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London

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Just announced earlier this week, it looks like the Leafs will return to my neck of the woods.  Tickets for the event go on sale this Friday at 10pm, although there is a few pre-sales available as well.

You will recall last season that the Leafs also came to London, Ontario, a game in which they beat the Flyers 4-0, including a goal by Nazem Kadri, scoring in a Leafs uniform while playing in his junior arena.

The Flyers, for their part, are owned by the company who also owns the arena in London, Ontario, a partnership which allows the Flyers to make an annual excursion to the venue each year for a pre-season game.

In six previous years, it is believed that the Leafs game last season was the only one that sold out, and did so rather quickly.

For more information, click HERE

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There is no saying that Brian Burke won’t find some way to improve the Leafs lot come draft day, but as things stand this very moment the Leafs will not be making a selection until the third round. Where the Leafs went off the board early last year taking the nameplate-less Jamie Devane in the third, in a draft marked by big-bodied rough-and-tumble types, chances are this season, Burke and his staff will be looking for a player with a more immediate skill set. Not only would this partially appease a disheartened fan base, the Leafs will enter the draft wary of saturating the cupboard with leviathan sized bodyguards.

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Strengths: Prior to the start of this season, the Leafs prospect list was a list full of question marks. But it has become clear that the Leafs at the very least have some talent to work with in the coming seasons. First and foremost would be OHL star Nazem Kadri, who has come on in the second half of the season after a slow start in London. Two other forwards that appear to have a future with the Leafs are former collegians Tyler Bozak and Viktor Stalberg. Jerry D’Amigo, one of the stars for Team USA at the 2010 WJC, is another promising forward currently in the college ranks. The acquisition of Luca Caputi adds another solid forward with some size, a trait valued by Leafs’ GM Brian Burke. In goal, Jonas Gustavsson has emerged as a legitimate future starter.  Weaknesses: Where the Leafs may lack future support is along the blueline, with trade deadline acquisition Keith Aulie and Carl Gunnarsson representing the only current prospects of real magnitude at defense. But, considering where the Leafs were after last season, the future is looking brighter. Top 5 Prospects: 1. Nazem Kadri, C, 2. Jonas Gustavsson, G, 3. Tyler Bozak, C, 4. Carl Gunnarsson, D, 5. Viktor Stalberg, LW
-Hockey’s Future

Of no surprise is that signings Jonas Gustavsson and Tyler Bozak played a major role in boosting the Leafs up the rankings. That’s not to say that they don’t count the same as key young assets, but both Gus and Bozak will not qualify for this list next season after turning 24 and/or surpassing the 65 game mark of their NHL careers. To see Stalberg and Gunnarsson listed in the top five of a sixth-ranked prospect group as former sixth and seventh round picks respectively certainly represents some form of silver lining from John Ferguson Jr’s reign.

The author’s omission of the name Jesse Blacker in assessing our blueline depth weakness was curious to me. After standout performances at the rookie tournament in Kitchener in September, Blacker notched 30 points in 48 games following a trade request to the Owen Sound attack from Windsor in search of increased playing time. Granted, past Aulie and Blacker among players yet to feature in a Leaf uniform, depth certainly does thin out, and this is likely a priority for Burke with the remaining picks he has to work with come June 25.

More on the Leafs’ top ten placement here.

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    The Toronto Maple Leafs visit the St. Louis Blues tonight, in the Leafs’ final game prior to the NHL’s Olympic break.

    The Leafs are coming off a narrow loss to the West-leading San Jose Sharks, a game which left the team with much to feel good about.  Tonight, the team will look to resolve their road woes and enter the break on a high note, by capitalizing on what has been an inconsistent and underachieving Blues squad.

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      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.

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        Highly-touted Maple Leafs’ prospect Nazem Kadri has made the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship team.

        Via TSN:

        “London Knights centre Nazem Kadri, selected seventh overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in June, is also on the roster and is expected to be the team’s second-line centre.”

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          Friday night saw a host of impressive performances from a few Maple Leaf prospects; among them is QMJHL power forward Joel Champagne of the PEI Rockets who turned in a ridiculous 7 point performance. Nazem Kadri also chipped a pretty shorthanded goal and 2 assists for London. Meanwhile, Phillipe Paradis was held scoreless in his debut performance as a Leaf prospect.

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            Big thank you to Mark Seidel, Chief Scout of North American Central Scouting and contributor to The Hockey News, for taking the time to chat about the upcoming 2010 NHL Entry Draft. His agency’s latest rankings can be seen here on THN. This time around, Leaf fans won’t be having the opportunity of watching one of the draft’s elite youngsters, such as projected top pick Tyler Seguin or Taylor Hall, fall into their lap. But nonetheless, the draft is always a hot topic in the hockey world.

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              From the ‘Not Particularly A Shock’ files …

              Per the Toronto Star,  Nazem Kadri has been returned to the London Knights of the OHL.

              This move should not really come as any surprise; as an offensive player Kadri would require top-six forward line minutes in order to most effectively impact his development.   And the fact of the matter is, those minutes simply aren’t going to be there, not with Grabovski, Stajan, Ponikarovski, Blake, and Hagman holding down five of those spots, and with Bozak, Stalberg and Stempniak all fighting for the sixth.

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                The Maple Leafs continued their shaping of the NHL roster with another four cuts on Sunday. Top prospect Nazem Kadri will be going back to the OHL’s London Knights, Jonas Frogren and Christian Hanson will report to the Toronto Marlies, and Andy Rogers has been released. By my count, that leaves 30 players left (including Kessel who will be placed on the long-term injured reserve), meaning there will be another 6 cuts in the near future.

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                  Leafs coach, Ron Wilson made it clear, Nazem Kadri will not be getting a nine-game audition this season, just to be sent down to the OHL London Knights. Answering questions in the media scrum after the scrimmage at training camp in the Mastercard Centre of Hockey Excellence, Wilson was adamant about being against an audition for the young pivot. In order to stick with the Leafs, the 1st round pick in the 2009 draft will have to beat out one of Mikhail Grabovski, or Matt Stajan for a top-6 role in order to stick, and as of Wilson right now, both are ‘way ahead’ of Kadri for a spot at the moment.

                  Kadri will get every opportunity to earn a top-6 spot, but unless he completely overwhelms, expect to see him in London for the entire season.

                  More notes from Training Camp, Day 2.

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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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                      Let’s fight off the Monday blahs with a quick look at what’s happening around the NHL. A quick update on various issues that may impact the Maple Leafs, such as the Phil Kessel contract negotiations, the Patrick Sharp and Brad Richards trade rumors, and what the signing of Wade Dubielewicz may mean to the goaltending situation in Minnesota.

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                        Last week, the Toronto Maple Leafs held their prospect development camp to gauge the progress and future outlook of both prospects within the organization, and unsigned players on the team’s radar.

                        The camp, which ran from July 5th to July 10th, featured six full days of on-ice practice activities and off-ice seminars ranging from nutrition to lifestyle to the business of the NHL.   It provided an opportunity for the players to get to know their possible future teammates, as well as the chance showcase their abilities to the team’s player development personnel.

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                          Even in the days of modern technology, many still profess that meteorology is an inexact science more guess work than theory. The very same can be said when scouting goaltenders. For every Mark-Andre Fleury (selected 1st overall in 2003) there’s a Brent Krahn (selected 9th overall in 2000). Meanwhile recent Vezina nominees and winners such as Tim Thomas, Mikka Kiprusoff and Evgeni Nabokov had to wait until the 217th, 116th and 219th selections respectively to see their names on the board. Indeed, the vast majority of netminders who started a game last season in the NHL had long waits deep into the second day to see their dreams realized while others went completely unnoticed only to resurface as free agents years later.

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                            Scouting service, McKeen’s Hockey Prospects released their 2009 Final Rankings, in conjunction with their 2009 Draft Guide which includes exclusive content and scouting reports on the top 90 draft eligible players. Patrick King, of Sportsnet familiarity talked about the draft in a Q and A session.

                            Following suit with the likes of the Redline Report and ISS, John Tavares was not listed at number one. NHL Central Scouting doesn’t release a consolidated rankings, ranks are broken down by North American and International, with Goaltenders ranked independant from Skaters.

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                              At a time when the John Tavares – Victor Hedman debate seemed to be reaching it’s lowest ebb, with the New York Islanders, confirmed as the winners of the first-overall-pick sweepstakes by last week’s draft lottery, seemingly cocksure takers on the London Knight, the Redline Report has stoked the embers. According to News Day.com, the Red Line Report, a highly-respected independent scouting service run by former Nashville Predators scout Kyle Woodlief (link), has bumped JT down to the third rank in their latest installment of standings, behind Victor Hedman and Brampton Battalion speedster Matt Duchene.

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                                John Tavares has emphatically put a stamp on what will likely be his last season of junior hockey by netting a hat trick today, including the game winner to propel the London Knights to a 4-3 victory over the powerhouse Windsor Spitfires.

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                                  A couple of weeks ago, Leafs defenceman Mike Van Ryn was battling for a spot on the Toronto blueline. Perhaps he still is.