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Irwin that is. It was reported last night that the Maple Leafs had agreed to terms with 23 year old free agent forward Brayden Irwin, a former teammate of Viktor Stalberg at the University of Vermont. Irwin is Toronto native power forward, standing at 6’5 215 lbs, but does possess a bit of skill, a good shot and skates well for his size. He had a breakout 2009-2010 campaign in which he recorded 15 goals and 19 assists for 34 points in 39 games played, totals that would surpass his two previous seasons combined. Irwin also leads his team in shots, penalty minutes and boasts a team-best 55% win percentage in the faceoff circle. Irwin struggled through a terrible junior season, but Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon believed from the start of the year that Irwin had all the tools to become one of the top players in the league. Guess he wasn’t too far off.
While it’s not quite as high profile a signing as Minny’s Casey Wellman, it’s still a step in the right direction: the accumulation of free assets, in this case a player with some interesting skill and size. Personally, I’m still holding out for New Hampshire sniper Bobby Butler or my personal favourite from this year’s crop: Stephane Da Costa out of Merrimack College.
Leaf prospect Jerry D’Amigo continues to build on a tremendous 2009-2010 campaign, taking home rookie of the year honours for the ECAC Hockey conference. Union College’s Keith Kinkaid and Harvard University’s Louis Leblanc were the two other finalists. Leblanc was also Montreal’s 1st round selection, 18th overall in the 2009 draft, which should give rough idea of the magnitude of D’Amigo’s accomplishment. Kudos kiddo!
As the playoff hopes gradually continue to fade for even the most optimistic of fans, the focal point of the Maple Leafs over the last few weeks has been on the stellar play of several key young players. Bozak, Kulemin and Kessel have been dynamic and dangerous in spurts as the team’s first line, building chemistry together and showing real signs of promise. Caputi, Hanson and Stalberg are giving indications that they could be part of a solid supporting cast someday, with strong board play, good size and tenacity in chasing down loose pucks. On the back end, Gunnarsson has been nothing short of a tremendous surprise, coming in mid-year as a 23 year old rookie, but playing with the poise of a 10-year veteran in over 21 minutes a night. But today, the focus will be on the more subtle progression of a another young blueliner who is reminding Toronto fans why the team took him with its highest draft selection in 20 years.
- Tim Brent and Jay Rosehill have been recalled from the Toronto Marlies, while Sjostrom and Mitchell are doubtful for tonight’s game against the Flyers. Brent is a player Burke knows quite well from his years in the Anaheim Ducks organization, whom the Leafs signed this past offseason. Tim has always been a very productive player at the AHL level who has yet to make that successful transition to the NHL. However, he’s only 25 years of age with a strong two-way game and some decent hands, so this may be his chance to surprise.
Although the Maple Leafs did not dip into the trade waters just yet, there were a couple events of importance that may determine how the next two days will shake out:
- Alexei Ponikarovsky left practice with a knee injury but did later return to finish it, albeit gingerly. Nearing its conclusion, he did head into the locker room accompanied by the team’s trainers, but it appears as if he was walking under his own power. Needless to say, any potential injury scares may affect the number of bidding for the Ukranian winger, particularly if teams are unable to get one last look at him on Tuesday night.
- The Penguins swung a trade for some veteran help on the blueline, sending a 2010 2nd round pick to the Panthers for Jordan Leopold. Later on during the day, the Predators sent their 2010 2nd round pick to the Oilers for Grebeshkov. This certainly puts an interesting twist on things if you believe the rumors and speculation. The Leafs were apparently offered a 2nd round pick and prospect for Ponikarovsky a few weeks ago, but now two of the most prominent teams mentioned in rumors (Pittsburgh this year and Nashville at last year’s deadline) have dealt that selection away.
With Wilson, Burke and Kessel all taking the day to fly back from Vancouver, we might expect to finally see some action on Tuesday.
The Toronto Star provides us with a couple interesting tidbits about potential trade talks leading up to the deadline:
- Ponikarovsky continues to be heavily linked to Pittsburgh. Previously, we learned from CBC’s Hotstove that one team had offered the Leafs a 2nd round draft pick along with a prospect, which clearly was not enough for Burke to bite. He is likely holding out for a more prominent prospect than the one that was initially offered.
- Several key Maple Leaf front office members and scouting staff watched the Marlies – Bears game at Ricoh on Wednesday night. With the Hershey Bears being the Capitals’ AHL affiliate, there is certainly speculation that there may be some serious trade talks happening between the two clubs. The Capitals are far and away the league’s highest scoring team, so they may be more interested in either a defensive forward or a reliable stay-at-home defenseman. However, there is also the possibility that the Leafs’ staff may have just taken advantage of the time off to evaluate which Marlies players could be included in trades or be potential NHL call-ups to fill out the roster after the deadline.
TSN’s Bob Mckenzie is reporting that the Maple Leafs have claimed forward Jaime Lundmark off waivers from the Calgary Flames. The 29 year old Lundmark was originally drafted 9th overall in 1999 by the New York Rangers. In 280 career NHL games, Jamie has recorded 39 goals and 57 assists. In 47 games with the Flames over the past 2 seasons, Lundmark has accumulated 12 goals and 25 points, while also earning 15 minutes of ice-time this season. In Lundmark, the Leafs will hope to reproduce the same waiver wire success they experienced with Dominic Moore, picking up a feisty two-way player with respectable offensive numbers at other levels.
With the NHL’s Olympic Trade Freeze about to hit at 3pm today, reports out of Pittsburgh indicate that the Maple Leafs had scouted the Penguins’ Wednesday game against the Islanders. The obvious trade fit here wouldÂ seem to be a winger such as Alexei Ponikarovsky or even Lee Stempniak. However, the Pens currently have about $600 k available in cap space, so any significant acquisition means that another roster player would have to be going the other way.
Dreger had speculated a few days ago that the Leafs were looking for a 2nd round pick along with a roster player in exchange for Ponikarovsky, which is certainly consistent with Burke’s moves as Toronto GM. Realizing a lack of quality grinders on his team, Brian has been gradually and subtly requesting that teams include quality 3rd and 4th line players in a couple of his deals (see Primeau in the Stralman deal and Sjostrom in the Phaneuf deal). So perhaps Tyler Kennedy or Pascal Dupuis along with a draft pick coming back the Leafs’ way would be the most feasible framework around which to base a deal.
Should be an interesting day ahead.
Sunday: Stalberg called up, skating on the fourth line today with Primeau and Orr. I’d like to see Stalberg get more of a shot in an offensive role, but it’s tough to argue for a major change coming off a big win.
Rosehill sent down to the Marlies. Couple stupid penalties are catching up to him.
12:55 Monday Update: Andre Deveaux has been called up. No word yet on whether he will play tonight.
While the Maple Leafs struggled through a horrific 3-10-2 record to start the new year at the NHL level, many of the organization’s top young prospects enjoyed a very productive month of January on the scoresheet. Jerry D’Amigo (left) continued to build off a strong World Junior tournament, Mikhail Stefanovich seemed to finally turn the corner, while Nazem Kadri took his game up to that dominant level we all know he’s capable of.
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.
There’s already some discussion going on in the threads, but let’s get all of that latest news out on the table:
- TSN’s Darren Dreger recently tossed out his list of top 10 candidates to be moved at this year’s trade deadline, with Matt Stajan and Alexei Ponikarovsky figuring in at the 4th and 5th spots respectively. He suggests that Stajan would perhaps yield “a decent prospect or drafts picks in return” and that Ponikarovsky would likely fetch a similar price. It’s always hard to gauge the trade deadline market as values fluctuate on a yearly basis, but I’ve got Ponikarovsky pegged as an Antropov comparable (2nd round pick) as a big body and 60 point player while Stajan may compare favorably to Moore (2nd round pick starting price) as a depth centreman who can put up some points in the right situation.
- The Toronto Sun has an interesting article up, talking about the future of several Maple Leaf players leading up to this year’s trade deadline. During an informal survey of hockey executives and general managers attending the CHL Top Prospects game, the consensus was that aside from Tomas Kaberle, Ponikarovsky would be the player who would garner the greatest return. It was speculated that he would perhaps net a late 2nd round pick, being comparable to but not as refined as Nik Antropov (who yielded the Rangers’ 50th overall selection last year).
- The article follows up by noting that players such as Stajan and Stempniak might get “a sniff”, but not to expect a significant return. However, it appears Burke has not been particularly aggressive in dangling any of his players at the present time.
- In another note, according to the Russian website infox.ru via the Toronto Sun, it appears as if winger Nikolai Kulemin will be named to the Russian Olympic roster for the Vancouver games. It’s nice to see that Kulemin’s solid all-around play this season is getting him some recognition from those outside the organization.
Nazem Kadri had quite the eventful game earlier today against the Ottawa 67′s. On one play, young centre crashed into the 67′s goalie while going to the net and found himself dropping the gloves against defenseman Tyler Cuma. Summary: Kadri dummied him with a vicious left. Boy, I can’t wait until this kid’s up here to stay. Oh and yeah, he scored a goal too (8 points in 5 games since the World Juniors). Here’s the fight.
I’m about as optimistic a person as they come, but tonight’s loss against a struggling Penguins team just hammers home the message that there simply isn’t enough skill on this roster. It was a pretty bland effort overall as they couldn’t capitalize on key scoring chances and made a few mental mistakes that resulted in the back of their net.
Via Elliotte Friedman of HNIC: Mikhail Grabovski out 6 weeks with a fractured wrist. Wayne Primeau out 2-4 weeks with a knee injury.
With two regular centres now knocked out of the lineup, it might finally be time for Tyler Bozak to see extended time with the big club. Bozak has had a rough season so far in the AHL for various reasons, and boasts 18 points in 28 games for the Marlies on the year. John Mitchell has been practicing with the club and figures to back in the lineup for Tuesday’s game at home against the Panthers.
Tickets Note: Got a pair of purples to the Panthers game on Tuesday night and won’t be able to attend. Looking to move them at cost, so drop me an email if interested.
- On Leafs Lunch this afternoon, it was mentioned that rookie forward Viktor Stalberg has been medically cleared to play and will suit up against the Calgary Flames tonight. No official word yet on who will sit out.
- Forward prospect Chris Didomenico will re-join the Drummondville Voltigueurs and continue his rehab process after suffering a gruesome leg injury late last season. He has been back on his skates for about 2 weeks now, but is not expected to see game action until late February – early March.
Despite modest numbers in terms of offensive production, winger Nikolai Kulemin has made great strides in becoming a indispensible, two-way threat that all winning teams require. The young Russian worked up the hopes of Leafs Nation with a dazzling array of speed, skill and finishing ability in various Youtube highlight reels prior to coming over to the NHL, but it’s been his tremendous effort, work ethic and defensive play over here that has won me over thus far this season.
Johnny Misley is the Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations for Hockey Canada, and plays a key role in enhancing hockey in Canada across various levels: from the grassroots programmes all the way up to the National teams. It was very kind of Johnny to take a few minutes to discuss the programmeâ€™s aspirations in the upcoming World Junior Championship in Regina as well as the Menâ€™s Olympic hockey tournament in Vancouver.
Just wanted to share a fantastic bit of work done by Nights, one of our many enthusiastic and intelligent readers, who evaluated how the NHL landscape would look without the first 8 games of the season during which the Maple Leafs struggled mightily. Great work!
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