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With training camp over, and a slew of exhibition games that probably should have been cut in half if the league knew what was good for them (I mean, auditioning new guys is one thing, but by the end, the coaches know who’s staying and going, and they’re just playing whoever they don’t care about hurting), it’s time to face reality. The blue and white came out with a respectful record, and the youth did what they needed to do, instilled hope and confidence in our club and our prospects.

Now, I’m the first person to stand up and agree with the move to send Kadri back to the OHL, he will dominate, and it will be thousands of times better for his development and his confidence. It will give him a chance to mature and bulk up physically, and hone his hockey sense and mental stability. He’s young, and we can wait. On the other hand, there are some young players who are in interesting situations: Stalberg, Hanson, Bozak and Gunnarsson more specifically, who have all been lured to Toronto with hope of cracking the roster, and have all showed at times that they deserved the praise we all gave them before we even saw them on the ice.

Christian Hanson was recently sent down, so I won’t waste much of my time talking about him, because I don’t really have an argument for keeping him on the Leafs except maybe the chemistry he showed with his NCAA buddies. Nonetheless, he’ll do a lot for the Marlies, and get another shot next year.

Gunnarsson has really been a dark horse at training camp, showing that he is in fact a top defensive prospect,and even though Ron Wilson is keeping quiet on his fate for this season, I think we all know that none of our defense corps has done enough to demote themselves. Our current lines will most likely look like:

Kaberle – Komisarek
Beauchemin – Schenn
White – Finger
+ Van Ryn or Exelby

A victim of the numbers game, Gunnarsson though, still has a shot. With the oft-injured Van Ryn and Finger both questionable right now, and Exelby looking like a fish out of water behind his own blue line, Gunnarsson will at the very least get a try out, and I doubt that Burke or Wilson will mind keeping him if he plays as well as he has in camp. Keeping Exelby or Van Ryn over Gunnarsson would just be a tragedy if his play keeps up. I won’t keep my hopes up though, because with the expiring contract of Van Ryn, healthy play could give us some leverage in at least getting a 2nd or 3rd rounder for him come March. So Gunnarsson = Hopeful.

The most interesting of the youngsters are Tyler Bozak and Viktor Stalberg. Both have looked like they belong in the NHL, and although Stalberg has been a scoring machine, Bozak has held his own. Looking at the forwards left in camp:

Hagman – Grabovski – Blake
Kulemin – Stajan – Poni
Stalberg – Bozak – Wallin
Stempniak – Mitchell – Orr
Rosehill – Primeau – Mayers
Tlusty- Allison

…the first line is a lock. Stajan and Ponikarovski aren’t going anywhere, Wallin was lured from Sweden so expect him to stay, John Mitchell has proven he can play with the big boys, and Primeau and Orr give us the grit Burke wants. So, that leaves Kulemin, Stalberg, Bozak, Stempniak, Rosehill, Mayers, Tlusty and Allison. Jason Allison would have a chance, if he could skate from one blue line to the next without taking a break….but he can’t (give me a break…). Who the hell is Jay Rosehill? Exactly, he’ll be sent down. Jiri Tlusty has not lived up to expectations, and now that he isn’t the only leafs prized prospect not playing in the NHL, maybe he’ll get some more drive playing in the AHL this year, I don’t think he has a chance at cracking the leafs on the season opener, or even the whole season.

So, with three roster spots not LOCKED, and probably an extra spot as the 13th forward, we have these 5 players vying for them:

Kulemin
Bozak
Stalberg
Mayers
Stempniak

A lot of people think Mayers deserves a spot because he’s a veteran, and he can penalty kill, but instead of sticking him on the fourth line, why don’t we let Wallin skate with Orr and Primeau, and let Jamal Mayers go. Don’t hold out for a trade, don’t try to respect his wish to play in the NHL, send him down and hopefully somebody snatches him off waivers.

Lee Stempniak is interesting. I don’t like him; a lot of people think he outright stinks, but you have to admit, he has looked good this training camp, and whether you love him or hate him, he’ll put up some points for us, and at the very least, fetch us a decent return at the trade deadline, so I say we keep him on John Mitchell’s wing.

Then there’s Bozak, Kulemin and Stalberg. Though many of you believe that Bozak and Stalberg have only looked good because it has been in an inferior style of preseason play; beating the Red Wings and Penguins without their top lines. Me? I think that both Bozak and Stalberg have played better than most of our forwards, and if it is in fact easier to succeed in the preseason, then where were all the points from Stajan or Blake? Kulemin is looked on as a favourite because ‘he has a year of NHL experience’ now…so? Did he put up 60 points? Did he show flashes of greatness? No. Bozak and Stalberg deserve these two spots more than Kulemin. But, if they really want, keep Kulemin as the 13th. But, it’s not fair to these kids who came into training camp trying to make the team, for their accomplishments to be stamped out due to what some people think is n EASIER version of the game.

Let’s start the season the right way; Burke wanted people to feel competition for spots, now let’s give those spots to the people who won them. Welcome to your 2009-1010 Opening night Maple Leafs:

Blake – Grabovski – Stalberg
Hagman – Stajan – Ponikarovski
Bozak – Mitchell – Stempniak
Orr – Primeau – Wallin
+ Kulemin

Kaberle – Komisarek
Beauchemin – Schenn
White – Gunnarsson
+ Exelby
IR – Finger
IR – Van Ryn

Let’s hope for the best…not golfing in april.

D Rock
www.golfinginapril.wordpress.com
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