Adnan Virk of Leafs TV recently caught up with GM Brian Burke for a brief chat and in his latest blog on mapleleafs.com, dishes out a few very revealing and interesting tidbits. Among the hot topics of discussion are: Burke’s projected top six defense core (including a few surprises), his expectations and hopes for Alexei Ponikarovsky, and the possibility of the Leafs ’09 7th overall pick Nazem Kadri cracking the roster out of training camp.
– Beauchemin, Kaberle, Schenn, Komisarek, Finger, and Exelby are the six defensemen that Burke currently view as being the regulars patrolling the Maple Leaf blueline next season. That means White, Frogren, and the oft-injured Van Ryn are currently on the outside looking in. Although that’s the current belief heading into September, a lot can change during training camp and head coach Ron Wilson will be the one having any final say.
Blogger’s Note: Looks like Burke was more of an Exelby fan than I originally thought. If that were indeed the case, then the 7th defenseman would likely be Frogren because he doesn’t possess nearly the same trade value of an Ian White or Mike Van Ryn, and seems to be a low maintenance guy who would be content with the sparse playing time. The Van Ryn omission isn’t much of a surprise as Burke mentioned last season that he is too fragile at this point to be pencilled into any top six blueline with absolute confidence.
– Burke believes winger Alexei Ponikarovsky could be primed for a breakout season with an increased role and ice-time, perhaps even cracking the 30 goal barrier.
Blogger’s Note: “Poni” is absolutely one of the darkhorses to look at for a big year next season. The 29 year old impending UFA is going to be playing for a big payday after next season, and really seemed to step his game up to an entirely different level after linemate Nik Antropov was shipped off to the New York Rangers. In the 19 games after the trade deadline, Ponikarovsky potted 6 goals and 16 assists for 22 points.
– Burke also noted not to rule out the possibility of Nazem Kadri making the team out of training camp, because he definitely possesses the skill and feistiness that would endear him to Ron Wilson.
Blogger’s Note: At this point, it’s tough to imagine there being any room for the very talented Kadri. Although Antropov and Moore are gone, youngsters such as Kulemin, Tlusty, Grabovski, and perhaps even Bozak are expected to step in and play large roles with the club this upcoming season. Much like the way the situation was handled with Luke Schenn last year, the mandate is likely going to be that Nazem’s going to have to play a significant role if he’s in the NHL next season. That means top six minutes either in the NHL or back in junior, and that doesn’t seem very likely at this point. Look for a full season as the go-to scorer for the Knights, a medal run with the World Junior team, and a nine game stint after the NHL trade deadline.