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Thoughts on the Rookies

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Be sure to check out Mislav’s recap of the Leafs-Sens rookie game last night. Garrett has your Luke Schenn contract update here.

Alas, the Rookie tournament is over, but thank god for a sighting of hockey players wearing the blue and white. The Leafs showed well, winning twice over the weekend before succumbing to a hard fought loss against the hated Ottawa Senators.  The loss, while disheartening, showed more about the Leafs than either of their two wins.  Turnovers and defensive lapses put the baby buds into a hole early, but they fought back to tie it twice.  While ultimately unsuccessful, the kids showed they had character and determination.

I’ll admit that I actually spent three good nights watching the guys play, and after the jump, we’ll take a look at some parting thoughts from an exciting, optimism inducing Rookie Tourney.

In no particular order…

Sondre Olden:  Raw, really raw.  He’s got all the tools, but no toolbox at this point.  His instincts are solid, as witnessed by his ability to appear out of nowhere to charge the goalmouth.  He’s a project because he lacks polish.  His strongest showing was in last night’s game, where he wired a beauty past the otherwise stellar Robin Lehner, and with seconds left on the clock feeding Mitchell Heard, who shoveled it to McKegg for the tying goal.  Regardless of his overall success in the tourney, the Norwegian made a great decision to learn the North American game with the Erie Otters.  His acclimation to a smaller surface and nastier physical play, as well as a chance to be a man amongst boys (for a change) is the right choice at this stage in his career.

Greg Mckegg: Speaking of Erie Otters, Fellow 2010 3rd round pick Greg Mckegg has steadily been proving to the world why he was drafted so high in the 2008 OHL priority draft.  He’s shifty and smart in the offensive zone.  While his overall foot speed appeared better than average, his first step is certainly wanting.  There’s no denying though that he seems to find ways to break coverage and find space.  He’s going to get all the ice time he wants at the OHL level and is likely to dominate offensively again.  He and Olden could be a boon to each other’s success and development should they ever develop a little bit of chemistry.

Mitchell Heard:  Mitch Heard was almost lucky to have such an easily satirized last name.  With his hard effort and media friendly moniker, he’s been drawing attention to his play like moths to a flame.  He will fight, he can draw penalties, he was trusted to take face offs in all zones.  Burke rewards effort and diligence to one’s craft, and Heard looked like he left everything on the ice in hopes of earning a contract. Maybe I had too much Kool-Aid back in the day, but his rambunctious up and down style reminds of John Mitchell.  Remember that one surprisingly good year he had three years ago?

Jake Gardiner: I like his wheels.  When I heard all the “he skates likes Scott Niedermayer” talk, I was skeptical.  He can flat out fly, and he has the even more impressive ability to use his speed and quickness to find a lot of free space in the offensive zone.  With the puck on his stick, he seemed to slow the game down around him.  His ability to read and break up plays helped keep pressure off in the neutral and defensive zones.  He did get caught out of position, and no matter how fast he is, he’ll be burned far worse at the NHL level than the rookie tourney for it.  He needs to learn how to endure an 80 game season and he’ll likely see that at both the AHL and NHL level in the coming months.

Matt Frattin:  He had a quiet tournament, safe to say.  There was never any need to play him too much, as he’s got to be somewhat bruise free heading into training camp.  He was certainly a presence on the ice, faster, stronger, and cagier than opposing prospects.  In a bit of a surprise move, he wound up on the point on the power play, with more than mild efficacy.  His second period goal last night was an absolute bomb, and helped revive the team.   He commended himself well, but his focus has always been on fighting for a spot on the opening night roster with the real Maple Leafs.  Pound for pound, I think the smaller, younger Nazem Kadri all but has that spot locked up, but Frattin’s howitzer might say otherwise.

Jesse Blacker:  He seemed to be a natural on ice leader, vocal during breaks in play and attentive at all times.  He wasn’t always visible during the game on the back end in a good way.  He was steady and reliable in his own zone.  He also managed a few partial breaks.  I think his road to the NHL is assured but he needs to be bled into professional hockey with Marlies.  He’s still got to learn how to better pick his spots, play the pass better, and beef up.  He seemed a tad easy to handle physically.  Given the magnitude of depth of the Leafs blue line, barring either a rash of injuries or remarkable performance with the Marlies, Blacker seems destined to spend all year in the A.

Stuart Percy: Had a short, forgettable tournament.  Before his injury he looked tentative with the puck and appeared to be over thinking the play.  Unfortunately, fans weren’t treated to an extended audition from the 1st rounder.  We’ll call it a write off (due to his extreme youth, experience and junior status), but I don’t mind saying that I’ve never been 100% sold on his selection in the first round.

The Absence of Jerry D’Amigo:  Out due to injury and not exactly missed, given the overall outcome of the tournament for the Leafs.  The former RPI standout’s stock has fallen tremendously after such high hopes a year ago.  Half this site had him penciled into their starting line up for the 2010/2011 squad.  But with his mediocre half season audition with the Marlies after a stellar year in college and WJC dominance, I’m growing concerned that he might have pulled a Pogge on us.

Overall, I thought there was a lot to like in the collection of prospects that took part in the tournament.  It is a testament to the success of Brian Burke in Toronto.  He has put most of these aforementioned players (Frattin excluded) into the blue and white, and in short order has developed a promising pool of prospects.  As I look at the relative youth of the prospects (standouts McKegg, Olden, Heard all being 19), and look at the contract length of much of the Leafs roster, I see that Burke has envisioned the bulk of the above players stepping up in the very near future.  And from this long weekend’s showing, I’d say things are right on track.