What About the Kid?

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    Dion Phaneuf was far and away the biggest name exchanging teams in the Toronto-Calgary deal on Sunday morning, and as a result, young defenseman Keith Aulie may have gotten a little overlooked in the shuffle. But make no mistake about it: Aulie was a significant piece in this trade for Brian Burke and the huge, imposing blueliner should figure prominently in the Maple Leafs’ defensive core of the future. Let’s take a look at what the newest Maple Leafs’ prospect could bring to the table in a few years time.

    Who He Is:

    Keith Aulie is a mammoth 20 year old defenseman, currently checking in at 6’6 208 lbs, and was playing for the Abbotsford Heat of the American Hockey League. He’s an old school Western Canadian kid, born in Regina and played his junior hockey in Brandon for the Wheat Kings. He was drafted in the 4th round, 116th overall in the 2007 NHL Draft by the Calgary Flames. He is also well-known for saving his father’s life when Bill Aulie fell through the ice at their farm. Click here for more details on that story.

    The Skillset:

    This is your classic, big-bodied stay at home defenseman groomed in the rough and tough league that is the WHL. From a defensive standpoint, there’s a lot to like about Aulie’s game. He’s a  reliable player with a long reach and active stick, and possesses strong positional instincts. He’s got a little bit of an edge to his game, but uses his body more to angle opposing forwards off the puck than to decimate them along the boards. As with many players his size, he’s drawn criticisms for not being “mean” enough or using his physical skills to their maximum ability. Keith is also a top notch character kid, earning rave reviews for his work ethic and personality at every level, partly because he’s also unafraid to drop the gloves to come to the aid of a teammate. He’s a leader who will bring the intensity and effort every single night. From a skating standpoint, many people seem to be fairly split on how mobile Aulie will be at the NHL level. While Burke feels that Aulie possesses a good fluid stride for his size, there have been concerns of Keith being caught on certain quick transition plays because it takes him some time to change direction or get going from a standstill. As for the offense, there’s not a whole lot to write home about. He could definitely use some work on his puck skills, but much like Schenn, will try to minimize potential mistakes by making short, quick passes out of the zone.

    The Upside:

    Anytime you can land yourself a fairly polished player with this kind of frame and long-term projection, there is some serious upside attached. The question marks are always the same: Will he develop that meanstreak? Will he be a better skater? Will his offensive abilities come along? Those of you who remember Aulie’s contributions to the 2008 Gold Medal winning World Junior team will have an idea of what he could possibly bring to an NHL lineup on a nightly basis in the future. Paired alongside Tyler Myers under Pat Quinn, the tandem shone brightly as an intimidating, reliable shutdown pair for the Canadian squad. That same year, he proved to be a dominant force on the Wheat Kings, playing a big-time role in their WHL playoff run. To put a concrete ceiling or floor on Aulie is a tough thing to do. He’s got enough polish and size to likely carve out an NHL career as a #5-6 defenseman at the worst, with the potential upside of being a true, powerhouse top 4 shutdown defenseman. Could the Leafs have found Luke Schenn’s future defensive partner, forming an intimidating “Western Canada” style shutdown pairing for years to come?

    Maybe. But in the meantime, Aulie will report to the Toronto Marlies to continue honing those skills and adjusting to the speed and skill of the pro level. While he’s unlikely to crack the Leafs’ lineup next season, he should start figuring into the discussion perhaps sometime in 2011-2012.

    Final Thoughts:

    As I’ve seen shared many times over the past 36 hours, there is a lot to like about this franchise altering swap. The Leafs have made themselves younger, bigger, and tougher. While Phaneuf is certainly the big prize of the transaction, don’t count out Keith Aulie’s ability to impact the team’s future in a significant way. He is every bit as “Brian Burke” of a player as you can be, and provides the Leafs with that old school Western Canada size and toughness they’ve lacked over the past few years. I absolutely love this trade on a variety of levels and Aulie was simply the cherry on top. How did Burke pull this off? See below.

    Burke-Magician

    [email protected]

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