One game into a pre-season doesn’t mean a whole lot so I won’t focus on the final result of the game but rather give a few observation and musings from game one for the Toronto Maple Leafs versus the Ottawa Senators in game the Leafs lost 5-0 and were booed off the ice at the conclusion, you have got to love Toronto fans!
-I know I have been harsh on him already after a relatively poor rookie tournament but Nazem Kadri appears to have taken a step back in terms of his speed and skating. I know his offseason was focused on adding much needed strength and muscle mass but I think it might have been at the expense of Kadri’s bread and butter speed, agility and quickness.
Kadri appeared to be a boy amongst men tonight and didn’t show half the flash and dash that fans have come to expect from the junior hockey standout. He turned the puck over and was basically a non-factor throughout the night other than a nice move in the second period that drew a penalty after he beat the defensemen Matt Carkner and was hauled down. Kadri had ample time on the power play and really didn’t leave much of an impression one way or the other.
My feeling is Kadri begins the year with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, and hopefully Kadri uses that as motivation to improve himself with some hard work in a solid league for a Marlies team that promises to be an interesting and deep group. I do not think Kadri is operating at one hundred percent currently or he really has put on too much weight for his style of play but he hasn’t been himself at first glance. Mikael Grabovski is going to be our second line centre as I feel he is just a better option for the team at this point and has looked solid out of the gate. We gave up a 2nd round pick for Grabo and it’s time we see a return on that investment, this could be the breakout year Grabovski believers have been looking for since his time in Montreal.
-Kris Versteeg had some solid moments in the hockey game, showing some solid speed and hands as he knifed his way into the offensive zone on a few rushes and had a lot of hustle on the night. He should be a solid if unspectacular performer for the season and could potentially be a 25 goal scorer if all things align correctly.
-Colby Armstrong will be a fan favourite early and we finally have a player that can and will hit any and all players on the ice (including stars) which will force the opposing team to engage him in the aftermath of his handy work and hopefully in the process draw some opposing penalties.
-Veterans Dion Phaneuf and Tomas Kaberle had horrendous games and made the 2009/10 Maple Leafs powerplay look impressive with a shoddy display of eratic shooting from the point.
-Our best line on the night was easily Jay Rosehill/Christian Hanson/Mike Brown – all three looked strong on the forecheck and were throwing their weight around all night. Hanson and Brown were two players that looked particularly strong and will likely be joined by Colton Orr to form a solid checking/energy line during the season. Brown was a great addition for some much needed secondary toughness and he handled the bigger Simpson from the Senators in a spirited tussle.
Christian Hanson has obviously worked hard on his game in the offseason as he also looked to be in strong form with a strong puck pursuit and physical edge, I think he proves to be a solid 4th line centre with the potential to move into a more prominent 3rd line checking line centre role if he continues to impress. Hanson is up to 230 pounds and kudos for the strong effort in the fight versus Brian Lee, easily winning the decision.
-Marcel Mueller was basically invisible and Jerry D’Amigo didn’t get all that much ice time but showed flashes of speed when he did play, Brayden Irwin has big size but needs to make bigger strides to improve his skating if he intends to be a full time NHLer.
-Matt Lashoff and Simon Gyspers didn’t look overly impressive on the blueline, while Brett Lebda had a couple promising moments and should add some depth on the blue line in case of injury.
-Goaltending was shaky at times with Jonas Gustavsson outplaying rookie Jussi Rynnas with the latter giving up a couple shaky goals.
With five games in five nights we will get a good look at a lot of different Maple Leafs, stay tuned for more updates, observations and musings!