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.
Of course the biggest news was that Kadri will be going back to junior for the year, but following Ron Wilson’s comments throughout the preseason process, you could tell it wasn’t much of a surprise. Nazem will now get the opportunity to take over London’s leadership role from Tavares (something he might’ve done during last year’s playoffs anyways) and then suit up for Canada’s World Junior Team in December. Wilson had some high praise for Kadri despite the demotion, saying that he expects at least 100 points from the youngster this season. Kadri’s response was mature and diplomatically correct, explaining that his goal coming into training camp was to surprise people and make it a tough decision, and will now head back to junior with his head held high. The Maple Leafs are taking a similar approach to how the Vancouver Canucks handled Cody Hodgson’s development last season, who responded with a great season, CHL player of the year honors, topped off with a MVP calibre performance and gold medal at the WJC. Here’s hoping Nazem can do him one better, by bringing home the Memorial Cup as well.
As for Jonas Frogren, I thought this one was a bit of a surprise, because I figured he’d be in the running for the extra defenseman’s spot due to his physical play and willingness to sit out the odd game. But as Burke and Wilson have stated all along, it is their intention to ice the best possible lineup come October, so this is the right move. Hanson was the expected first cut out of the “Frat Pack”, but he too made quite a positive impression with his play the past few weeks. For much of his brief stint in the NHL last year, he was indecisive and uninvolved, something that really turned around as he got more comfortable. He’s shown a willingness to do battle along the boards, strong two-way play, decent offensive instincts and a howitzer of a shot. Coming out of the NCAA, Hanson was touted as a possible top tier checking centre, and he’s certainly shown us why.
Moving on to the last round of cuts, here are the 30 players still hanging on with the club:
Hagman, Stajan, Blake, Ponikarovsky, Grabovski, Kulemin, Bozak, Stalberg, Wallin, Mitchell, Stempniak, Rosehill, Primeau, Orr, Allison, Tlusty, Mayers
Komisarek, Kaberle, Beauchemin, Schenn, White, Gunnarsson, Exelby, Van Ryn, Finger
Toskala, Gustavsson, Macdonald
Of the remaining 6 cuts, I see 3 of them that should be fairly obvious: Gunnarsson (boy he’s played well and is positioning himself for a top six role in the future), Allison (dear god, please), and Macdonald (unless Gustavsson goes down to the AHL for a few games on a conditioning stint). Considering the Leafs want to carry 7, maybe even 8 defensemen into the regular season, that means the last 3 cuts cut could all be forwards.
My guess is Tlusty, Stempniak and Van Ryn will be those last 3 cuts.
Update*: Here is the projected lineup for tonight’s tilt against Buffalo. If anything, this might be a giveaway as to the Leafs’ final roster come October 1st. The notable omission: Tyler Bozak. That might be a telling sign.
Niklas Hagman – Matt Stajan – Jason Blake
Nikolai Kulemin – Mikhail Grabovski – Viktor Stalberg
Lee Stempniak – John Mitchell – Rickard Wallin
Colton Orr – Wayne Primeau – Jay Rosehill
Mike Komisarek – Tomas Kaberle
Luke Schenn – Francois Beauchemin
Ian White – Carl Gunnarsson