With under two weeks until the pre-season debuts, many fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs continue to ponder which players will make the cut come opening night against the Montreal Canadiens. Players like Jiri Tlusty, Tyler Bozak, Christian Hanson, Nazim Kadri and others will be competing for employment at the National Hockey League level. However, the rigors of the NHL regular season far exceeds that of the pre-season, and as a result many players have failed to maintain their newfound success.
The pre-season is essentially a chance for the less experienced players to showcase their talent and attempt to land a roster spot on their respective teams. It’s also a crucial step for the more experienced players to physically and mentally prepare themselves for the regular season. However, due to the amount of rookies and less talented players, the level of competition is generally moderate compared to the 82-game schedule. As a result, those who play with added intensity with hopes of landing a job in the NHL are often the beneficiaries of an explosive amount of offensive production.
Last preseason, for example, Toronto’s own Lee Stempniak produced an impressive 12 points in 5 games with the St.Louis Blues, ranking him second overall. Andy McDonald led the league with 13 points in 5 games, and while the 32-year-old is talented, he has never ranked amongst the elite by the end of the regular season. While McDonald’s season was derailed by the injury bug (46-15-29-44), Stempniak produced an underwhelming 14 goals and 44 points.
But it’s not as if the Leafs aren’t familiar with these fluctuations. Look no further then Simon Gamache and Alexander Suglobov, who could never live up to the hype they generated during the preseason. The duo went on to produce a mere 6 goals and 14 points in 61 regular season games collectively.
It’s not so one-sided, however, as many players who have found success in the preseason have managed to translate that to the regular season. Just look at Mikhail Grabovski, who warranted a roster spot by leading the Leafs in scoring with 5 goals and 8 points. He went on to produce 20 goals and 48 points during the 2008-09 campaign, earning him a three-year contract extension worth 2.9 million dollars per season.
This is a forewarning: Even if the likes of Rickard Wallin, Viktor Stalberg, Bozak, Hanson and others perform at an optimal level during the pre-season, it does not mean they’re necessarily ready for the rigors of the NHL. The roster on opening night could change in a matter of games if a full-time position as an NHL player proves to be too difficult for any of these players.
Either way, let’s drop the puck!
Here’s an awesome preview video I found on Youtube. This should get the adrenaline pumping.