White noise

MIKE ULMER, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

"The thing about Ian White," Mike Penny, the Maple Leafs' director of player personnel was saying yesterday, "is that he keeps telling me he's six-foot-two." Well, they say the best offensive players are the ones with the best imagination.

The good news out of St. John's this year, at least a good portion of it, centres around the remarkable rookie season turned in by Ian White.

Just 20 years old, White is skipping through his first full year as a pro with 15 points in 34 games and a team leading plus-16. He leads the club's defencemen in points and the team in plus-minus. That gaudy plus-16 is the second best among blueliners across the American League.

White has been logging big-time minutes with injuries to Carlos Colaiacovo and Jay Harrison.

"You don't see it in the league statistics but most nights he plays between 28 and 32 minutes a night," said Baby Leafs' coach Doug Shedden. "The guy's been just unbelievable for us."

The Steinbach, Manitoba native has everything you could look for in a Maple Leafs prospect, save for size.

He's about five-nine, maybe 175.

"Yeah, I hear the question about size pretty well every day," he said "and I have for the last five or six years. All I can do is play. If it keeps me from playing in the NHL, it keeps me from playing in the NHL. Until then ..."

It hasn't kept him from anything so far.

Oh, he would have accrued a far gaudier draft position than 191 in 2002. Such is the enduring prejudice of the game that a six-foot-three guy with a fraction of White's talent would have found himself in the big money.

The numbers that have mattered most are the offensive totals, 32 goals for the Swift Current Broncos one year, 24 the next.

"He's an offensive guy," said goalie Mikael Tellqvist. "Real good skater. The guy he reminds me most of is Calle Johannsson."

"The thing I've taken the most pride is the plus-minus," White said. "I wanted to focus on the defensive aspect and improve on that."

White has emerged as the club's little big man. He competes.

"I'd say of the 34 games, he has played well in 32 of them," Shedden said.

The intriguing question, of course, is whether he can keep it up.

The Baby Leafs are spectacular candidates for collapse thanks to one of the most bizarre schedules in sports.

The Baby Leafs, bound for the Ricoh Coliseum next season, are the only American League team still in Atlantic Canada.

Ask Penny what AHL team is closest to St. John's and he taps his loafer against the floor of Copps Coliseum.

"Here," he said. "Our travel has been incredible.When we want to play in Portland, Maine, we have to fly to Toronto, take a plane to Boston and then bus two hours."

The little Leafs kicked off the mother of all road trips last night, a 23-nighter that includes games in Hamilton, Edmonton, Grand Rapids, Chicago, Milwaukee, Hershey, Syracuse, Binghamton, Hershey again and then two in Cleveland."

"It's tough, absolutely it's tough, the fatigue can wear you down but this is what I want to do," White said. "Anyway, we're all in the same boat."

And so, in a rookie season that has defied every expectation, Ian White gets to prove himself that he won't wear down in the trough of a murderous road trip.

"I think he can play in the NHL," said Shedden. "Look at Brian Rafalski in New Jersey and Reijo Ruotsalainen in Edmonton. "Ian battles. All the time."


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