Toronto Maple Leafs training camp opens today, with an enormous player base of 70 invitees. Some are guaranteed spots, some are looking to secure one. All of them want to make a positive impression. Here are some thoughts on the camp outlook.
At forward, Tim Connolly, Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Clarke MacArthur and Colby Armstrong are guaranteed spots on the roster. For Lupul, training camp and the preseason this year is an opportunity to show coach Ron Wilson that he has what it takes to be a first line forward. If he fails in doing that, someone like Nazem Kadri could easily come in and usurp that position with a strong preseason. MacArthur, Kulemin and Grabovski will be looking to show that their line wasn’t a one year wonder and, with Grabovski in a contract year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some explosiveness from this line in the preseason contests.
Matthew Lombardi may not play any preseason games, but training camp will be incredibly beneficial to his game readiness when the time comes to play again. Getting into good shape and showing some of his trademark speed will be enough to impress the coaching staff. The aforementioned Kadri, along with Matt Frattin, are the two strongest runners for the open third line winger spot. Frattin in particular will be displaying his hard shot and nose for the net in a bid to secure his spot. Though not as likely, two names also in this race are Luca Caputi and Marcel Mueller. Mueller had an impressive rookie season in North America in 10-11 and didn’t look out of place in his short stint with the Leafs. Caputi missed most of last season with an injury, so it’s up to him to show the coaches and GM Brian Burke that it didn’t hurt his development.
Darryl Boyce, Philippe Dupuis and Jay Rosehill will be competing for bottom line roles. Colton Orr is likely guaranteed a spot before camp starts, but any of the other three could find themselves on waivers with a poor camp. Tyler Bozak’s mission will be to prove that his rookie campaign wasn’t a fluke and that the 10-11 season was an aberration. If Lombardi doesn’t start the year with the Leafs, Bozak will take his spot as third line center. He displayed some chemistry with Colby Armstrong late last year, so he can use this as a chance to build on that. Mike Brown is fresh off a three year contract extension and will likely be sitting in many preseason games so the coaching staff can evaluate younger prospects, but he has a spot saved for him on the fourth line.
Tyler Brenner, Joey Crabb, Mike Zigomanis, Jamie Devane, Kenny Ryan, Richard Greenop, Ryan Hamilton, Dale Mitchell, Jerry D’Amigo, Joe Colborne and Greg Scott will all be Marlie-bound in all likelihood. Colborne, Brenner, Ryan, D’Amigo and Devane will have to prove to management that they have a future with the big boys. Both Ryan and Devane are fresh off impressive rookie tournaments, so this is a chance to build on that and hopefully start the year strong with the Marlies. If Lombardi starts the season injured, Colborne could be a dark horse for the third line center spot.
David Broll, Sam Carrick, Josh Leivo, Greg McKegg, Josh Nicholls, Sondre Olden and Brad Ross will be looked upon by management to gauge their progress since being drafted. McKegg had an entirely impressive rookie tournament, so scoring once or twice in the preseason would give him something good to think about on his way back to Erie. His new Erie temmate, Sondre Olden, likes to play with a nice combination of skill and physicality. He’ll get a game or two in the preseason and you can expect to see a productive season from him in the OHL. Nicholls had a breakout season last year in the WHL, so don’t be surprised if he tops 100 points this year. Broll and Leivo both battled with consistency issues last campaign, so this year should be spent on being more productive. This is especially true for Broll, who has already signed an ELC with the Leafs. Sam Carrick had a disappointing year in 10-11, battling a ton of injuries. He’ll just be looking to get back on track. Brad Ross will have to show that there’s more to his game than agitating. Without any significant production, the comparisons to Darcy Tucker are largely unfounded at the moment.
Will Acton, Matt Caruana, Brayden Irwin, Kyle Neuber and Kelsey Wilson will be looking to get AHL deals, whether that be with Toronto or elsewhere. It’s likely that these players will be in the first wave of cuts. Andrew Crescenzi signed an ELC with Toronto last preseason as an undrafted 18 year old. His defensive abilities at forward will be expected to have improved and continually honed with Kitchener in the OHL. Mitchell Heard is in a similar situation to the one Crescenzi was in last year at this time. His standout performance in the rookie tournament (1G, 3A) earned him a spot at the main camp. It’s likely he’ll be signed to an ELC before camp ends.
On defence, Keith Aulie, Cody Franson, Carl Gunnarsson, Mike Komisarek, John-Michael Liles, Dion Phaneuf and Luke Schenn are guaranteed spots. This of course means that the defence is completely set, with all seven spots taken before training camp even started. Aulie will be looking to follow Schenn’s path in development, while Schenn will be trying to get to a Marc Staal level of competence. Phaneuf will hopefully continue his late season offensive surge with a strong start this year. Cody Franson will want to prove his worth offensively, as he will likely get more minutes in Toronto than he did in Nashville.
Jesse Blacker, Jeff Finger, Jake Gardiner, Simon Gysbers, Korbinian Holzer, Matt Lashoff and Juraj Mikus will all be with the Marlies this year. Blacker, Gardiner and Gysbers will be competing for the first call up in case of injury. Mikus will be trying to return to his rookie form after a disappointing sophomore year. Holzer seems to have been rubbed out by Toronto’s new found depth on defence. If none of these players steps up, Lashoff will be the Leafs’ first call up on defence. Stuart Percy is going to try to show that management made the right decision drafting him in the first round. Look for him to get a single game in the preseason. Garrett Clarke is in much the same situation as Mitchell Heard, with an impressive rookie tournament. Though he’s not as likely as Heard to get an ELC, it’s still a possibility. Dave Cowan, Josh Engel, Mike Schwindt, Matt Stanisz and Denny Urban will all be looking for AHL contracts.
For the goaltending situation, James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson are guaranteed opening night spots. Reimer’s rookie season in the NHL was hopefully not a fluke, otherwise the Leafs are in trouble. Gustavsson’s sophomore season left much to be desired, so he could be on thin ice with a poor camp. If Gustavsson does falter, look for Ben Scrivens to take his spot as backup. Jussi Rynnas will hopefully improve his numbers in his second North American season, as the tall Finnish goalie still has much raw potential. Mark Owuya needs to separate himself from the pack in a bid to secure a full time spot on the Marlies. If he doesn’t he may be going either to Reading in the ECHL or another AHL team in need of a goalie. Garret Sparks is incredibly entertaining on Twitter, but he battled consistency issues last year with Guelph in the OHL. If he can solve that problem, he could turn into a great goaltender.
So there’s some of the storylines for this year’s camp. Who will you guys be watching closely?