Maple Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher recently announced that he is most likely sticking with his current roster until training camp starts and several pre-season games have been played. There are many questions with this 08/09 group of forwards, more than I can ever remember. For starters, there is no clear cut #1 Centre for the 1st time in over a decade. Mats Sundin is not on the roster currently and until he makes a decision, factoring him into the equation is pointless. Given the current mandate coach Ron Wilson has to help develop young players, here are some early line projections.
Mikael Grabovski's name might confuse some people but in my opinion he will be given plenty of ice time, especially on the powerplay. He has shown great offensive creativity and put up some fantastic numbers in his stint in the AHL last season (20 points in 12 games) In Montreal, he never really received a fair shot and because of his defensive deficiencies did not get much of a shot on checking lines. Cliff gave up a 2nd round pick for him and he clearly sees some potential. That being said, with the lack of elite talent, it will be difficult for him to put up good numbers. I believe Antropov and Steen to be the best option for him. Antropov provides a physical presence down low that might create room for Grabovski to use his great shot in the slot. Steen has shown glimpses of offensive ability and its time to put up for shut up for him.
Stajan and Blake played together late last season and briefly showed some chemistry. Blake has a tendency to be reckless with the puck by taking bad angle shots that lead to turnovers or just simply giving the puck away. That's where Hagman fits into the line as a responsible 2way forward with some goalscoring ability (27 goals last season) Stajan isn't the playmaking Centre you'd want for these two wingers but he's responsible defensively and needs to be given a chance to prove himself on the top two lines. If Stajan has a breakthrough season and scores 55 points or so, expect Blake to get back to the 22-28 goal level he was prior to his anomaly of a season in 06/07 when he has 40 goals.
I dont think this is your 3rd line in the classic sense but I believe all 3 of Toronto's top 3 lines are somewhere in between 2nd and 3rd lines on most NHL teams. tlusty and Kulemin are arguable the Leafs two most promising forwards and if they play well, will get bumped to top 6 minutes. That being said, Tlusty and Kulemin are both very young and need to learn the tight checking of Ron Wilson's system. Kulemin has a lot of experience being a checking winger with goal scoring ability, playing 3 productive seasons in the Russian Super League (now the KHL). Ponikarovsky rounds of this line with an excellent physical presense and much like most players on this team has potential tp score 20-25 goals year in year out but not much more. Later in the season, when the Leafs are most likely playing for pride, I think Tlusty and Kulemin will be getting 1st line duty to prepare themselves for their potential future role. Although, most scouts believe neither are more than quality 2nd liners.
This is a physical bruising 4th line that I believe Leaf Fans will take a liking to in a losing season. Mayers plays with a lot of heart, and will attempt to be a sparkplug not unlike Darcy Tucker in recent memory. Bell coming off a tough summer serving a sentence in California will be eager to prove his worth and he will be best fitted as an energy player by using his size and forechecking hard. Leaf fans have always liked their fighters and Hollweg is exactly that.
Devereaux and Moore are responsible defensive players that will probably be given a chance to play even if no one else is injured. Wilson will be happy to use them if anyone in the top 4 lines is struggling because he can count on them to be responsible in both ends. Williams although showing some offensive upside doesn't really have a chance to crack this line-up baring injuries. Him and Earl will probably start the season with the Marlies and perhaps a strong campaign but either will warrant a late season call up. Kris Newbury is another energy player I like but unfortunately there are several of those already on the Leafs who are higher on the depth chart.
So there you have it. Just my humble opinion of possible lines. The Leafs will surely use many different combinations throughout training camp and the regular season. What do you think?