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Ontario

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    Pride, youthful enthusiasm, new contracts and job opportunities for next season continue to provide more than enough hop in the Leaf step as they look to make it eight wins in their last ten and seven in their last eight at home when they play host to the Rangers at the ACC tonight.

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      After an abysmal start at home, the Leafs look to string together four wins in a row at the ACC for the first time in almost two years.  The “Battle of Ontario” has been poignantly lacking its once-trademark intensity the last few seasons, but the introduction of new snipers Phil Kessel, Milan Michalek and Alex Kovalev give this matchup a whole new look.  With a win tonight, Toronto could potentially move into a multi-team tie for 9th place in the Eastern Conference.

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        - The Toronto Sun explains that Burke came very close to acquiring Brent Sopel in two potential deals that both were believed to have fallen apart on Sunday. Apparently, he is looking to re-acquire 1st and 2nd round picks to compensate for the loss of draft picks from the Kessel trade.

        - ESPN’s John Buccigross presents a great human interest story that about Brian Burke’s gay son provides insight into the close father-son relationship.

        - Nazem Kadri’s been on an absolute tear of late. Click here for highlights of his 3 point night against Kitchener and here for highlights of his beautiful shorthanded marker against Russia in the Subway Series.

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          Tonight will be a Battle of Ontario, as the Toronto Maple Leafs travel to Ottawa to take on the Senators in a Northeast Division bout. Vesa Toskala will get the nod in goal for the Leafs, while Pascal Leclaire will get the start for the Sens.
          Update: Brendan Shanahan Officially Retires.

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            The Leafs were down early as rookie phenom Jonas Gustavsson was lit up for 3 goals on 5 shots. Poor defensive coverage, a terrible line change, and a lucky bounce on a shot that Gustavsson likely should have had forced the Leafs to swap the goaltenders and bring in Vesa Toskala. The goaltenders tapped sticks at the bench in the shuffle. “Tag, you’re it” can be described at the outcome.

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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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                The Maple Leafs are creative. You have to hand it to them for finding new ways to lose games all the time. In the home opener against Montreal, it was sloppy turnovers and poor special teams leading to a blown late third period lead. On Saturday night, they decided to pack it away early against the Caps before going on a late run at the end to make the score more respectable. Tonight, it was a listless effort physically and emotionally, creating virtually nothing in the way of offense and falling victim to a pair of strange plays.

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                  Given the early-season struggles of incumbent starting netminder Vesa Toskala, speculation is mounting that Jonas Gustavsson could receive his first NHL start as early as Tuesday night when the Leafs face their Ontario rivals, the Ottawa Senators.

                  Early speculation is Toskala may not be all the way back, mentally or physically, from the groin and hip surgeries he endured last season. While it is obviously far too early to annoint Gustavsson the starter for the rest of the season (he has yet to play a full game in the NHL), it is not unreasonable to expect that in the wake of Toskala’s struggles he could receive an extended look, in the form of more early-season starts than were initially planned.

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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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                      Today was the deadline for Tomas Kaberle’s NTC lift, and he is still a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. While some fans were demanding for an immediate rebuild with some youth in return for a trade for Kaberle, others notice how strong the current Leafs defense core has the potential to be and are curious to see how Kaberle can perform with a physical presence around him. Brian Burke is among those who are interested. “I look forth to seeing what Tomas can do with a little more size and toughness around him when he’s not picking his teeth out of the glass all night.”

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                        Coming into this offseason, GM Brian Burke promised to drastically overhaul the Maple Leafs roster, and he knew that the primary asset at his disposal was cap space: lots and lots of it. After handing out long-term contracts to Orr,  Beauchemin, and Komisarek, he’s got a little under $3 million left to play with in order to add an impact top six forward. In an attempt to minimize the amount of outgoing “talent” via trade, it’s no secret that he’s been trying to corner GM’s of teams that are pressed right up against the cap.

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                          While he would never admit it, Ontario native Nazem Kadri must of felt a twinge of anger at how the biggest day in his life panned out. Treated like a high steak pawn at the 2009 draft where the dreams he worked so hard to achieve were to be realized, Kadri watched as a bitter Brian Burke failed to secure the vaunted trade northwards, then faced the ignominy of TSN analyst Darren Dreger questioning Burke about Brayden Schenn as he sat in silence, festooned in his Maple Leafs jersey. For sure it must have been disappointing and one can only hope he didn’t venture toward any Leafs related websites that night.

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                            I had the opportunity to catch Kurtis McLean at Hockey Heritage North in Kirkland Lake, Ontario and ask him a few questions about his career and his future in the NHL. The 28 year old NCAA and AHL star has been nothing short of a hard worker and the type of player every team wants in their system for strength and leadership. Kurtis talks about his career, his first NHL goal, and who he thinks the Islanders are going to select with their 1st overall pick.

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                              The ability to select future stars or even useful role players in the mid-late rounds is what separates the pretenders from the contenders. The class of the NHL when it comes to late round drafting are the Detroit Red Wings, with players like Helm (5th), Franzen (3rd), Filppula (2nd), Hudler (3rd), Ericsson (9th), Zetterberg (7th) and Datsyuk (6th) all playing key roles on a Stanley Cup Finalist team. As E.J. Mcguire alluded to in the previous chapter of Draft Watch ’09, there will be plenty of potential impact players available beyond the first round of this year’s entry draft. Let’s take a look at some of the names:

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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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                                  From TSN:

                                  “The Minnesota Wild are building a list of candidates to replace fired general manager Doug Risebrough. Sources tell TSN the Wild have contacted the Toronto Maple Leafs seeking permission to speak with Dave Nonis, the Leafs’ senior vice president of hockey operations.”

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                                    Less than 24 hours after the Leafs season officially ended with a win over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night, the fans and media have already turned their attention to two important dates: June 26th, the date of the NHL Entry Draft, and July 1st, when free agent frenzy takes off. Just for discussion’s sake, here are a few interesting scenarios currently being tossed various news outlets today:

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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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                                        It was a charity event for the torch run that supports the Special Olympics, hosted just outside Sudbury, Ontario, that featured the NHL Alumni vs. the local police department. In a game that featured former greats such as Rick Vaive and Wilf Paiement, it was just as special to be greeted at the entrance by, the one and only, Eddie Shack.