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University of Vermont

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Prior to the lockout, undrafted college free agents were a rare, straight to NHL commodity. Either serving out their apprenticeships as minor league signees or plying their trade overseas, few players transitioned directly from the ranks of college hockey to the NHL without enduring prolonged development curves. However, in a post-lockout landscape where GM’s clutch their most valued assets and superstars to their clubs with dynasty length deals, and where dollars and ice time are apportioned in equilibrium, graduate aged (or younger) players progressing from the NCAA as free agents are providing comparatively cheap labour in an increasingly scrutinized marketplace.

Not too surprisingly, considering both his hockey heritage as a former captain of the Providence College Friars and his somewhat condensed timetable for rebuilding the Leafs, Brian Burke has been one of the first to plunder the verdant college market in recent seasons, in turn providing a quantum shift from the conventional dominance of the CHL at the junior level.

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    Irwin that is. It was reported last night that the Maple Leafs had agreed to terms with 23 year old free agent forward Brayden Irwin, a former teammate of Viktor Stalberg at the University of Vermont. Irwin is Toronto native power forward, standing at 6’5 215 lbs, but does possess a bit of skill, a good shot and skates well for his size. He had a breakout 2009-2010 campaign in which he recorded 15 goals and 19 assists for 34 points in 39 games played, totals that would surpass his two previous seasons combined. Irwin also leads his team in shots, penalty minutes and boasts a team-best 55% win percentage in the faceoff circle. Irwin struggled through a terrible junior season, but Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon believed from the start of the year that Irwin had all the tools to become one of the top players in the league. Guess he wasn’t too far off.

    While it’s not quite as high profile a signing as Minny’s Casey Wellman, it’s still a step in the right direction: the accumulation of free assets, in this case a player with some interesting skill and size. Personally, I’m still holding out for New Hampshire sniper Bobby Butler or my personal favourite from this year’s crop: Stephane Da Costa out of Merrimack College.

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      The Toronto Maple Leafs are in a rebuild, or a re-tool, whichever you prefer.  In any event, a process such as this requires a team to have a plentiful prospect pipe, ripe with blue chippers are all positions.  The Leafs certainly may not be plentiful when it comes to blue chip prospects, but they do have a few who are developing quite nicely.

      And you just never know when and where a potential blue chipper may come from.

      If drafting has taught us anything, it’s shown to be far from an exact science.  Can’t miss prospects turn out to be busts occasionally, and sometimes late round picks have proven to be key components for a team, just ask, among others, Tomas Kaberle, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, and Viktor Stalberg.

      Okay, while he may not garner enough adulation to be put in a group with some of the NHL’s top stars, there is plenty of reason to believe he may in fact one day be worthy of the mention.

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        According to TSN, the Maple Leafs continued their signing spree on Tuesday morning, inking University of Vermont foward Viktor Stalberg to a two-year entry level contract. The 23-year old powerforward could potentially join the Toronto Marlies as early as tomorrow night as they embark on their playoff quest.

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          With the rebuild process in full effect, the Toronto Maple Leafs are exhausting every single possibility when it comes to bringing quality young players into their system. Dave Nonis, senior VP of hockey operations for the Leafs,  was just on the Bill Watters show earlier this hour and discussed a number of topics pertaining to the Leafs, including the team’s approach to handling its NCAA prospects as well as possible interest in some of the prized college free agents.

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            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: