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Alex Tran

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Alex has been a part of the original MLHS team since way back in 2008. He has contributed to the 2009-12 Maple Leafs Annuals with a special interest in junior hockey and player development.

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Photo Credit: Go Petes Go.com

As part of our 2011 NHL Entry Draft coverage here at MLHS, I will be releasing a series of player profiles highlighting a handful of players who figure to be selected toward the middle-late first round or early second round. The Maple Leafs appear poised to select three times (Flyers’ 1st round pick, Bruins’ 1st round pick, Leafs’ 2nd round pick) within this range, though Burke has stated the possibility of combining two of those picks in an effort to move up. These profiles will provide a brief overview of the player’s strengths, weaknesses, and draft day outlook. Today, we’ll begin with Peterborough forward Matt Puempel.

The Basics: Talented goal scoring forward for the Peterborough Petes; 34 goals and 35 assists for 69 points in 55 games played.

According to the Swedish news outlet Aftonbladet, the Maple Leafs are looking to add once again to their very deep pool of goaltending prospects. The Toronto Maple Leafs and the San Jose Sharks are reportedly the two front runners for the services of Mark Owuya, a young standout netminder out of the Swedish Eliteserien. Playing as a 21 year old rookie, Owuya stole the starting job for the Djugarden hockey club and went on to post a 2.18 GAA and .927 SV%, good for third and first overall respectively among qualifying goaltenders this past season. For comparison’s sake, Jonas Gustavsson recorded a 1.97 GAA and .932 SV% during his last year in the Eliteserien, albeit at 24 years of age.

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According to the Toronto Star’s Damien Cox, the Leafs are expected to sign 24 year old forward prospect Leo Komarov to an entry-level contract at some point in the near future. The Maple Leafs hold Komarov’s NHL rights as a 6th round selection, 180th overall back in 2006. Komarov was born in Estonia, but grew up playing hockey in Finland where currently holds a duel-citizenship along with Russia. He has spent the last two years playing in the KHL, earning himself an all-star appearance this past season. In 52 games played for OHK Dynamo Moskva, he recorded 14 goals and 12 assists, in addition to 70 penalty minutes. Komarov also impressed during a brief playoff run, scoring 4 times and adding 2 helpers in just 6 games.

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Some saddening news to pass along this evening, as NHL.com reports that EJ McGuire, Vice President of the NHL’s Central Scouting Service, has passed away after losing a battle with cancer at the age of 58. Speaking of McGuire, Bettman notes that “EJ loved hockey, he loved to watch it, he loved to coach it, he loved to analyze it, he loved to talk about it. He was among the pioneers of the use of computers for hockey scouting and analysis, and he did an incredible job of directing the Central Scouting Bureau, and we will miss him terribly.”

I would like to personally give my condolences to the McGuire family. He was a tremendously bright and enthusiastic individual who in the past, had taken time out of his very hectic schedule to speak with MLHS as part of our draft preview series in 2009. The hockey world has lost a truly classy human being.

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- Matt Frattin‘s magical season just keeps on going. Frattin scored the WCHA title clinching goal, burying a rebound in double overtime in Saturday night’s championship game, lifting his Fighting Sioux squad to a 3-2 victory over the University of Denver. The crowd of over 16,000 at the Xcel Energy Center greeted the WCHA Player of the Year with roaring “Hobey Baker” chants as Frattin was introduced during the pre-game warmup. Next up for Matt is the NCAA Championship tournament, which will begin Sunday morning with the selection show where his North Dakota team is expected to garner a #1 seed.

- Jake Gardiner has impressed thus far during his first two games with the Marlies, despite not yet recording a point. Gardiner’s smooth skating ability and on-ice vision have come as advertised for the point-a-game collegiate defenseman, and he has utilized those skills to effectively set up a variety of scoring chances for his teammates. Eakins has thrown the 20 year old right into the fire, relying on him for heavy even strength minutes and penalty killing duties as well. The Marlies are currently toying with the notion of employing Gardiner as the lone defenseman on a four forward power play, which has been inconsistent throughout the year. Jake’s poise, creativity and puck-moving ability could see him in Toronto as early as mid-season next year.

- Another player who has provided the Marlies with much needed injection of offensive production is Joe Colborne, who came over from Boston in the Kaberle trade. The lumbering power forward has scored 6 goals and added 4 assists through 12 games, and has responded well to the increased power play time and offensive responsibility. He’s done a good job of using his size to create time and space in the slot and in front of the net, and in turn capitalizing on screens, tips and rebounds. In fact, the Marlies have scored 15 power play goals during Colborne’s first 11 games in the lineup, which is a direct result of the work he’s put in to dominate the low slot.

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Six points out of the last playoff spot in the East with only fifteen games to go. The Maple Leafs have their backs against the wall and now it’s time for one of the league’s youngest teams to grow up…and quickly.

Tonight’s matchup against the seventh place Sabres could be the biggest game of the year to this point and there is no doubt that the team must come away with two points in hand if they want to stay within striking distance of the eighth seed. Sjostrom is out with an upper-body injury and will be replaced on the fourth line by Jay Rosehill, while James Reimer will once again start between the pipes for the Buds. It should be a good one.

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Matt Frattin’s 2010-2011 collegiate season has been nothing short of spectacular and the nation’s leading goal scorer was officially recognized for it with WCHA Player of the Year honours. The Fighting Sioux senior has destroyed the stat sheet to the tune of 29 goals and 49 points in 37 games played, earning him the conference’s scoring title while amassing the most points by any North Dakota forward in 10 years. That’s actually one more goal than Matt scored in his entire first 3 NCAA seasons combined. Only 19 months ago, Frattin’s hockey career appeared to be in serious jeopardy when he was arrested for the second time by North Dakota police for a DUI, resulting in his dismissal from the school’s hockey programme. After being reinstated, he rebounded impressively to finish last season with 19 points in 24 games played, prompting myself to identify Matt as a big-time breakout candidate for 2011:

“Matt is a multi-talented player who can give you goal scoring ability while chipping in some physical play as well. He’s flying way under the radar right now, but don’t be surprised if he’s one of the names generating a ton of prospect buzz next season.”

Frattin could find himself with even more hardware at season’s end as he is amongst the favourites to win the Hobey Baker Award for the nation’s Most Outstanding Player. But for now, he will focus his attention on leading No. 1 ranked North Dakota to an NCAA title, starting with the WCHA playoffs against No. 12 seed Michigan State.

However, things could get interesting at season’s end. As a full four year commit, Frattin will find himself in the same situation as former Chicago prospect Bill Sweatt last summer. Although Frattin is still “technically” a Maple Leaf prospect, he will hold a ton of leverage in negotiations as he can simply choose to wait past the August deadline and become an unrestricted free agent. In addition to increased financial demands, Matt could also request a guaranteed NHL roster spot in the fall and the Sweatt negotiations showed that Burke is not fond of agents or players employing hardball tactics. Whatever the end result, Frattin’s journey to the NHL promises to be an intriguing storyline to follow.

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    James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail has a couple of interesting updates for your Family Day:

    - The Maple Leafs are exploring a contract extension with impending restricted free agent forward Clarke MarArthur. In the midst of a career season, the 25 year old Alberta native is on pace for 24 goals and 63 points, while displaying excellent chemistry with Kulemin and Grabovski on the club’s second line. MacArthur’s agent would likely point to the 3 year, $3.75 million cap hit handed out to Claude Giroux, while the Leafs’ brass could counter with James Neal’s 2 year, $2.75 million cap hit. A middle ground just north of Grabovski’s 3 year, $2.9 million per season cap hit could satisfy both sides. Mirtle notes in his piece that if the Leafs cannot make progress in talks with MacArthur, they will begin to listen to trade offers.

    - In an effort to fill the vacancies left by Tomas Kaberle and Francois Beauchemin, Burke appears to be closing in on a trade to land another blueliner who could suit up for the Maple Leafs as early as tomorrow night’s game at home against the Islanders. It has been speculated over the last week that the Flyers’ 3rd round pick, acquired via the Versteeg trade, has been dangled as part of a package to add a young NHL-ready defenseman. One team with plenty of depth on the back end is the Nashville Predators, who may be willing to part with the likes of Cody Franson or Jon Blum, both quality young puckmovers, provided the price is right. The Stars’ Matt Niskanen could also be an intriguing buy-low candidate. The 24 year old puckmover and former 1st round selection flashed top pairing potential early into his career but has struggled with inconsistency and constantly decreasing ice-time over the past couple of seasons.

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    The Leafs will miss this guy.

    Update (12:45 pm): TSN reports that Toronto will receive Joe Colborne, Boston’s 2011 first round pick and a conditional draft pick, pending the official trade call to the league office.

    According to the Boston Globe, it appears as if the Bruins and Maple Leafs are closing in on a trade that would send defenseman Tomas Kaberle to Boston in exchange for the Bruins’ 1st round pick in 2011 along with top prospect Joe Colborne. However, the Bruins are very tight up to the cap and will need to shed some salary in order to make it work. Rumours indicate that the cap casualty could be impending UFA Mark Stuart or RFA Blake Wheeler. If completed, the trade would see Toronto add two excellent long-term assets into the organizational cupboard.

    Combined with the recent additions of former 1st round selection Jake Gardiner and the two Flyers’ draft picks, Burke will have managed to significantly improve the team’s future outlook within a matter of weeks.

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      With the February 28th trade deadline approaching quickly, one player whom opposing GM’s appear to be targeting on the Maple Leafs’ roster is Kris Versteeg, acquired this past offseason in a slightly controversial trade with the Blackhawks. Burke anted up three young pieces in speed demon Viktor Stalberg and prospects Chris Didomenico and Philippe Paradis, to land the versatile Cup winner, which led some to argue the price may have been a little too high. Considering that Versteeg has almost as many goals as Stalberg has points, Didomenico is in the ECHL and Paradis is in the midst of a mediocre overage season in the QMJHL, early returns appear positive.

      When pressed by the media regarding which teams had inquired on diminutive winger, Burke’s reply was a simple “who hasn’t?”. CSN Philly reporter Tim Panaccio explains that Versteeg is likely on the Flyers’ radar for an upgrade at forward, but could cost 21 year old American power forward James Van Riemsdyk in return. Versteeg has also been recently linked to trade talks involving the Penguins, who are very much in the market for some scoring help, given the prolonged absences of Malkin and Crosby.

      Just how well-rounded is Versteeg’s game? The 24 year old is one of only six NHL towards, along with Ryan Kesler, David Bolland, Paul Stastny, Patrick Sharp, and James Neal who can boast about having 20+ blocked shots, 20+ hits, 40+ takeaways, and a 2:1 takeaway/giveaway ratio, while still being on pace to produce at least 20 goals and 50 points. Not a bad group to be a part of. Plus, he already has a Cup ring on his finger at 24. As stated on numerous occasions by Burke, no one is untouchable if the right deal comes along, but I imagine that it’s going to take a significant offer to pry away such a promising young player.

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        According to Joe Haggerty, the Bruins’ beat reporter for Comcast SportsNet, Maple Leaf GM Brian Burke has been spotted in Boston this afternoon and is expected to attend the Bruins-Red Wings game later tonight. Haggerty speculates on the potential for a Kaberle acquisition, which would provide a significant boost to a very mediocre Bruins’ powerplay, currently ranked 19th overall. The Leafs have been linked to Blake Wheeler in the past, but the inconsistent forward is in the midst of another ho-hum season. Brad Marchand, a two-time gold medalist with the Canadian World Junior team and QMJHL star, could perhaps draw some interest from the Toronto brass. The 22 year old Halifax native is on pace for a 23 goal campaign in his first full season in the NHL.

        It’s also quite possible that Burke is in town keep an eye on the Red Wings, who are rumored to be scouring the market for some veteran goaltending help, given Jimmy Howard’s up and down season. The club tried to sign free agent netminder Evgeni Nabokov in late January but lost him on waivers to the New York Islanders. Giguere has stated many times that he would not mind staying in Toronto, but his primary concern is getting the chance to be the number one guy. With the emergence of Reimer and Giguere’s impending unrestricted free agent status at year’s end, it would not be unreasonable to see the Maple Leafs give Reimer the close out the season with the majority of the workload. This would allow the organization to evaluate what they have and assess the merits of pursuing a free agent goaltender such as Tomas Vokoun or Ilya Bryzaglov this summer.

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        D'Amigo getting roughed up by a couple of Greyhounds

        After a consistently inconsistent first half of the season with the Marlies, forward prospect Jerry D’Amigo was recently demoted to the OHL, joining the Kitchener Rangers for their stretch run. Jerry Hicks of The Record explains to us that since getting sent down, D’Amigo has been the target of all sorts of trash talk from opposing players:

        “They just say, you know, ‘Way to get sent down’. Things like that,” said D’Amigo. “I’ve just got to brush it off.”

        Instead of chirping back, the young American has let his play do most of the talking thus far with 2 goals and 2 assists in 2 games played, both Ranger wins. Kitchener Head Coach Steve Spott explained that D’Amigo has provided the team with a  big boost to their special teams play and is always a threat to score shorthanded. However, he warns that Jerry will be the target of opposing checking lines every night and will have to be mentally tough to flourish.

        The Maple Leafs’ brass hope that a strong finish to the season and a lengthy playoff run with the Rangers will help D’Amigo regain his confidence and notch some big game experience under his belt. Early signs out of Kitchener are positive.

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        Matt Frattin introducing himself to 6'3 200 lb defenseman Mark Alt

        A little over halfway through the season, it’s time to tear our eyes away from the bottom of the NHL standings for a second and see how the future of the Maple Leafs are doing. Notable breakout players include Owen Sound’s puckmoving defenseman Jesse Blacker and NCAA goal scoring machine Matt Frattin out of the University of North Dakota. Below is a brief overview of some of the Maple Leafs’ biggest movers, either up or down, the organizational depth chart.

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        - Maple Leafs prospect Matt Frattin has been put on ballot for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the NCAA’s most outstanding player. After a rocky 2009-2010 year that saw him dismissed from and eventually reinstated into North Dakota’s hockey program, Frattin has rebounded with a monstrous season. He is the nation’s leading goal scorer with 20 tallies and 8 assists for 28 points through 23 games played, causing havoc for opposing teams with his laser shot and physical play. Once he finishes out his senior season with the Fighting Sioux, expect Matt to receive a contact from the Leafs and eventually make his way to the NHL sooner rather than later.

        - For the $600 bounty coach Ron Wilson posted ahead of Tuesday night’s victory against his former team, the San Jose Sharks, the league will fine the Maple Leafs an undisclosed amount as a penalty for what was deemed to be cap circumvention. Although players have traditionally fronted cash to the teammate who scores the game winning goal against former teams, players are technically not allowed to receive any sort of incentive other than the ones written into their contact.

        - The AM640‘s Jonas Siegel reports that while trade talks continue to progress with improving offers, the Leafs insist that nothing is imminent. Burke has been working the phones the past couple of weeks in an effort to upgrade his NHL roster, but has been unsuccessful to date. However, Burke does note that the organization will be targeting  roster players rather than draft picks heading closer to the deadline, but is willing to accept a draft pick as part of a larger trade. He also adds that the team has not yet approached the agents for impending restricted free agents Clarke MacArthur or Luke Schenn. Both are in line for massive pay raises this coming offseason.

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        Wolski has just 16 points through 32 games played this year for Phoenix

        According to the Hockey Night in Canada panel, the Maple Leafs have received a significant offer for forward Kris Versteeg Although they had not planned on moving the 24 year old, the offer was supposedly impressive enough to make Leaf management “pause”. The multi-purpose winger has not posted overly impressive numbers overall but has been heating up after a slow start, producing at nearly a point-a-game pace since the beginning of November (23 points over his last 26 games played).

        While the panel did not mention any specific names, it is interesting to note that the Leafs have been heavily linked to the Coyotes, who recently sent two members of their senior management to scout the Buds on Thursday night. Purely speculative, but one intriguing scenario could see both teams flip a pair of talented young forwards with Wojtek Wolski going back to Toronto as the main piece in exchange for Kris Versteeg. For an organization with a rather modest budget, Phoenix may be inclined to part with the underachieving Wolski who is set to earn $3.8 million per season through 2012 in exchange for a more affordable alternative (Versteeg has a $3.0 million cap hit through 2012). At just 24 years of age and coming off a 65 point campaign split between Phoenix and Colorado, it’s easy to see why the Leafs could be interested in adding Wolski’s 6’3 frame alongside Phil Kessel on the club’s top line.

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        Parent was selected 18th overall from the Guelph Storm by Nashville in 2005

        The Toronto Sun reports that GM Brian Burke is working hard to complete a trade or two in order supply head coach Ron Wilson with a better on-ice product. Burke explains that it is unfair to consider any coaching changes until the GM has exhausted all other possible personnel changes in an effort to improve the roster. The article also tosses in a rumor of a deal that nearly came together but fell apart in its final stages on Friday morning.

        Although unsubstantiated, the rumored trade would have seen Vancouver defenseman Ryan Parent head to Toronto, presumably to get some ice-time on the club’s bottom pairing. Parent, still just 23 years of age, cleared waivers yesterday and was sent down to the AHL’s Manitoba Moose after failing to crack a very deep Canucks’ blueline. Through 4 games played at the NHL level, he was held pointless with a -3 rating with just under 14 minutes of ice-time. The former 18th overall selection of the Predators was traded to Philadelphia as part of the deal that sent Peter Forsberg to Nashville at the 2007 trade deadline.

        The Fourth Period adds the LA Kings to the teams heavily scouting the Maple Leafs over the past few weeks and notes that Beauchemin and Kaberle could figure prominently.

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        As 2010 winds down, there are multiple sources hinting at some movement on the trade front for the Maple Leafs:

        - TSN’s Darren Dreger notes that multiple teams have contacted the Leafs asking about a number of different players but that no offer has been up to Burke’s standards yet. He adds that defenseman Francois Beauchemin in particular has drawn plenty of interest though he does possess a limited no-trade clause. Bob Mckenzie agrees that that there is significant buzz around the league regarding a possible series of moves in the coming days, perhaps involving Toronto.

        - The Fourth Period adds that Phoenix has been heavily scouting the Leafs recently and had two members of their senior hockey staff, most notably Assistant GM Brad Treliving, in Toronto to scout the Jackets’ game on Thursday. The article also mentions that the Coyotes are in the market for a scoring top six forward as well as a top four defenseman. A few days ago, I speculated that Burke could potentially be interested in Phoenix centre Martin Hanzal, a strong defensive player and big-bodied net presence. If the Leafs decide to target picks and prospects, they could ask for scoring winger Brett Maclean, power forward Viktor Tikhonov, physical defenseman Michael Stone, American checker Chris Brown or puckmoving defenseman Brandon Gormley, recently selected 13th overall.

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        "You're kidding! I only have to beat out Brett Lebda for an NHL job?"

        Kadri’s allowed to play again! After a rocky stretch in and out of the press box the last couple of nights, including one game where Nazem was benched in favor of the ever dangerous (for which team is up to you) Brett Lebda at forward, the Maple Leafs’ 2009 1st round pick has been sent back down to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. He will rejoin game action after serving out a two-game suspension that was handed out just before his NHL call-up. Through the first 17 games of his NHL career, Kadri was goalless with 6 assists and a minus 4 rating.

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        In a recent lunch interview with the Toronto Star, GM Brian Burke finally conceded what many fans and media types have been saying the last couple of weeks: change is needed. While it has been quite popular to lay most of the blame at the feet of the head coach, Burke reiterated for the umpteenth time that the players have not quit on Ron Wilson and that they “are not even contemplating, considering or discussing a coaching change at this point.”

        Burke did state however: “I think this group has established to my satisfaction that we’re not going to come out of this without some outside help. We’re not looking at a coaching change. So we have to see if we can make a player personnel change.”