Posts Tagged ‘Tyler Bozak’

Give Kadri time to develop, he'll be just fine.

With Leafs nation all abuzz with the pending preseason cuts and who will and won’t make the club out training camp I wanted to take this time to discuss Nazem Kadri again and basically to say, give the kid a break.  I am not going to feel sorry for him (or any pro athlete) as this is the life they chose and it is filled with amazing perks, monetary compensation and unfortunately in Toronto, a bit of additional pressure for a city starving for a hockey winner but I also feel it is time for a little perspective.

We have to face facts that while we wish he was ready for big league action and our supposed 2nd line centre but reality is Nazem Kadri is still a kid, literally.  Kadri was raised in a big Arabic household in a tight family oriented environment and as a male being raised in such a situation (coupled with the fact he was a minor hockey star at a young age) he was likely treated like a king from birth all the way through until now.  Kadri is more of a kid that a lot of ‘kids’ his age, and I feel he will just take a bit longer to develop both mentally and physically, but the gifts and sheer talent he has been bestowed by the hockey gods are undeniably great. 

Like a lot of kids who don’t leave the nest prior to turning 20 years old I doubt Nazem has experienced much in the way of real life experience or hardship and is still very much reliant on his parents for support, both emotionally and mentally.  Kadri is still a kid adjusting to a very different (and hectic) lifestyle and is also likely away from home for the first time in his life.  He just added approximately 15 lbs of muscle to a very slight frame and likely put his body through an unaccustomed workout regimen that has left him looking slightly slower and less explosive. 

If Nazem Kadri were a baseball player (say Kyle Drabek) he would barely be above ‘A’ ball at this point in his career and there would be zero expectations for an immediate and drastic impact in his first year out of junior hockey.  Tyler Bozak was a rookie for the Leafs in 2009/10 (at the age of 24) and he showed a lot of improvement during the course of the season last year but there were still some things lacking overall from his game early in the year, and he has four years on Nazem, think about that.  Kadri has most of the necessary ingredients to be a solid professional, just needs the time for them to properly simmer and cook.

Only the rarest of rare talents can step out of junior hockey as a boy and play a big time role in a man’s game, although I think we erred when Luke Schenn was not sent back to junior after being drafted 7th overall by the Leafs in 2008, Schenn unlike Kadri was basically a boy in a man’s body.  For every Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos there are countless others that are just not ready to step immediately into the world of professional hockey at the NHL level.

Brian Burke will bring Nazem Kadri into his office and explain to him that the Maple Leafs are happy with his progress thus far, he is coming off an exemplary  junior career and he should try his hardest to ignore the harsh media onslaught and go to the AHL with his head held high.  Work on improving the weakest facets of his game and get accustomed to playing against men and make the necessary adjustments as needed.  We’ll continue to monitor you closely and you are only a step or two away from returning to the big club but don’t worry about things you can’t control, just focus on playing hockey, a game you love.

Folks, Nazem Kadri is a fine young prospect I am hopeful that a bright and promising future lay ahead as a #2 playmaking/sparkplug centre but as Axl Rose said (or sang), what we all need right now is “just a little patience”. 

BRENT MAKING PLAY FOR 3RD LINE CHECKING ROLE

Tim Brent has made noise in training camp for the Leafs in 2010 and the 26 year old is apparently leading the race for the wide open 3rd line checking line centre role.  Brent signed with the Leafs in 2009 and played 33 games for the Toronto Marlies (13 goals, 15 assists in 33 games) and is known as a responsible defensive centre that can win some draws and chip in on the penalty kill.

A career minor leaguer since 2008/09 spanning 97 games Brent (6’0”, 200 lbs) has managed 33 goals and 57 assists, scoring at a 0.92 point per game clip.  He likely won’t be a big time scorer in the NHL but a career minor leaguer will absolutely work his tail off each and every night and it is possible that John Mitchell’s (the man who is most likely to be affected) Maple Leafs career is closer to coming to an abrupt end.

Mitchell has shown some promise but seems to lack ‘jam’ or the extra gear that would allow him to be a consistent and productive pro in the NHL.  It is possible he is one of the youngsters than Brian Burke and Ron Wilson refer to when they discuss the perceived ‘entitlement’ players sometimes feel because they play in a large market with constant attention from the media 24/7.

KEEP IT TO YOURSELF KRIS!

Among growing, disgusting and annoying trends, players who bite, chew and play with their mouthguards obsessively is something I could just as well go without!  I thought when Marco Belinelli (Raptors former swingman) was sent packing we wouldn’t have to endure a high profile player with his mouthguard on display all game, until Kris Versteeg came to town. 

Projected opening night line-up:

Versteeg-Bozak-Kessel

Kulemin-Grabovski-MacArthur

Sjostrom-Brent-Armstrong

Brown-Hanson-Orr

Phaneuf-Beauchemin

Kaberle-Komisarek

Schenn-Gunnarsson

Giguere/Gustavsson

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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?

What a difference twenty four hours can make, of course it might also have to do with a completely different roster of players.  Whatever it was, the Toronto Maple Leafs had a lot more jump and looked very impressive in their 4-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators.  Here are a few observations on some individual performances.

-Once again, Jay Rosehill was a big contributor with his underrated speed and physical presence.  Attacking defenders on the forecheck and leaving no man standing in his wake, Rosey has been one of my favourite Leafs for the past two years, I would love to see him get a 4th line role with the team this year.

Tyler Bozak is here to stay, the kid is legit.  He looks bigger and stronger but unlike Nazem Kadri he still appears to have all of the skills that make him effective, namely, his speed and overall vision on the ice.

Luca Caputi had a strong game and is starting to show glimpses of the potential that made the Pittsburgh Penguins originally draft Caputi as he notched a goal and an assist and a strong physical presence.

Phil Kessel was his normal dynamic self and Nik Kulemin appears poised to take another step forward this year in his development.

Luke Schenn appears to have regained his confidence and showcased an improving level of confidence and poise en route to a very solid game.  If Schenn is only our #5 or 6 defenseman the Leafs are in amazing shape on the blue line.  Jesse Blacker looked like a major leaguer and will give the Leafs even more headaches when trying to decide the final NHL roster before the season starts.

Mikael Grabovski has a boatload of skill and talent, if he puts in the work I see a big year for our #2 centre.  I expect him to play with Kris Versteeg and possibly Clarke MacArthur or Colby Armstrong and potentially score 25 goals and hopefully net 65 points if he can stay healthy.

-Good to see Mike Komisarek back in action, if he can play a smart and simple game he could be a big time addition to the Leafs backend.  If you don’t notice him much, it means he is having a good game, when he tried to over compensate and act like a crazy head hunter is when his game suffers.

All in all a much improved effort with the Leafs showcasing a pretty impressive combo of speed, skill and truculence (I had to say it).  When I think of the two different groups the Leafs put on the ice in game one and two I am actually pretty excited to think of assembling the best 4 lines of forwards and top 6 defenseman and turning it into one complete roster, I think the Leafs could surprise a few teams this year regardless of the rest of the preseason, Brian Burke has this team heading in the right direction.