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Chris DiDomenico

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Finally the day many of us have been waiting for has arrived.  The NHL Toronto Maple Leafs rookie tournament kicks off this afternoon in London, Ontario, and for many it’s a chance to catch on ice hockey for the first time in quite a while.

Today’s action features the Pittsburgh Penguins rookies taking on the Ottawa Senators rookies in afternoon action.  Also on the bill today, the Maple Leafs rookies will play the Chicago Blackhawks rookies in the nightcap.

Here is all you need to know about today’s games.

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Just a month ago, the Chicago Blackhawks were the envy of the National Hockey League.  Having finished off the Philadelphia Flyers in six games courtesy of a Patrick Kane overtime goal, the Hawks had climbed to the top of the mountain, and had risen out of what could once have been considered obscurity years earlier, to build a winning team, and break the Stanley Cup drought that loomed over the franchise for so long.

And while many general managers stood in jealousy and envy of Stan Bowman and his management team for the feat they had just accomplished, not one GM was going to envying Bowman in the days following.

For the Chicago Blackhawks, winning the Stanley Cup came at a price, and it was rather large.

Since they won the Stanley Cup, the Blackhawks have made many moves, tearing down their roster that brought them their once elusive championship.  Fan favourites were shipped out in favour of draft picks and younger players, on cheaper contracts.

One of those trades involved Kris Versteeg, a trade Brian Burke was all too happy to accommodate.

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Trades are never won or lost when initially made, and tonight’s multi-player deal with Chicago is the very embodiment of that fact. Analyzing a deal that sent Kris Versteeg and Bill Sweatt to Toronto for Viktor Stalberg, Phillippe Paradis and Chris Didomenico involves a lot of subjective potential measurement.  Making the task more difficult is that two teams often come together to execute a trade for very different reasons in a salary cap era.

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On the eve of unrestricted free agency, the Maple Leafs made a big first move to upgrade their forward group. According to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, the club has swung a deal to acquire Blackhawks winger Kris Versteeg and prospect Billy Sweatt in exchange for winger Viktor Stalberg, along with forward prospects Chris Didomenico and Philipe Paradis.

Versteeg, still just 24 years of age, will instantly become a big component of the Maple Leafs’ core moving forward. He has two seasons of 20+ goals under his belt already, and is under contract for two more years at $3.08 million per season.

Meanwhile, Sweatt, the Blackhawks’ 2007 2nd round pick, was ranked as the 7th best prospect in the Chicago farm system by Hockey’s Future. He is described as a talented two-way player with top end speed and finishing ability on the rush. By all accounts, Sweatt is also an excellent defensive player and effective penalty killer, which should ease the pain of losing Paradis.

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While Hockey’s Future has yet to release their top 10 organizational prospect rankings, the highly-respected source for prospect information has released their 11-20 and 21-30 lists. To the pleasant surprise of many, the Leafs aren’t on either of them.

Adding to the joy, division rivals Buffalo, Montreal and Ottawa have all already appeared in the 13th, 16th and 21st positions respectively.

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    - 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.

    [email protected]

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      An interesting question was brought up by Dave Hodge yesterday morning on TSN’s The Reporters amid the Phil Kessel whirlwind that erupted over the weekend: if Peter Chiarelli wasn’t interested in matching an offer sheet at the dollar figure to which Burke eventually signed the 21-year-old, described by Sports Illustrated’s Michael Farber as “a one in 500 chance,” why didn’t Burke submit the offer sheet and pay but a third rounder instead of an additional first round draft selection? Farber seemed convinced not only that Chiarelli wouldn’t match but that Burke’s decision to go the trade route instead of offer sheet avenue was to save face, anticipating the charges of hypocrisy he would encounter linking back to his response to Kevin Lowe’s offer sheet submission for Dustin Penner that ultimately went unmatched while in Anaheim.

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        Author: B Leaf

        Last season, the Leafs were 10th in scoring (244) and 9th in shots on goal (2,603). There is no major reason why that number should drop other than the loss of Antropov. There are other players who should have better years and help fill his ice time with similar results. On the powerplay, the Leafs were middle of the road at 16th. The Leafs were a respectable 17th in shots allowed (2481), but were a league worst in goals against (286). The PK% was also a league worst. Not all the blame can be placed on the goaltending, but a lot of it can. The collective save percentage for the team was an abysmal .885%.

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          As a reminder/lesson as to what the prospect grades indicate: the number represents a player’s traditional realistic potential ability on a scale of 1-10 with ten being “generational talent” and one being “borderline minor league player.” The letter (A-F) represents the prospect’s realistic chances of achieving their number-rated potential, with A being “all but guaranteed to reach potential” and F being “possess very little potential.” In the Leafs’ ranks, Nazem Kadri tops out the rankings (with Schenn now considered graduated) as an 8.0C, meaning he’s a “first line forward” that “may reach potential, but could drop two ratings.” Jonas Gustavsson is ranked second in the Leaf ranks as a 7.5B, meaning he’s half way between a “journeyman No. 1 goaltender” and flat out “No. 1 goaltender,” with the realistic probability of reaching his traditional potential “likely” with the possibility of dropping one rating. Ranked third is Mikhail Stefanovich at 7.5C, which essentially means he’s somewhere in between first and second line potential, with the possibility that he could drop as far as two ratings.

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            In just over two weeks, the NHL Entry Draft will be upon us.  Naturally, speculation as to the future destination of the top prospects is heating up.   With July 1st rapidly approaching, trade rumours (some related to the draft, some not) and free agent speculation are abounding with fury.  And, of course, possible internal team moves are getting their fair share of play as well.

            Here are a few scenarios based on the latest buzz surrounding the Maple Leafs.  The question is:  which of these scenarios would you consider, and why?

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              Two contrasts in Leafs prospects from the Memorial Cup with Chris Didomenico breaking his left femur, and the continued development of Dale Mitchell.

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                Let’s take a break from the rumour mill, and have a look at where the Toronto Maple Leafs roster currently stands.

                With the draft a little over a month away, and free agency beginning shortly thereafter, it’s time to take a look at the current Maple Leafs’ roster, who is and is not under contract for next season, and the resultant depth at each position.

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                  Maple Leaf forward prospect Christopher Didomenico from the Drummondville Voltigueurs of the QMJHL suffered a broken thigh bone in his left leg and is expected to be out at least 4-6 months after crashing hard into the boards during last night’s playoff game against Shawinigan. Similar to the injury to Minnesota Wild defenseman Kurtis Foster last season, the incident occurred as a result of two players chasing the puck during a potential icing call.

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                    From the Leafs webiste: “The Leafs announced Saturday that forward Chris DiDomenico has been signed to a three-year entry level contract. The 20-year-old native of Toronto was selected by the Leafs in the sixth round, 164th overall, in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.”

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                      Pretty darn close. Dale Mitchell is turning heads in the OHL, and it’s not just because of his speed, it’s because of his stats, albeit he is playing with Taylor Hall. Dale was drafted in the third round, 74th overall, of the 2007 NHL entry draft – the same year Chris DiDomenico was drafted, so all in all it was a pretty decent draft year despite trading the 1st and 2nd round picks to SJS for Toskala. At the time, Mitchell posted an 80 point season (43G 37A) but was considered to be too small, even by today’s NHL standards (5’9” 180lbs).

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                        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.

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                          The school break for Kindergarteners to University students; holiday vacation time for the employed; Christmas celebrations; and finally, the start of the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships. December never feels the same without it.