was patient and did a good job of getting himself back into position after a rush.   His only blemish came at the end of a long shift, where he was clearly exhausted and as a result was beat one-on-one and was forced to take a penalty to prevent a scoring chance.

    6. Joel Champagne was much more physical than expected, which was a pleasant surprise.   He also made a number of heads-up plays with the puck.  He needs a lot of  work in the faceoff circle, however.

    7.  Mikhail Stefanovich was unfortunately invisible, for the most part.  At times he displayed a good burst of speed, but appeared to be a bit overwhelmed.  Hopefully it was just a case of nerves and he will be more of presence as he finds his comfort zone in the upcoming games.

    8.  Jamie Devane is a very good skater for his size.    The easiest player to spot on the ice, he has a very smooth stride for a big man and did not seem to have any trouble keeping up to the play.   His forechecking in particular was impressive, especially when battling behind the opposition net.

    9. Carl Gunnarsson seemed to be the most at ease of all the defenders.  He moved the puck very well, and always seemed to be in the proper defensive position when on the ice.   Looks to have a ton of hockey sense.

    10. Alex Berry displayed a physical edge to his game, using his size to his advantage along the boards, forechecking well, and even engaging in some fisticuffs.  His work on the PK was very good, also.

    Other notes:

    – James Reimer was the backup netminder for tonight’s game.   With the next game for the Leafs‘ rookies coming tomorrow afternoon, Reimer is expected to get the start.

    – Scratches for tonight’s game were:  Dale Mitchell (F), Stefano Giliati (F), Andrew Wallace (F), Joe Ryan (D), Andrew Engelege (G).

    – Players committed to the NCAA this season (including Tyler Ruegsegger, Kenny Ryan, Jimmy Hayes, Jerry D’Amigo and Grant Rollheiser) are not a part of this tournament as they are not vying for spots in the NHL or AHL this season.

    – I will continue to post more quick thoughts following each of the Leafs‘ remaining games at the tournament.   Once the tournament has wrapped up, Gus and I will cross-post with a more detailed analysis of the event, and the players who participated.

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