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Forward

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The Leafs are all but set to make the playoffs for the first time in nine years, yet there is an inordinate amount of vitriol being directed at Toronto’s head coach Randy Carlyle, for some reason.

Considering pretty well everyone predicted the Leafs not to make the playoffs, it’s pretty funny to see the coach leading a surprising playoff appearance – and a team that’s currently fifth in the East and 7th in the League – get chastised

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Mike Brown

Mike Brown

Mike Brown does his best Bobby Orr impersonation before later settling for a Colton Orr impersonation. Never underestimate the value of versatility.

Two games in, and the Maple Leafs are 2-0 for the first time in 11 years. While some might be tempted to find meaning within that number, the truth is that in terms of history the number is rather meaningless.

With still 80 games left on the docket, and the Leafs about to embark on their first road trip of the season, expectations must be tempered despite the hot start (and the rare sight of a 4th overall placement on the ESPN Power Rankings).

In other words, a 7-0-1 start (to counter last season’s 0-7-1) is probably just a little too much to ask. As if I had to tell you that. Then again, this IS Leafs Nation; somewhere, someone surely needed the reminder.

Follow the jump for a few first-week impressions and musings.

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Morrisonn welcomes Ross to the Maple Leafs' organization

Not a bad start for the Maple Leafs’ 2010 draft class… It was announced on Monday that forward prospects Greg McKegg, the Leafs’ 3rd round pick 62nd overall, and Brad Ross, the Leafs’ 2nd round pick 43rd overall, were named OHL and WHL Players of the Week respectively for the week of September 27th to October 3rd. Not to be forgotten is forward Josh Nicholls, the team’s 7th round pick 182nd overall who is off to a career best start for the Saskatoon Blades.

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Leaf prospect Josh Nicholl’s 2010-2011 season had gotten off to such a promising start. Currently tied for 6th overall in WHL scoring with 5 goals and 5 assists for 10 points in 6 games played, the Maple Leafs’ 2010 7th round pick seemed on his way to a potential D’Amigo style breakout campaign. Playing on the Blades’ top line with Marek Viedensky and Curtis Hamilton, everything seemed to be clicking for the youngster. However, on Wednesday night, a poor decision from Tri-City Americans forward Brendan Shinnimin could prove to be a serious setback to Josh’s progress.

Late in the third period with Saskatoon up 5-3 thanks to a 3 point effort from Nicholls, the young forward was chasing down a puck in the offensive zone when he received cross-check from Shinnimin to his lower back, which caused Nicholls to be flung forward viciously headfirst into the end boards. Thankfully, Josh had turned his head to the side a split second earlier to follow the trajectory of a teammate’s pass or he might’ve suffered a much more severe injury. As it stands, the Blades have Nicholls listed as out at least a week with a concussion, though as we’ve seen on many an occasion in hockey, the recovery timeline for these kind of injuries can be very hard to predict. Shinnimin received a 5 minute boarding major and a game misconduct on the play.

To view the hit, click here.

[email protected]

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As we await the season opener for the big club, let’s see how some of the kids are doing:

  • Greg McKegg is off to an excellent start with 8 points in 5 games played for the Erie Otters. Greg recorded two shorthanded goals and added another assist for good measure in a 5-2 win last night over the London Knights. McKegg is currently tied for 5th overall in OHL scoring.
  • Brad Ross has also started well out of the gate with 4 goals and 5 points in 3 games played for the Portland Winterhawks. Without Nino Niederreiter and possibly Ryan Johansen this season, Ross will be counted upon to shoulder a much bigger offensive load. He’s responded well so far, taking a hold of the team’s scoring lead in addition to posting a team best +5 rating.
  • Jesse Blacker is back with the Owen Sound Attack and has 2 points through 2 games played. It’s clear that Blacker has plenty of offensive potential, but he will have to work at rounding out the other areas of his game and improve upon last year’s team worst -22 rating.
  • The Toronto Marlies have started their hockey season on a positive note with back to back preseason wins over the Rochester Americans. Forward Marcel Mueller has been an absolute force so far, recording 4 goals and 1 assist for 5 points through the pair of games. The much maligned Mikhail Stefanovich will look for a big rebound year and is off to a good start with a pair of goals in the preseason opener. James Reimer was the winning goaltender on Friday while Ben Scrivens stopped 21 of 24 shots for the victory on Saturday. Toronto will open the season Saturday, October 9th against the Rochester Americans at the Ricoh Coliseum.

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According to Paul Hunter of the Toronto Star, it appears as if the Maple Leafs could be exploring all options in order to bring in another centreman from outside the organization. While Hunter explains that Bozak and Grabovski have essentially nailed down the top two centre positions to begin the season, both Kadri and Mitchell have struggled enough for Burke to begin considering alternative means of reinforcement down the middle. During the media conference call on Sunday afternoon, Burke had this to say about his current forward group:

“No one has ever said we’re going with this group. We’re still in a great position for waiver claims. We still have our scouts out scouring. We haven’t ruled out doing something. . . . We may need to go out and grab a centre.

Regarding Kadri:

“He’s not played anywhere near to what we had hoped for and expected. I don’t know why that is and he’s running out of time.”

Hunter speculates that Christian Hanson will likely be slotted in between Colton Orr and Mike Brown on the team’s fourth line, which by process of elimination, suggests that the Leafs could be looking to acquire a veteran third line centre. Presumably, this would be a player who would mesh into Burke’s “top six – bottom six” philosophy as a defensively minded player who will win faceoffs, battle in the corners and contribute on the team’s penalty kill unit.

One such player could be former Canuck/Duck Brendan Morrison, whom Burke and Nonis are both quite familiar with. Morrison is currently with the Canucks’ camp on a tryout basis, but has been playing well. The 35 year old B.C. native posted 42 points and a +23 rating in 74 games played for the Capitals last season. If he doesn’t manage to snag a full-time job on a very deep Canuck team (Sedin, Kesler, Malholtra down the middle), then look for the Leafs to perhaps inquire about his services.

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Courtesy of the Globe’s James Mirtle, the Maple Leafs trimmed the camp roster from 47 down to 30 on Sunday afternoon, as the team’s opening night lineup came just a little more into focus. Rynnas, Scrivens, Aulie, Brennan, Gysbers, Holzer, Mikus, D’Amigo, Irwin, Mueller, and Slaney will report to the Marlies, while Blacker, Carrick, Crescenzi and Ross will head back to junior. Despite performing well for two games, veteran checking forward Wayne Primeau has been released, as the club is likely looking to open up another roster spot for a younger player.

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One of the more interesting subplots to the Maple Leafs’ 2010-11 preseason has been the Michael Liambas situation. Offered a tryout – amidst much fanfare – in time for the team’s annual Rookie Camp, the infamous winger was ultimately released on Thursday, during the first round of cuts at the NHL training camp.

Ordinarily, such a move would be regarded as no more than a footnote, a regular or even “to be expected” occurrence which takes place in any training camp. But Liambas’ situation was – and remains – anything but ordinary.

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Matt Fratin, seen here hosting McNaughton Cup (WCHA Regular Season Title) is a breakout candidate for 2010-2011

At this time last year, Jerry D’Amigo was a little known Maple Leafs’ draftee who had been passed over 157 times by other clubs only a few months before. After a banner year at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the NCAA and a brilliant run at the World Juniors, the not even 20 year old D’Amigo currently finds himself with an NHL contract, an invite to training camp, and a legitimate shot at making his dreams come true as soon as this fall. That was last year. Now let’s take a look at some of the names that could be making some serious headway up the Leafs’ organizational depth charts in 2010-2011.

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As much as I tried to just sit back and enjoy the game as a fan last night, I couldn’t help but take a few notes (this might have been because we ended up sitting among the scouts). So without further ado, here are a few additional observations from last night’s tournament opener to supplement Derek Harmsworth’s excellent coverage.

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The following is live in game, up to the minute coverage of the rookie tournament game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators.  Remember to refresh the page for the latest updates.  Remember also to check out my Twitter for notes and pictures

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Last Wednesday (September 1st), Toronto’s MasterCard Centre for Excellence, the Maple Leafs’ own practice facility, played host to the 2010 NHLPA Rookie Symposium in association with trading card leaders Upper Deck and Panini America. MLHS’ own Gus Katsaros was in attendance, and has kindly provided audio from his own conversation, as well as portions of a larger media scrum Q&A, with Leafs’ top prospect Nazem Kadri.

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According to LeafsTV, the Maple Leafs have signed unrestricted free agent forward Clark MacArthur to a 1-year contract worth $1.1 million. MacArthur has been a relatively productive second/third line “tweener”  over the past couple seasons, posting 17 and 16 goal seasons. The Sabres dealt the diminutive winger to the Thrashers at the trade deadline, but Atlanta decided to walk away from Clark’s $2.4 million arbitration award, thus enabling the 25 year old to become an unrestricted free agent. Seems like a nice, low-risk move though it could mean a roster spot being taken away from a younger player.

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In part nine of his 12 burning questions series, Derek Harmsworth looks at the Maple Leafs special teams, and why it must improve in order for the team to have success.

When it came to doing this 12 burning questions series, I discovered a lot of things about the Leafs, and how I will be looking for different things this year.  And even though I already knew the fact, it was all the more confirmed to me that there really are no definitive answers to these burning questions, at least not in August anyway.

However, as we reach part nine of the series, I can confidently say that I can, for the first time this series, give a more defined answer.

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In part seven of his 12 burning questions series, Derek Harmsworth takes a look at how the new faces will fit in with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Brian Burke has always argued the fact that July 1st is his draft, the time where he does his best work in bringing in key pieces that will push his team to that next level.  While he isn’t inept on the draft floor, it isn’t his strength.  To his credit, it’s something he doesn’t necessarily hide either.

And while this summer’s free agent frenzy is more calm than in the previous years, there is no doubt that through free agency, and the days leading up to it, that Burke took steps towards continuing to shape this team in his vision.  The moves have been made, and barring any sort of changes, this may well be the team we see enter training camp in under a month.  With that in mind, it’s time for Leafs Nation to ask, exactly how will the new faces fit into place in Toronto?

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According to CBC Sports, the San Jose Sharks are on the verge of signing free agent grinder Jamal Mayers. The Sharks announced on their website their plans for the veteran forward. “Jamal is a fast, physical, team-first player who brings the ingredients we were looking for to this role,” said Sharks general manager Doug Wilson. “He is an extremely fit athlete who can kill penalties and we think he will mesh well with our group of forwards.”

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The Chicago Blackhawks have decided to walk away from Antti Niemi’s arbitration awarded $2.75M contract, and have instead signed veteran free agent Marty Turco to a one-year $1.3M contract. With the Blackhawks decision not to retain him, Niemi is now a free agent goaltender on the market and should attract some immediate attention.

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It was no less than two months ago that I was pondering this same question, that of captaincy, and examining the same factors. Thinking of all the tangibles – speed, talent and scoring – along with attributes that are harder to judge – the ability to command the respect of the team, lead with strength of character and handle the Toronto media through success and failure. The lone difference is that last time, it was the Leafs.