LONDON - The dark side of Bradley Ross gets its first chance to shine Tuesday at the John Labatt Centre against the Ottawa Senators.
The Maple Leafs first pick this year, whom they traded up one round to get at 43rd, has been called a cross between the Tasmanian Devil and Darcy Tucker, with a few expletives tossed in. So, what better test than staring down fellow rookies from the Sens in a schoolyard scrap to preview the Battle of Ontario's next generation?
Without looking for the left winger to go loco after O Canada, Toronto coach Dallas Eakins wants to see Ross raise a little hell.
"Against a rival, that's when you look to your guys to play hard like that, to play key roles," Eakins said Monday. "This isn't like we're playng the Atlanta Thrashers rookies, this is a team in our backyard. And we don't like them.
"Obviously, we'll be looking for him to ramp up his game, as we will with everyone."
Ross was the only CHL player to score 25 goals and ring up more than 200 penalty minutes last year with Portland in the WHL, where he did the dirty work for stars Ryan Johansen and Nino Niederreiter.
"The first game (Saturday's 6-3 win over Pittsburgh), I was a little hesitant," Ross said. "I was just trying to get my feet wet. Playing against a rival team (Ottawa) is a really cool thing. It should be a really good game to watch."
Ross came out of a midget team in his native Lethbridge, Alta., with 82 penalty minutes in 35 games to go with 24 points and has been getting lots of attention ever since. But he claims he came by his agitator's card almost by accident.
"The first year in Portland (2008-09), we weren't too good, there wasn't much scoring and I had to resort to something else. It just kind of became my role. I've been getting better at it, not taking dumb penalties. If I want to make Toronto, I'm going to have to keep doing that."
He will fight, but saves the major penalties for special ocassions.
"(A good agitator) doesn't take dumb penalties, but tries to get under the skin of the good guys, get them off of their game and draw some penalties. If you know (the good players), you really try anything. I don't base my game on how many penalty minutes I get. It all depends what kind of game it is."
Garth Malarchuk, the Leafs' Western scout, remembered when Ross first came on the Leafs' radar.
"Another scout said to me, 'Watch this kid, he's a real (bleep),'"" Malarchuk said. "I thought he meant there was an off-ice problem or he was bad in the dressing room. But the guy said, 'No, he's a real (bleep) on the ice and that's why I love him.'""
The Hockey News draft preview compared him to Tucker, Steve Ott, Matt Cooke and Daniel Carcillo and suggested he was more mature than all of them at 18. Ross draws the line at the mention of Sean Avery and his verbal subterfuge.
"He's a good hockey player, but not the off-ice stuff," Ross said. "You hear stuff (Avery does) and that's not what this organization is about. Some things you can can say and some you can't. I like to play after Tucker, because he can throw the big hit and score the big goals."
Eakins was frank that Ross didn't blow anyone away in his first outing against the Pens.
"I know how he comes advertised, as a guy who likes to agitate and very competitive. My first look, I saw some of that in his game, but he is obviously is going to have to get stronger and faster with a little more endurance, so he can do that every shift. When you see guys in the NHL in that role, it's every shift, they're in your face.
"He's not ready to do that yet. A little bit is he has had a past (issue) with his groin and he's just coming off that."
This past season, Ross was grateful for the polishing work that Portland coaches Mike Johnston and Travis Green did for him.
"Travis worked on me with my shot and in my own zone," Ross said. "He's been there (as a Leaf). Talking to some people he was a great, influential guy here and the fans loved him. It was pretty special to hear that."
Regardless of how he plays Tuesday, Ross will likely come to the main camp and play in one or two exhibitions, but is a realist that '09 first-rounder Nazem Kadri is the focus here and that Toronto lined up three or four sandpaper veterans up front to start this season.
"If I don't make it this year, I have a good team back in Portland waiting and we'll have a good year. It will be good to see older guys and see what professionals do and bring that back to my junior team. The younger guys can watch me do that."