If you’re looking for new Leafs-related nightmare material (not that there has been a shortage in recent years), take away the successes of the 2006 Entry Draft and envision where the Leafs roster would stand today. After dropping the balls (couldn’t resist) on the Jiri Tlusty pick at 13, the Leafs‘ scouting staff went on a run of four good draft choices in Nikolai Kulemin, James Reimer, Korbinian Holzer and Viktor Stalberg. The first recently set a career-high in goals with 17 at the 51-game mark and has really brought out the best of Mikhail Grabovski in his development into a true top six center, from their time alongside Nik Hagman to their current, high-chemistry line alongside Clarke MacArthur. The third is one of the developing “Big Four” on the Marlies we will likely hear more from in coming years. The last deceived Â Stan Bowman enough with his speed to get us Kris Versteeg.
I skipped the second, and Leafs Nation should certainly be glad the Leafs scouting staff didn’t do the same. The one and only Optimus Reim, James Reimer.
James Reimer is now sitting at a 5-3 NHL record with a 1.96 GAA and a .940 save percentage through nine games. He’s brought hope to a season that was winding it’s way down to a second consecutive lottery pick conceded to the Bruins. Â And without getting too far ahead of oneself, the post-lockout Leafs might just have finally done something right in the goaltending department.
As James Mirtle tweeted, a lot of the credit goes head of amateur scouting Dave Morrison’s way. While the pick was made under JFJ’s watch (and unlike the majority of his decisions, that shouldn’t be forgotten), it’s ultimately the scouting staff’s decision and they made a good one at pick #99 in 2006.
Asked if he saw this potential in Reimer and if he ever envisioned it coming together so soon for the small-town Manitoba native, Morrison told me:
“When we picked him my staff and I felt that he would give himself a chance given his work ethic and raw ability. Its tough to say sometimes when a prospect will be ready. The slow and steady approach in terms of development has proven well over time with many players. As far as his play right now, of course we are very happy for him and hopefully he and the team can keep things going.”
In hearing Morrison speak of the slow and steady approach that’s been undertaken with Reimer’s development, it’s not a stretch to suggest Reimer has benefited from operating in the shadow of Justin Pogge’s misfortune at the professional level. Sort of the forgotten man in the Leafs’ prospect ranks while developing in junior with Red Deer of the WHL, it was partly the Pogge hype train that came flying out of the station after an impressive World Junior showing and partly a weak Rebels team that seemed to leave Reimer to develop off the radar. As Pogge plied his trade – with mediocre results – on the Marlies, Reimer was winning a Kelly Cup with the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL and picking up MVP honours in the process.
However, to say it was simply the pressure-free environment that allowed Reimer to develop into an impressive young goalie ten games into his NHL career is to discredit the strong intangibles he has relayed into tangible results in his on-ice game. He seems to have the focus, preparation and work ethic that Pogge seemingly struggled with at times in his development within the Leafs organization.
Meanwhile, a couple of fellow teammates from the Marlies few expected to see much of outside of the Ricoh in Darryl Boyce and Tim Brent have been contributing at both ends of the ice as of late and bringing the sort of do-whatever-it-takes, truculent attitude this team has sorely lacked in the post-lockout era Â (and which, to be fair, hasn’t come exactly as advertised during the Burke reign to this point). While in Boyce and Brent’s case (and it is even too soon to make any guarantees about Reimer) their future at the NHL level is by no means set in stone, throw in the promise Aulie has shown in his appearances for the Leafs and I don’t think I’m getting ahead of myself in saying the reinvented Leafs development system is paying early dividends.
Reimer will get the start tonight in Buffalo and Boyce and Brent, despite the former perforating his nostril and the latter taking one of those Eric Staal shots to the twig and berries, will both be in the lineup. The shutout win over Carolina and the heroic individual performances of those mentioned above has the potential to be a momentum gainer, but the Leafs will enter a building in the HSBC tonight that usually leaves the Blue and White reeling. This should be a good one.