Posts Tagged ‘Brayden Irwin’

This seems to be the preferred line-up (see below) for Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson, at least early into training camp and preseason.  This line-up would not include John Mitchell, Marcel Mueller, Luca Caputi, Brayden Irwin, Jay Rosehill, Jeff Finger, Brett Lebda, Jesse Blacker and Matt Lashoff, among others.  I think it would be a real shame that Rosehill will not break camp with the team if this line-up holds as with the addition of the extremely effective Mike Brown he has become a bit redundant.

1 Kulemin-Bozak-Kessel

2 Versteeg-Kadri-Armstrong

3 Sjostrom-Grabovski-MacArthur

4 Brown-Hanson-Orr

1 Phanuef-Beauchemin

2 Kaberle-Komisarek

3 Schenn-Gunnarsson

Another player I feel could be AHL bound is London Knights standout centre Nazem Kadri.  He hasn’t looked himself (early) and barring a turnaround and some prolonged consistent play I think the AHL is just what he needs to continue his development physically and maybe more importantly, mentally.  It would be a good test for Kadri and the Leafs to see how we would potentially deal with the disappointment of beginning the year in the minor leagues.  Let’s face it Kadri isn’t Sidney Crosby (duh), he still has a long way to go and I think growing up a bit might actually be the first step and when I view him on most nights his overall body language to me screams ‘entitlement’.  Some of the top players in the game have honed their crafts in the underrated and valuable AHL.

So if Kadri is Toronto Marlies bound to begin the year, what are the Leafs options in terms of the most effective line-up?  I think the defence core remains the same until or unless one of the current “top six” either gets injured or is simply ineffective.  That is an extremely deep and promising group of defenders and with Luke Schenn appearing confident early, it will be a real area of strength for the team on the ice and in the front office should Brian Burke feel the need to address his weakness at the centre ice position by moving one of Kaberle, Beauchemin, Komisarek and depending if he gets blown away with an offer and he comes out of the gate strong, Schenn.

Here is my ideal line-up:

1 Kulemin-Bozak-Kessel

2 Versteeg-Grabovksi-MacArthur

3 Caputi-Mitchell/Kadri-Armstrong

4 Brown-Hanson-Orr

Honestly I do like the first line-up with Grabovski on the third line adding some solid scoring depth, but only if Nazem Kadri proves to be big league ready right off the bat, which so far (very early on) is just not the case.  So I moved Grabo up to the 2nd line centre role between newcomers Kris Versteeg and Clarke MacArthur.  This could prove to be a solid goal scoring line with all three players capable of sniping up to 20-25 goals while adding a nice touch of speed and skill to the line-up.  We brought in both Versteeg and MacArthur to pick up the scoring slack so no sense wasting either in a lesser 3rd line role. 

Speaking of the 3rd line, this is John Mitchell’s chance to prove he belongs, likely his last opportunity to do so in the NHL.  He’ll be between Luca Caputi and Colby Armstrong, both players who can skate, hit and hopefully score a few while playing a sound defensive game.  Caputi has shown up to camp in tremendous shape and looks to be bigger, stronger and most importantly faster on his skates.  He has been a big prospect for a few years and he needs to start showcasing that potential this season.  We already know what Armstrong brings, and he will be a fan favourite for his rambunctious style of play.  This could be an effective, abrasive and solid checking style line with the chance to pop in a few goals and make some things happen down low and on the cycle.

The argument for keeping Kadri on the team and playing with the 3rd line unit is simple, give him a chance to stay with the big club and hopefully simplify his game and improve his defensive shortcomings by throwing him into the fire.  It is doubtful the Leafs will want to do this and would likely prefer him starring in the AHL in a more prolific offensive role, but it’s a thought to ponder.

The 4th line is a pure energy and momentum changing line with two solid skating big men (Hanson and Brown) who aren’t scared to get their noses dirty and of course the Leafs heavyweight (Orr).  Mike Brown could prove to be one of Burke’s best offseason additions with his tenacity, strong skating and hitting tendencies and a bonus that he is a great penalty killer.  I like Christian Hanson and I think he deserves to be on this team and I look for a breakout season and a potential move up to the 3rd line depending on how Mitchell/Kadri performs.  Colton Orr brings his usual presence and huge right hand on a nightly basis and he could be the best pure fighter in Leafs history?

A lot of the Leafs success will clearly rest with the defence and as long as we stay healthy and each player plays up to his potential it should be one of the better groups in the NHL.  Goaltending will also be imperative to any potential playoff berth and I think I can safely say (knock on wood) that there is no way it can be any worse than what the sieve named Vesa Toskala provided us last season, especially early when we started so terribly.  JS Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson provide a pretty solid tandem and it finally appears we have a couple solid young tenders in the system in Jussi Rynnas, Ben Scrivens and Reimer.

We can make the playoffs a reality if:

-Phil Kessel stays healthy

-Tyler Bozak and Nik Kulemin play the entire season with Kessel and they continue building (and improving) on their success and chemisty from last season

-Dion Phaneuf scores 15+ goals and returns to the dominating (maybe slightly calmer) physical presence and power play star

-Luke Schenn forces Ron Wilson to play him 20+ minutes due to outstanding play, which in turn allows Brian Burke to move one of our excess defenseman (Kaberle) for a top notch centre

-Mikael Grabovski has a career year (60+ points)

-Nazem Kadri joins the Leafs half way through the season and starts to contribute at the big league level, consistently, adding much needed secondary scoring

-Versteeg, Armstrong, Brown, MacArthur, Komisarek, Beauchemin and Giguere simply play to their career norms, or slightly above

-Jonas Gustavsson’s play forces Ron Wilson to re-think the tandem due to extremely consistent performances

-Improved play from Hanson, Caputi, Mitchell and Kulemin

-Ron Wilson and the coaching staff improve the worst special teams in the history of the franchise, two years running

-We don’t start the year 0-7-1 and we drastically improve our putrid shootout record post lockout

What are your other keys to a successful Maple Leafs season?  What are you looking for from the team this year?  Who are you most excited, nervous, and anxious or worried about?

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As stated in my earlier post on some musing of the NHL Rookie Tournament involving the game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Chicago Black Hawks I was in attendance of the game last night and took the time to go over some observations and general feel of the game.  Here is a recap:

Nazem Kadri didn’t look that hot, he never got into the flow of the game and tried to do to much at times.  Most of my section was generally unimpressed with him not even hoping for highlite reel plays but to just play even an effective simple game with solid passing and positional play.  It wasn’t his night as he didn’t win draws or make much of an impact outside a nice hit or two.

**UPDATE: Nazem Kadri suffered a minor injury in last night’s game, which makes some sense to me given how he didn’t look like himself at all.  His body is likely going through hell right now with his first real off-season dedicated to conditioning and weight lifting to add some much needed strength and size to survive the rigors of a full NHL season.

Let him rest and come back strong for camp, this is a huge adjustment for him physically.

Sondre Olden looked unreal, flashing great speed and skill to go along with great size.  He could be a keeper going forward, possible steal?

Jerry D’Amigo is still a ways off, no chance he cracks the Leafs roster this season, who’s spot would he realistically take?

Brayden Irwin looked improved, slightly better skating (could it get worse?) and he won nearly every draw he took.  Still a long shot to ever play in the NHL though in a meaningful role, a possible 4th line centre?

Greg McKegg looked fundamentally sound (as advertised) but he has more flash and dash than I expected, definitely looks like a possible second liner scoring winger for the future.  Could McKegg be a more effective pro than Kadri, that was the talk making the rounds with some excellent and knowledgeable fans.

Jussi Rynnas looked shaky at best in the first period but settled down after that and made a few good saves as the Leafs were outshot and outplayed.  The Hawks goalie looked terrible all night and gave up a few questionable first period goals.

Jesse Blacker moved the puck nicely (no Keith Aullie tonight, who I really wanted to see!)

Korbinian Holzer had my entire section in awe, always in position and used his size and strength all night and was never beat one on one.  Good debut, could be a solid 5-6 d’man.

-Nobody from the Hawks wanted anything to do with tough guy Jamie Devane, he tried to get a couple things going with some opposing forwards, all for not. 

-Marcel Mueller looked impressive, he used his size and strength and big frame to his advantage.

-No Mike Liambas tonight (player suspended from the OHL for hit in 2010) as he wasn’t dressed, there was a lot of discussion surrounding him and his reputation.

Here is the entire roster as given by the JLC crew to each fan in attendance:

G – Andrew Engelage, 6’5″ – 206 AGE 22, Jussi Rynnas, 6’5″ – 205 AGE 23, Ben Scrivens, 6’2″ – 192, AGE 24

D – Keith Aullie, 6’5″ – 217 AGE 21, Jesse Blacker, 6’1″ – 190 AGE 19, Erik Burgdoerfer, 6’2″ 210 AGE 21, Dave Cowan, 6’4, 205 AGE 24, Marc-Andre Dorian, 5’11” – 172 AGE 23, Simon Gysbers, 6’4″ – 200 AGE 23, Korbinian Holzer 6’3″ – 205 AGE 22, Dallas Jackson 6’2″, 188 AGE 21, Drew Paris 6’4″, 200 AGE 22, Barron Smith, 6’5″ – 205 AGE 19

F – Sam Carrick, 6’0″ – 188 AGE 18, Andrew Crescenzi, 6’4″ – 195 AGE 19, Jerry D’Amigo, 5’11” – 208 AGE 19, Jamie Devane, 6’5″ 217 AGE 19, Brayden Irwin, 6’5″ 215 AGE 23, Nazem Kadri 6’0″? – 188 AGE 19, Mike Liambas, 5’9″ – 204 AGE 21, Greg McKegg 6’0″ – 190 AGE 18, Dale Mitchell 5’9″ – 200 AGE 21.

So I took in the Toronto Maple Leafs vs. the Chicago Blackhawks rookie squad tournament game tonight and I am going to make a bold prediction, there wasn’t one single Maple Leafs player that is a first line forward or top two defensemen playing tonight, Nazem Kadri included.  Don’t get me wrong, Kadri is a fine hockey player and can add a lot to a team but I have never been that sold on him as a first line centre going forward and I think at best he is a poor man’s Scott Gomez, while at worst he could be run out of town by the brutal Toronto media.

Kadri looked awful, he couldn’t win a faceoff, he went 1 on 3, he made bad passes and he looked anything but a promising dynamic offensive player.  Now, it was only one game, and a rookie squad tournament game at that, but Kadri did not look good tonight and I think the jury is out on him league wide.  What type of player can a smallish forward truly become in the NHL without the overall pedigree and skill set of say a Sidney Crosby, Zach Parise or Taylor Hall, players who have absolutely dominated at every level of hockey.

The night started at a local pub outside the John Labatt Centre in London, Ontario – a great city and a great venue.  I had noticed a large family sitting at a table near my wife and I while we were having a few drinks and I kept saying to her that the man (father) at the table looked familiar, when he left it hit me, Nazem Kadri’s father and family, pretty cool.  When we got to the JLC who was sitting in the box basically right beside us?  Brian Burke, Ron Wilson and the Maple Leafs brass – taking in the tournament and scouting out some future Maple Leafs Marlies prospects.  I doubt they were too impressed and during the intermission there packed box was intently watching some college football (American colleges of course).

The Leafs were soundly outplayed by the Blackhawks rookie squad and were it not for absolutely shabby goaltending from the Hawks tender the score would have been quite different in my opinion.  Leafs goaltender (and future Marlies goalie) Jussi Rynnas looked shaky in the first period but settled down and overall played a pretty solid game.  Other players who made a strong impression in my eyes were forwards Greg McKegg (62nd overall pick in the latest draft), Bradley Ross (43rd overall) as well as defensemen Jesse Blacker and hulking European Korbinian Holzer who never looked out of place and played a strong two-game game.

Brayden Irwin hardly lost a faceoff and played a solid two-way game but the Leafs player I was most impressed with was easily Norwegian forward Sondre Olden.  Olden, drafted 79th overall in 2010 showed unbelievable speed and skill and was easily the best Leafs forward all night with his consistent effort and drive in all situations on the ice.  Invisible or ineffective were Jerry D’Amigo (awful passing and turnovers, very ineffective) and the aformentioned Nazem Kadri while Marcel Mueller looked to be a man playing against boys as he flashed great strength, size and puck control on more than a few occasions, definitely promising.

As I looked at the Leafs press box and saw Brian Burke (who killed at least 4 coffees) I couldn’t help but think that he wished Tyler Seguin was in camp and trying to impress the Leafs brass as opposed to this relatively lacklustre group that is likely filled with future Marlies and maybe less than a handful of future Leafs (role) players.  I know we all love Phil Kessel but seeing what rookies are currently in the system is a bit depressing and if they were ranked league wide the Leafs would definitely be in the bottom half (or quarter) of the league in terms of young talent in the pipeline, without a doubt.

Luckily our major league roster is actually somewhat filled with solid talent (25 years and younger) because the stream of talent from our drafts and minor league system looks pretty bare and with no first round picks coming from last draft or the upcoming draft it isn’t likely to improve much from here.  Please don’t take this as a doom and gloom piece, we are finally building up some much needed depth and there is definitely talent within our system, but it is obviously lacking (according to most respected league sources) in any top end dynamic talent outside of hopefully Nazem Kadri, but Kadri is undersized and unproven and I hope in six months I am eating my words but for now I remain sceptical.