Versatility may help Stajan earn his Leafs jersey

MIKE ZEISBERGER --

, Last Updated: 8:06 AM ET

If Matt Stajan is looking for increased ice time at centre in 2005-06, he likely will have to plough through lots of hulking hockey beef to do it.

Despite bulking up during the off-season, Stajan, 21, still might be muscled out of a job up the middle by towering centres Mats Sundin, Eric Lindros and Jason Allison.

Should coach Pat Quinn stick to his tentative plan of having Sundin, Allison and Lindros centre his first three lines, the Mississauga native either will have to settle for centering the fourth unit or shift over to the wing.

That's fine with Stajan, who will do whatever it takes just as long as he is wearing that Toronto Maple Leafs crest on his jersey.

"I really don't care where I play. I just want to earn a spot with the Leafs," Stajan said yesterday after participating in an informal game of shinny with various NHLers at a Toronto-area rink.

"I've played the wing most of my life. They only put me at centre in junior. Then, last year, I played some wing down in St. John's.

"Either way it's an easy adjustment. It's good to be versatile."

For the record, Sundin said Tuesday that he "prefers to play centre."

As for Stajan, there is no bitterness in his voice when he speaks of Lindros and Allison, the two high-profile centres signed by Maple Leafs general manager John Ferguson.

In fact, Stajan has been impressed with the two veterans during the pickup games being held this week.

"They are both great players and it's been fun to skate with them," he said.

"In fact, when you are out there with them, you realize how much (physically) stronger the team is.

"It's unfortunate that we lost the guys that we did but John Ferguson did a great job replacing them. It's nice to see the way the team is shaping up."

Viewed as one of the most promising up-and-comers in the Toronto organization, Stajan is taking nothing for granted when he arrives at the Ricoh Coliseum for the start of training camp on Sept. 12.

"Like every camp, you have to earn a spot," he said. "That's the way I'm looking at it. I'm not taking anything for granted."


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