With a 3-2 loss at the hands of divisional rival Ottawa Senators, the Toronto Maple Leafs closed out the 2010 Rookie Tournament on Tuesday and the focus of management now shifts to NHL Training Camp beginning with medicals on Friday.
The task from here becomes a real challenge with only 3 days of practice before 9 pre-season games beginning on Tuesday. The challenge however does not lie solely within the NHL lineup. Although many prospects turned in valued performances in London this week, the openings providing a jump from Rookie Tournament to NHL roster spot are quite slim. Nazem Kadri, Jerry D’Amigo, and Marcel Mueller seem the most likely candidates for that jump and the trio have a solidified case to be considered. Kadri being the Leafs most recent first round draft pick eyes a spot within the top two lines, while D’Amigo has sky rocketed up the depth charts and his strong performance during the Rookie Tournament has displayed the reasoning for it. With a 6’3″ and 220lb. frame, Mueller carries size that the Leafs lack in a power forward and brings with it the skills of what Brian Burke considers those of a top six player.
The task at hand for Brian Burke and his staff now become more difficult and precise. Decisions that will be made are those determining the rate and placement regarding the development of many prospects. In years previous the names and profiles of players paving their future down the road with the Marlies were nearly unheard of, yet this year a glaring spotlight could be placed upon the Ricoh Coliseum.
Brian Burke has continuously stated his desire for players developing their skills and shaping their game within the AHL, citing the names of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan, all of which benefited from their time in the minors. This season Burke faces the same decisions and would agree the greater importance in that of a hockey mad town like Toronto. Media pressure along with the expectations of fans craving their first playoff game since the lockout can be difficult for even the most seasoned NHL veteran, and for a first year player could hinder their progress greatly.
In handling these decisions, Brian Burke will be joined by his Head Coach Ron Wilson. Both men will look to the luxuries they have, insuring each players development will find its stride. In the event they decide a stint with the Marlies is necessary, the development can be monitored very closely, a benefit of having their farm team in the same city. If impressed through pre-season play and deciding to begin the players career in the NHL, Burke and Wilson will turn to the culture change within the Leafs Locker Room. A culture that includes newly appointed Captain Dion Phaneuf, along with a group of leaders providing insulation for any young rookie looking to make an impact.
That leadership group along with an abundance of young players pursuing their dream will take to the ice Friday. After a slow start last season, crippling their playoff hopes each player will be looking to make an impression and solidify a spot in the line-up. Some working to prove themselves in determining where they fit with the Maple Leafs, while others will be working in order to determine when. Hard work and dedication will prove their case for jobs, while the same ethic will be put forth by Burke and Wilson through their efforts in shaping 2 rosters.
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About the Author
Written by RJ Emptage
Operations Manager of a retail chain in Southern Ontario (Sports Obsession). Specialize in licensed sports apparel and novelties (Visit sportsobsession.ca). Being from the Hamilton area I grew up and into a die-hard Toronto Maple Leaf Fan, and look forward to a bright blue and white future...(I know that sounds crazy doesn't it?) Love all things sports and the next best thing to playing them, is talking them!