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Brian Rafalski

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As the Toronto Maple Leafs skip along to their first playoff berth in eight seasons, Dion Phaneuf’s play is forcing his name to be included in discussion for the Norris Trophy.  The Norris is awarded annually to “the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position,” and that sure sounds like the play of the Leaf captain this season.

He plays a physical, two-way brand of hockey and sits fifth-best in league for defensemen scoring with eight goals and 18 assists for 26 points in 42 games.  He’s a leader on the ice, the best defender on the team by a mile and has joined forces with Phil Kessel, Nazem Kadri and James Reimer to drag the Leafs into contention.

But how does his performance this season stack up against performances past, and what greater truths can we find about the anatomy of a Norris Nominee?

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    The gold medal game is upon us, and fittingly, Canada will face off against their US rivals in a battle of hockey’s elite. The US team, led by Zach Parise, Patrick Kane, and of course Ryan Miller, will look to grind out another victory over Team Canada, while the Canadians will seek to avenge a tough 5-3 loss to the Americans in the round-robin phase of the tournament.

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      In the final game of the rookie tournament, the Leafs’ rookies were beaten soundly — to the tune of 7-1 — by their Ontario rivals, the Ottawa Senators.

      Although I was not able to attend this game in person, fellow Leafs die-harder ‘Bell’ was in attendance for all of the games and has kindly provided some thoughts about the action (or was it inaction?) at the Aud last night, and the tournament as a whole.

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        As the 2008-09 season moves into the stretch drive, it is perhaps time for fans of teams most likely not making the playoffs to take a closer peek at the top prospects entering the draft.

        Based on the Maple Leafs’ current spot in the standings with 13 games to go, it is safe to assume that this team will not finish last overall, and perhaps not even in the bottom five.   A finish anywhere from 23rd to 26th overall (picking 5th to 8th) appears most likely at this point.

        With that in mind, here is a modified version of the International Scouting Services (ISS) mid-season rankings which were released in February.  Modified, in that the list is #3 – 12, as those are most likely the players that the Leafs will be looking at come the first round of the Entry Draft.