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    International Scouting Services (ISS) has released the March edition of their monthly top 30 rankings for the 2009 NHL Entry Draft in June.  Much of the names at the top remain unchanged, while a couple new players begin sneaking into the top 30. In Canada, Major Junior playoffs are about to begin, and it’s crunch time for draftees as they prepare to make one last impression on NHL scouts.


      In the first column of this two-part series, we took a quick look at Leaf prospect Jiri Tlusty’s breakout campaign in the American Hockey League this season. Entering a season where expectations were tempered and hope and patience were preached, we’ve been privy to a few oustanding seasons by Leaf youngsters across all levels of junior, minor, and collegiate hockey. Today, the spotlight’s on Mikhail Stefanovich of the Quebec Remparts.


        -Draft pick be damned, being 7-1-1 in our last nine against the Senators is truly heart-warming. P.S., it’s time to point the finger where it needs to be pointed, Bryan Murray… trade Jason Spezza and shake things up in the old country club. Also trade Nick Foligno. To us. For Hollweg.


          The reputable Eklund is reporting with an always reliable “e4″ rating that the Maple Leafs are closing in on a deal with the Vancouver Canucks that will involve Nikolai Antropov heading west in exchange for a first round pick and a prospect. To no one’s surprise, Brian Burke and Mike Gillis have been carrying out negotiations for some time now, primarily on the subjects of Antropov and Tomas Kaberle. A deal is not as imminent as Eklund’s reporting, but there appears to be deal potential in Vancouver and potentially of the blockbuster variety.


            Nothing beats slaughtering Cindy “headjerk” Crosby and his fellow flightless Birds. Nothing.

            I think we’ve come to learn that – play your back-ups against the Blue and White as much as you want on any other night – don’t underestimate the Maple Leafs if it’s Saturday night. The Leafs now boast a 9-5-1 record on Hockey Nights in Canada as compared to their 12-20-9 record during the rest of the week. So as much as they may exacerbate your already depressing work week, at least they don’t ruin your weekends. On this Valentine’s day affair, the lowly Leafs were by no means their lovable selves from the opposition’s perspective.


              The craft of writing fiction requires an author’s innate ability to capture – and maintain – the reader’s attention. It’s sleight of hand – or pen in this instance, with twists and turns deciphering an ending not envisioned by the reader. The process takes vision, vivid imagination, a well scripted story line and ‘sleight of pen’ to playfully mislead readers into a perceived outcome, while planting thoughts and doubts that in the end make for a fantastic story.

              It happens in the hockey world, too, and might be happening to Leafs fans currently. It could be a main factor in drafting Victor Hedman over John Tavares in the 2009 draft.


                When Team Canada went for the third straight Gold Medal, they were ruled “too small and lacked the necessary talent” to win. They proved them wrong. When Team Canada went for the fourth straight Gold Medal, they were ruled as “an underdog team with potential but not enough skill” to win. They proved them wrong. This year, Team Canada went for the fifth straight Gold Medal at the World Junior Hockey Championship. They were ruled as “too small” and we’re slated to win nothing more than silver. Again, Canada proves them wrong. How can you rule out the Hockey Capital of the World?


                  On the eve of the biggest game in their major junior careers, team Canada prepares for a rematch with Team Sweden in the Gold Medal game. The event will faceoff John Tavares and Victor Hedman for “round 2″ in a two round event – Tavares took round 1. They have 2 things at stake: both are competing for top prospect and both are competing for the gold.


                    Just six months ago many a grapevine was carrying rumor of NHL expansion while I lamented the integrity of a revenue bound salary cap. Even into the new season few had foreseen the sheer gravity of the global economic downturn and its impact on jobs, housing, businesses and every facet of life down to sport. Now as international markets stutter into a depression that many an analyst believe could change the face of modern capitalism forever, the NHL seems to remain steadfast in addressing it’s minor successes as opposed to it’s crippling and potentially devastating financial model.


                      Quick question: Does anyone still have their fingernails? Wow. Only a few words can really sum this whole thing up: Exciting, Thrilling, and What the hell? Back and forth, topsy-turvy. If they were trying to sell a reason to watch the next game, they just did it. Unfortunately, sloppy defensive plays, slow reactions, and, at times, suspect goaltending led us into a shootout where Tokarski’s short stature did not affect his solid performance. He looked like a wall in the net; it’s why Kugryshev saw all posts and no net. Hopefully, Canada’s earlier performances in the tournament is the one that shows up on Monday, and not the sluggish-through-the-gate club we’ve witnessed in the last two matchups. My heart is still pounding. Go Canada Go!


                        This is it. One of these two teams will be singing “I’ve got a golden ticket” in the dressing room. A win means a trip to the gold medal game; a loss is a trip for the bronze. Dustin Tokarski will get the start for Canada, and while some feel Pickard should have gotten the game, it’s hard to argue the way Tokarski held his own after the penalty-stacked opening 10 minutes of the Canada/USA game.


                          Hey folks, Alec’s traditionally done this in the past, but I’ll be taking over for this one as he’s been bogged down with work lately. With the way the Leafs have played over the past few years, we find ourselves looking forward to the future, hoping that there’s help on the horizon. Well let’s take a gander at what the Toronto Maple Leafs are cultivating down on the farm:


                            In a season geared more towards the June entry draft than an April playoff berth, and with the World Junior Championships, the annual showcase of young hockey talent, stealing the hockey headlines as of late – at least in Canada, – it’s hard not to start dwelling on the possibilities available for the Maple Leafs when June rolls around. There are perhaps more imminent Leaf matters at hand in the form of the changes Brian Burke is expected to execute in the nearer few months, but I think I speak on behalf of all of Leaf Nation when I say last June, the time at which the Leafs welcomed Luke Schenn to the organization, was one of the most exciting and promising moments for the fanbase in recent times. This June will hopefully bring about similar jubilation and promise as Burke adds at least one more prized first-round pick to the fold of the re-building Maple Leafs.


                              John Tavares ties the most goals ever by a player in the World Juniors with 12 but managed to do so in 1 less game than Jeff Carter, and 13 less games than Eric Lindros, and the tournament isn’t even completed; although, after that performance, it really felt like the Gold medal game. It’s hard to top that one.


                                Canada is ready to face-off against their second opponent in the World Juniors round robin, team Kazakhstan. Della Rovere, arguably Canada’s grittiest player on the roster, suffered a slight leg injury after blocking a shot against the Czech Republic Friday night, but will play regardless. Shows a lot of heart.