While the pre-season may be a warm-up session for the veterans players of the Toronto Maple Leafs, it is a period of turmoil for youngsters like Viktor Stalberg, Tyler Bozak and Christian Hanson.
The trio of collegiate hockey players are no doubt anxiously awaiting their fate with the Buds. And with the regular season set to debut on October 1st, they will be informed soon.
While it is conceivable to assume that atleast one of them will find a spot on the roster, is it unrealistic to expect all three to make the big club?
Perhaps, but judging from the individual performances from some of the Leafs’ players this training camp, I’d say the chance of that happening has gone upward.
Brian Burke has publicly stated that the Leafs could ice a line-up with a format consisting of three scoring lines, leaving the fourth line responsible to implement grit and energy into the team. Considering the Leafs have an abundance of truculent players, (I seriously have to get over that word) I’d say heading into the season with a top-nine format is worth a trial period.
With that said, here are some of the players that have dissapointed me thus far:
Rickard Wallin: Quite simply, he is not a better version of Matt Stajan, despite what some Leafs fans seem to think. He’s been virtually invisible out there, struggling to materialize any sort of offense. While his defensive game is sound, he’s nothing the Leafs don’t already have. Even if he does manage to make the team, he might find himself on the fourth line if he doesn’t find a comfort level.
Nikolai Kulemin: He has progressively gotten better, but he’s not having the camp most Leafs fans had hoped. He’s been subject to turnovers and a number of failed opportunities in the offensive end. Inconsistency seems to be an issue with the 23-year-old, and there are already early signs of the dreaded sophomore slump. He might find himself on the Toronto Marlies if he doesn’t rise to the occasion this weekend.
Jiri Tlusty: I didn’t even realize he was playing until he was granted a penalty shot last night. And he was fortunate to score that goal against Ryan Miller, let’s be honest. He still has promise considering he scored at a point-per-game pace in the American Hockey League last season, but, like Kulemin, he will have to make the best of his opportunities this weekend.
All three of the players listed above have been considered as potential candidates to start opening night. And quite frankly, Bozak, Stalberg and Hanson have all proven to be more reliable during their respective tenures thus far.
Burke has said he’s not afraid of sending down players with one-way contracts, and if he’s true to his word, then we should witness this soon if he intends on icing the best possible lineup against the Montreal Canadiens next Thursday.
And it’s not as if the trio of college players are in position similar to Nazim Kadri. They are all 23 years old and have the physical requirements to withstand the rigors of the NHL.
Judging players from pre-season performance can often lead to disappointment, but considering the Leafs are currently fleshing out the youth to mold a better club for the future, the time is now to experiment.
Give these youngsters a shot on the big club. There’s nothing to lose.