Darcy Tucker held onto the puck on an odd-man rush, flipped a nice backhand pass to Jason Allison and watched as Allison beat the goalie with a nifty deke.
Though the pretty play occurred during an informal scrimmage at a Toronto-area rink yesterday, Tucker is hoping it is the kind of thing that repeats itself this season, whether it is with Allison or another of his Maple Leafs teammates.
After spending much of his previous eight seasons in the NHL as a physical pest who could chip in on the scoresheet every so often, Tucker is prepared to be more of an offensive contributor.
"I feel much fresher than I did when I left the game a year and a half ago,"Tucker said. "I've probably shot myself in the foot in the past being over-zealous with my physical play. This year I want to try to find areas on the ice where I don't get bounced around as much."
That's not to say there won't be times when Tucker doesn't try to run opposing players through the end boards. But getting back to his roots as a points producer is a clear goal. Though Tucker won't come near the combined 277 points he piled up in his final two years of junior with the Kamloops Blazers in the mid-1990s, he figures scoring 30 goals this season is a possibility.
When he broke into the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens full-time in 1996-97 -- one season after taking top-rookie honours in the American Hockey League -- Tucker, a natural centre, found himself behind Vincent Damphousse, Pierre Turgeon and Saku Koivu on the Habs depth chart. It took no time for Tucker to realize that he wouldn't be sticking in the NHL if all he tried to do was score.
Tucker, who turned 30 last March, had career highs of 24 goals and 59 points with the Leafs in 2001-02.
"Maybe I was cast into a different role (in Montreal) and it seemed to follow me around wherever I went," Tucker said. "Everyone is skeptical until you produce. It's up to me from this point forward. I'm going to get an opportunity to maybe take on a bigger role leadership-wise and offensively."
Tucker has had this in mind for a while. After having stomach surgery in June 2004, and rather than just worry about his lot in life during the lockout, Tucker embarked on a new training regimen. He concentrated more on building muscle in his legs and core, and weighs about 178 pounds -- 10 less than his weight the previous time Leafs fans saw him.
"Hopefully it was a good year for my body and my mental state," Tucker said. "I've taken great strides to make myself a better player. We have a lot to prove this year as a hockey team and a lot of individuals have a lot to prove."