Hockey is officially back!

Well, sort of.

Today kicks off the Leafs annual rookie tournament, which is really a great opportunity for the kids in the organization to make an impression.

It was only two years ago that Jake Gardiner and Matt Frattin both carried the momentum of strong rookie tournaments through training camp and preseason as both at least somewhat unexpectedly made the team to start the season. This September, players such as Petter Granberg, Andrew MacWilliam and even Morgan Rielly will be trying to do the same.

On the whole, the Leafs are dressing a rather experienced team so to speak. There are 11 players that have played at least one game with the Marlies on the team (Morgan Rielly, Stuart Percy, Greg McKegg, Brad Ross, Josh Leivo, Andrew Crescenzi, Broll, Tyler Biggs, Jamie Devane, Sam Carrick and Garret Sparks) plus another two who can be considered older and ‘experienced’ at this point (Granberg and MacWilliam).

This is also an opportunity for the 2013 draft class to show us their stuff, particularly Frederik Gauthier, and send a message to Leafs management that they are hungry to move up in the organization.

When it comes to these tournaments, the truth is that these players have never played together and are playing in their first real hockey games in months. It gets sloppy. While it’s always nice to see the team win, and hopefully they do, what you really want to do is gauge individual performances more than anything.

How, for example, does Morgan Rielly look quarterbacking the power play? How is Granberg holding up defensively? Is MacWilliam a physical force? And so on. Watching this tournament involves walking a fine line between taking everything with a grain of salt while also looking for kids to show you something.

What I try to do is compare Leaf prospects to players of their own age group. For example, the Leafs play Chicago today and they have two kids drafted in the first round from 2011 (Mark McNeill and Phillip Danault). I’ll be looking to see how the Leafs‘ two first rounders from the same draft compare (Stuart Percy and Tyler Biggs; I’d also include Leivo in this conversation). Generally speaking I expect the older players to be the best guys out there, and if they aren’t that’s a bit of a concern. What it comes down to is judging players against others their own age group. A guy like Gauthier shouldn’t have the same expectations as a guy like Granberg.

Expect some mistakes, but also look for the older and higher pedigree players to make some statements. If they are going to push to make the Leafs this season, this is when they have to start doing it.

More than anything, though, I’m just glad hockey’s back.

Stay tuned to MLHS throughout the weekend for rookie tourney coverage.

Thanks to Aaron Chan (@MLHS_Aaron) for putting together the links this morning.

Brian Burke discussing deal to join Flames front office (“overseer of hockey operations”) – That Burkie sure relishes a challenge. No hockey fan should dislike Burke being back in the mix.

Toronto Sun: Phaneuf not worried about contract talks – “I want to be a part of the Leafs for a long time and I love playing in the city, but the business side will take care of itself.” From the sounds of it, Dion is open to negotiating with management during the season. Kessel seems to be taking the opposite approach (wants to eliminate in-season distractions and simply focus on ‘hackey).

Toronto Star: Five stories to watch heading into camp – Mark Zwolinski highlights the five most intriguing story-lines heading into training camp.

Editor in Leaf: Are Leafs in contract years likely to have career years? – A neat article on young players entering contract years and how they’ve performed. The author admits that the resulting sample from his search is not large enough to make any sort of conclusion but the Leafs have several young players who will fall under this observation.

VLM: Where do you lean on Kadri meter? – Michael Langlois from VLM asks where you stand on the Kadri negotiations.

Nazem Kadri’s contract negotiation is tearing apart the universe – Definitely seems to be a team source leaking this stuff on Kadri. See Nonis’ “ask them” remark when discussing contracts the other day on TSN Radio. It’s clear the Leafs are really strongarming these guys. Not uncommon in RFA negotiations.

Top 25 under 25: #5 – Jonathan Bernier – clrkaitken rails against the Bernier deal.