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Leafs Nation: Forwards Report Card

Ladies and Gentlemen, the 2009/10 Maple Leafs forwards. 

As a note, this is un-scientific and based on my year(s) of watching the player, personal opinion and general gut feel for their abilities moving forward.  In addition, letter grades assigned correspond to actual results based on the expectations for the player heading into the season. 

For  example – I have graded Phil Kessel a B+ and Colton Orr an A.  By no means do I feel that is indicative of their abilities, but in terms of what each player brings to the table, this is how I felt they executed this season.

The Expectations:

Remember when fans and pundits questioned where the goal scoring would come from prior to the start of the regular season?  Me too.  Those questions seemed to be answered after a roaring exhibition schedule that saw rookies like Viktor Stalberg and Nazem Kadri light up the preseason scoresheets…then reality set in and we were left with Jason Blake’s dazzling circle-skating displays, Matt Stajan’s feats of strength (or lack thereof) and a pre-Coyote Lee Stempniak lighting the lamp once every 5 or 6 (if we were lucky) games.

2009/2010 Report Card:

Here goes (stats and position as per – Points: GP-G-A-P-(+/-) -PIM):

Right Wing:

Phil Kessel – 70-30-25-55 (-8) 21                                                                                                                (Grade:  B+) 

Did you hear what the Leafs traded to get Phil Kessel from the Bruins?  So has everybody else…but just in case, the Leafs gave up 2 1st round picks (at least one of those picks being in the draft lottery) and 1 2nd round pick.  Have you heard this, though:  at 22 years of age, Kessel has 96 regular season NHL goals?

Phil the thrill showed himself to be a capable sniper with limited support around him on this version of the Maple Leafs, netting 30 goals despite missing the first month of play and all of training camp.  More than one dry-spell in the goal scoring department during the season was off-set by Phil finding the score sheet in other ways – namely as a set-up man – but despite the hefty price tag it is apparent the Leafs have their first-line sniper of the future (and present) in #81. 

With blazing speed, the best wrist-shot the Leafs have seen this side of Wendel Clark and a nose for the net, the sky’s the limit in the big smoke for Phil Kessel.

A lot to look forward to in the future no doubt for Brian Burke’s prized forward acquisition; a full training camp should do wonders for next year, as will familiarity with his team mates   

(I struggled with this one – an A if not for the scoring gaps…which makes 30 goals in limited action the more impressive from a individual standpoint, it certainly didn’t help the squad)

Colton Orr – 82-4-2-6 (-4) 239                                                                                                                     (Grade:  A)

Anyone who argued with Brian Burke’s July 1 signing of Colton Orr did so anonymously.  Exactly as billed, Orr brought serious heavyweight beef to a Leafs team lacking a bruiser that could stack up with any heavyweight in the league. 

Regularly patrolling the ice for the blue and white this year, Orr showed a willingness to stand in with anyone in the league and his team mates reaped the benefits of being able to play a little taller knowing they were under the watchful  of big #28.

Not billed – and a pleasant surprise – was Colton’s ability to play the game in a fourth line capacity without being a liability to the team.  Once early season minor-penalty troubles were under his belt, Orr proved to be a valuable addition by Brian Burke and one player that earned his paycheque on a nightly basis, playing in all 82 games.


Mikhail Grabovski – 59-10-25-35 (+3) 10                                                                                               (Grade:  C+)

After a promising rookie season and a new contract in the offseason, big things were expected in Grabovski’s sophomore campaign.  A wrist injury kept Mikhail out of the Olympics (but not out of the bars in Vancouver brawling) for his native Belarus, along with a prolonged absence in the NHL.  With 59 games played in his second full year in the NHL, the jury is still out on where the talented Euro fits in with the Leafs plans moving forward.

His 10 goals and 25 assists are decent numbers, however underwhelming when you consider there is not a lot aside from offense brought to the table in his game.  The ‘water bug act’ and perimeter play grew tiresome early, however a strong finish to the season may leave Wilson and Burke wondering if another season under their tutelage may prove beneficial for the speedy centre’s progression.

The betting line, however, is leaning towards Grabo being moved in the offseason for some top-9 beef on the wings or as an add-on to a deal acquiring top 6 forward talent, especially factoring in the potential full-time roster additions of Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak.

Tyler Bozak – 37-8-19-27 (-5) 6                                                                                                                   (Grade:  A-)

As if on cue, Tyler Bozak and the rest of the “frat pack” hit Toronto last off season to train and acclimatize themselves to life in the GTA, igniting a flurry of newspaper articles announcing the young hot shots arrival in the city. 

After a sizzling preseason, Bozak broke camp with a trip down the Gardner Expressway to the Ricoh Coliseum and first-line centre duties on the AHL Marlies.  Given a chance to show his stuff at the NHL level, Bozak responded in his call-up opportunities by playing a creative, two-way game and gaining instant chemistry with his line mates.

By the time Brian Burke purged the roster by acquiring Dion Phaneuf et al, Tyler Bozak was a staple up the middle at the ACC for the remainder of the NHL season.  Tremendous playmaking abilities are complimented by exceptional on-ice vision, commitment to both ends of the rink and a soft pair of hands used to dangle around defenders and spot the daylight behind opposition goaltenders. 

The future is bright – let’s see what some offseason strength training and settling into the grind of an 82 game pro schedule will do for the talented former collegian.  Big things are expected for this promising young player in Leafland.

John Mitchell – 60-6-17-23 (-7) 31                                                                                                            (Grade:  C)

I think it is safe to say – despite improved play in the last quarter of the season – that John Mitchell’s second year with the Leafs was a disappointment.  The centre many projected as a stalwart on the third (most optimistic projection I saw was 2nd line) line in years to come did not continue to grow as a player and on many nights early in the season was virtually invisible on the ice.  

Speedy and defensively responsible, Mitchell has not shown the offensive consistency required to make the next level jump to fit into a legitimate contenders’ top 9 rotation.  An ineffective physical presence, Mitchell will need to wow at training camp in order to continue to be considered a piece of the future blue and white puzzle.

Christian Hanson – 31-2-5-7 (-2) 16                                                                                                         (Grade:  B-)

The third and final member of the “frat pack” played more wing than centre this season no doubt, however may find himself back in the middle sooner than later depending on how the cards fall during the offseason.

A big body who can get around well and has a nose for the dirty areas of the ice, Christian Hanson provides the least sizzle of the college 3, but certainly has an element to his game that is worthy of a long look at the NHL level.  Lucky I didn’t start writing this piece Saturday afternoon (no doubt this space would have been dedicated to the youngster’s inability to find the score sheet in his first full season as a pro) as Hanson doubled his career total in goals Saturday night against the Canadiens with a pair, including a short-handed tally to tie the game up in the 3rd period.

Good work ethic, big body, physical presence, defensive responsibility and the ability to produce some secondary scoring makes Christian Hanson a player to keep an eye on as he continues to develop his game.  Being the son of a famous Charlestown Chief is just the icing on the cake… question is, does he bring his toys on the road?

Rickard Wallin – 60-2-7-9 (-7) 20                                                                                                              (Grade:  D+)

Jamie Lundmark – 36-5-7-12 (-7) 20                                                                                                         (Grade:  D+)

Wayne Primeau – 59-3-5-8 (-1) 35                                                                                                            (Grade:  D+)

Thank you all for your contributions this year.  Good “team first” guys who were brought in to fill a role, but it is EXTREMELY unlikely their services will be retained at the NHL level (for the Leafs anyways) in 2010/2011:

Wallin – Many considered the Swede’s signing as a throw-in to get the Monster’s name on a contract last summer…can anyone argue with that?  Flashes of ‘something more’ throughout the year, but his best days are in the rear view mirror.

Lundmark – Did he even play centre for the Leafs?  The former first-round pick was brought in to eat some minutes after Burke’s roster purge, and aside from providing farm depth on the Marlies, Jamie’s time in blue and white ended at Saturday’s final buzzer.

Primeau – 3rd/4th line centre who brought a physical element to the game, but never really dialled in on a nightly basis to contribute much more than good hustle, some physicality and a veteran presence on a young team.

Left Wing:

Nikolai Kulemin – 78-16-20-36 (E) 16                                                                                                      (Grade:  A)

Perhaps no other player has progressed in his two seasons in the blue and white as Nik Kulemin.  A player that seemed destined to be nothing more valuable than above average NHL third-liner, Kulemin steadily came into his own throughout season, getting noticeably better and more comfortable on an almost nightly basis.  The former KHL teammate of Evgeni Malkin – the same Evgeni Malkin that speculated Kulemin would “be a star” once he hit the North American senior circuit – improved in every area of his game and is now in line for not only an increased role with the team, but a contract commensurate with his skill-set.

A powerful big body who moves quickly and sees the ice well, Kulemin has developed into a force down low and along the wall and possesses good passing and playmaking abilities that compliment some slick one-on-one moves and a quickly released, accurate shot.

This is one player I am very excited to see continue their development and apply the skill-set that differentiated himself this year over a full 82 game schedule.

Viktor Stalberg – 40-9-5-14 (-13) 30                                                                                                         (Grade:  B)

Man, is this guy fast!  In recent memory I am hard pressed to list a Leaf player who seemingly reaches top speed in so few steps and carries it over to the ability to beat opposing defenders wide.  Big difference between quickness from a start and raw top-end speed; Viktor Stalberg has both weapons in his arsenal.

Coming out of training camp on the big club, Stalberg’s year started slowly (ironic for such a fast skater) after being knocked silly early in the year before ultimately being sent to the AHL Marlies.  Upon recall, Stalberg – a founding member of the frat pack – continued to improve all areas of his game, namely his physicality and lethal speed. 

Viktor is a gifted offensive threat with a pair of soft hands.  Continued development in his own zone and adapting to the pro game schedule will aid his development into a legitimate top-6 forward in the NHL.

Fredrik Sjostrom – 65-3-8-11 (-2) 12                                                                                                         (Grade:  B-)

Seemingly a throw-in to the Dion Phaneuf trade, Fredrik Sjostrom immediately impacted the Leafs with his hustle and commitment to defensive play.  It is no coincidence that the Leafs penalty kill immediately improved when Sjostrom joined the team. 

The speedy winger won’t wow you with anything flashy, but an honest, hardworking effort on a nightly basis seems to be the least you will get when slotting Fredrik’s name onto a game sheet.

A player capable of logging third line “shutdown line” minutes, a player of Sjostrom’s skill-set is exactly what was needed in Toronto and should continue to prove that Brian Burke caught the Calgary Flames napping when evaluating the talent that was exchanged prior to the Olympic break.

Luca Caputi – 23-2-6-8 (-1) 12                                                                                                                     (Grade:  C+)      

The main piece in the Alexei Ponikarovsky trade deadline deal with the Penguins, Luca Caputi is a raw talent with a very promising upside.  He brings size to the table and a willingness to play in the dirty areas.  The jury is still out on where the Toronto native will slot in long term, however Brian Burke picked himself up a work-in-progress for an expiring contract that may prove to have some serious upside down the road.

Jay Rosehill – 15-1-1-2 (-2) 67                                                                                                                     (Grade:  C)

I debated reviewing Jay Rosehill’s contribution to the Leafs this year as he was seemingly on a yo-yo back and forth between the Ricoh Coliseum and the Air Canada Centre.  A game physical player, Rosehill is an enthusiastic combatant who should limit his pugilistic skill-set to those players a weight category just below the Colton Orr cut-off.  (I hope Daniel Carcillo and Sean Avery just read that)

Rosehill needs to play his game without taking stupid unnecessary penalties that hurt the club, however, as a fourth line role player you could do worse in my opinion.

Well, there you have it.  I will look to get something out regarding the defence and goaltending later in the week.  For now, enjoy the playoffs from a far Leafs fans…here’s hoping it won’t be long before the blue and white are leaving the golf clubs on moth balls a few weeks (Baby steps before I mention months!) before cracking them out of storage.

What do you think PSB?


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Leafs fan; former OHL LW; Live in Toronto

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In response to “Leafs Nation: Forwards Report Card”

  1. Dan Rakusan Apr 13 201012:48 am


    Great writeup! I (as a Rangers’ fan) am still pissed off that you guys got Orr. Sather goes with Donald Brashear immediately afterwards, which more or less screwed us in terms of signing Blair Betts.

    As for Sjostrom, he’s another guy we let get away, instead ending up with Enver Lisin on that line, which proved a complete loss despite his skating skills. I am not giving up on him, but Torts doesn’t seem to like him much…

    Leafs might suck now, but there’s a lot of possibility for them in terms of their young guys. I don’t want to ever see a Cup parade on Yonge street, but I’d at least like to see them competitive!

    1. Ben Petrino Apr 13 201012:53 am


      Enver Lisn is better than advertised, or at least he has more potential than what he’s putting out. He hasn’t really had the coached he’s needed to really become better so hopefully being with the Rangers will turn him around.

    2. Mike De Petrillo Apr 13 20109:45 am


      Thanks Dan. I wondered about that at the time too…I am not a big Brashear fan myself, but he can throw them when he needs to. Not alot else though. (Glen Sather has to be on the hot seat right now, no?)

      Sjostrom was indeed a big surprise – I wasn’t aware he was such a high draft pick either.

      There’s a lot of cause for optimism in Toronto since Burke took the reigns, but until I see the team of the last couple March’s in October, I’ll wait to get my lawn chair set up on the parade route.

      1. Dan Rakusan Apr 13 20106:18 pm


        Well, Brashear didn’t do much fighting with the big club, and I’m not sure how he’s faring with the WolfPack. The guy is just finished I think…

  2. Ben Fisher Apr 13 20103:07 pm


    Nice piece, Mike! A B+ for Phil isn’t bad considering he just admitted today that he wasn’t in the shape he should have been this year. If the Thrill can pot 30 while out of shape, next year could be interesting if he puts in the off-season work. Can’t wait for the d-men!

    1. Mike De Petrillo Apr 13 20105:06 pm


      Ben, I felt like a traitor giving that mark! Big Kessel fan here…but there is so much more there!!!

      In a perfect world the Leafs accountant would make a public statement saying he’s sorry to Phil that his paycheques weren’t as big as they should have been…:)

      I wonder if Bill Waters will be issuing a public apology for questioning publicly whether Kessel was actually hurt at the end of the season or if he was pulling the chute…a slightly torn ab muscle no doubt will impact your abilities on ice.

  3. Mike De Petrillo Apr 13 20107:00 pm


    Draft lottery results tonight! Whose going to go home with the lucky ticket?!?

    I know who my money’s on…

    (Based on the 31 years of my life as a Leafs fan I may cry a little…then put on a Kessel jersey and kind of do that post cry breathe/wimper like you’re catching your breath…you know what I’m talking about…the ‘fuh-fuh fuh fuh’ sound)

    Remember: In his 23rd year, Phil Kessel will have over 100 NHL goals, at least 34 of them as a Leaf.

    1. Mike De Petrillo Apr 14 20102:15 pm


      Could have been worse ;)

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