Sunday, September 27, 2009

Looks life the Maple Leafs finally landed some young talent

Last night's 2-1 win over Detroit Red Wings helped finalize the Leaf lineup. The win was over a Red Wing team devoid of stars but the doesn't take away from the performance of some key personnel.

I have been very skeptical up to now of the prospect that Jonas Gustavsson would help the Leafs this season. I thought he would certainly be heading to the Marlies for some seasoning. Everyone quotes his stats in the playoffs last season in Sweden but he wasn't facing NHL calibre shooters. People talked about how great he was at the World Championships but overlooked the fact that when he faced teams with NHL players, he didn't look that great (gave up 5 goals in 2 periods to Team USA). But in the 3 periods he played on Friday and Saturday he has already convinced that he can play in the NHL. He uses his large frame so well to fill the net yet moves from side to side so quickly. At 6'3", he is exactly the same size as Justin Pogge but that is where the comparison ends. Based on the preseason, both Gustavsson and Joey Macdonald look better than Vesa Toskala but the reality of how NHL training camps and guaranteed contracts work, Toskala still makes the team.

For the same reason all the rookies in camp are headed to the AHL or back to their Junior team. As much as they excited Leaf fans with their play, they all have wholes in their games which will become even more glaring as the number of games pile up. Both college and Junior players play far fewer games than the NHL. Leaf management has pointed out that the rookies would have to beat out a veteran on one of the top two lines to make the team. Part of the reason is there are contract issues. Veterans must clear waivers before getting sent to the AHL but rookies do not. However, the one exception may be Viktor Stalberg. He has demonstrated that he has the size, speed and scoring touch to be one of their top 6 players right now. He is strong on the forecheck and crashes to net although his defensive game is below par. Still he appears to me to be ahead of Nikolai Kulemin and Jiri Tlusty and with Phil Kessel still rehabbing from shoulder surgery, he will likely be in the lineup on Thursday for the season opener.