After watching the first four pre-season games, I’ve noticed a few players stand out while others have sunk into a state of mediocre play. This is my brief evaluation of the players we no longer need, including my own opening night roster preview. I look forward to reviewing all of your own opening night rosters compared to the way I view the brand new Maple Leafs.
Let’s kick things off with the first line. It will be difficult to immediately evaluate who would be a good fit for the newly acquired Phil Kessel, but if I had to guess, I would not be surprised if he found himself on a line with Niklas Hagman. Hagman is the type of player who seems to enjoy playing with the kids and can always be found talking about plays and ways to improve on the bench. Niklas Hagman is quickly becoming our new Joe Nieuwendyk and has certainly helped mold the play of Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin over the past year. But with Kessel out until around November, we will break the opening night roster down without him in the depth chart.
With Ron Guillet letting us all know who the Leafs sent down last night, it helps us get a clearer view of how the roster is being shaped. Currently, the Leafs have 36 players competing for positions with the club (35 if you don’t count Nazem Kadri whom Ron Wilson has made it clear on several accounts that they want him to play in the OHL next season and become more confident and successful in the CHL while building his body mass).
There are 20 players competing for the forward positions.
My immediate cuts are: Ben Ondrus (always liked him, but there are better 4th liners on this team. He’ll continue to be a great AHL player), Nazem Kadri (for the same reasons above, I want to see him in the World Juniors), Jason Allison (while I was a fan of his return, I was also surprised at how much slower he’s become), Andre Deveaux (he’s showed signs he might be a legitimate fourth liner, but as of now, he still lacks consistency in his play between the fisticuffs). That gets us down to 16 forwards, and one utility player (Jay Rosehill is a defenseman playing forward).
On Defense, there are 12 players competing for positions:
My immediate cuts are: Carl Gunnarsson (while he has not looked out of place, he is not yet a stand out defenseman and could use some time in the Marlies to develop his game), Jesse Blacker (at 18 years of age, this kid has pure promise to be a top 4 defenseman), Luke Schenn (just kidding), Jonas Frogren, (while he hasn’t had much play during the pre-season, I find that Jeff Finger can do as good a job defensively while providing more offensive output). That gets us down to 8 defensemen and one utilty player (Jay Rosehill).
There are 4 goaltenders competing for positions:
I am glad James Reimer put up 2 solid performances in the pre-season as his rookie games were horrendous. I believe he has the potential of being a solid performer in net and should have a good AHL season this year. I am looking forward to seeing Jonas Gustavsson play a second game, and have been pleasantly surprised by Joey MacDonald. He seemed to shake the rust off after his Wednesday night performance against the Bruins and has been solid between the pipes. Which makes the Toskala situation all the more interesting.
James Reimer and Andrew Engelgage are competing for the number one slot in the Marlies this season. Jason MacDonald was expected to lead the charge in the AHL, but he’s making his case for legitimacy as an NHL backup. Keep in mind, MacDonald had a 0.901 SV% in 49 games with the Islanders last season. Though I will give Toskala a few more games for evaluation, I am not impressed with the way he has performed thus far. With a cap hit of $4M this season, it’s a shame the “testing project” or trying him out as a number one goaltender has failed. I do see Jonas Gustavsson taking this team by the horns (he is said to be one of the most physically fit players for the Leafs due to his drive to gain the number one slot) and while Toskala will be a Leaf for the time being, I will not be surprised to see Joey MacDonald backing up The Monster by January.
My Final Cuts:
Jamal Mayers – I don’t see a purpose for an average skating, 35 year-old forward who seldomly drops the gloves to be taking up a spot one of the kids could have.
Wayne Primeau – Aside from being big, he doesn’t do much else. I understand why the Leafs made the Stralman trade, but I’m perplexed they could not pick up a more valuable commodity than Primeau. Perhaps the deal was specifically made to gain Calgary’s 2nd round pick. If Primeau stays up, Tlusty is sent down to develop more.
Rickard Wallin – I know he came over and was a bit of an influence on the Gustavsson signing (he was the captain of The Monster’s team in Sweden) but aside from skate around, he hasn’t brought much of anything to the table, let alone any glimpse of character.
Lee Stempniak – This was difficult for me to decide. I think Lee is simply a man who cannot finish. He’s a soft player who has a hard time getting shots off cleanly. He is making $3.5M this season, and is not a $3M dollar player. It was a difficult decision to make based on who else was available due to his price. Stempniak is a player you hope would have a decent year so you could trade him and get some value back for Colaiacovo and Steen. If Stempniak manages to stick with the team this season, I see it only as a way to showcase him, hope he performs decently and try to salvage a pick out of him.
There has to be a trade. Mike Van Ryn or Jeff Finger should be dealt to get this team down to defensive compliance. There is no value in demoting any of these players. I do see Mike Van Ryn being the player who will be traded from the club as Ian White is durable and has the mobility to out-perform Van Ryn and Jeff Finger is more defensive and can lay the body.
MY DEPTH CHART:
Hagman – Stajan – Blake
Ponikarovsky – Grabovski – Kulemin
Hanson – Bozak – Stalberg
OrrÂ - Mitchell – Primeau
Toskala / MacDonald
What’s your depth chart?
Micheal A. Aldred