Leafs, Stajan expect big things

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:34 AM ET

The date for Matt Stajan to move into his downtown condo has been pushed back to May from December. But the 21-year-old Maple Leafs forward has no interest in waiting to take another step in his burgeoning hockey career.

"I know I am good enough to play in the NHL," Stajan said. "I proved that to myself and a lot of people two years ago and I want to make sure I can have that spot this year."

Though it has been just two years since Stajan excelled at camp and earned a spot with the big club, much has changed. After a season in which he struggled initially with St. John's of the AHL, he will be relied upon to be more than just an accidental scorer with the Leafs. Stajan had 14 goals and 13 assists in 69 games in 2003-04, totals he acknowledged yesterday he still finds surprising.

"I look back at my rookie year and thought I overachieved," Stajan said. "I don't think anyone thought I would score 14 goals. I expect a lot more of myself now."

So do the Leafs. Where Stajan fits in when coach Pat Quinn settles on his forward lines remains to be seen. But it's clear that wherever Stajan winds up, general manager John Ferguson has high expectations.

"It's a big year for Matt," Ferguson said. "He's a guy we're counting on to come in and not only make the club but contribute and take the next step in his career."

ROSTER MOVES

Though it doesn't concern Stajan, Ferguson said he expects there will be some roster moves before the end of the weekend, if not today. The Blue and White game is tomorrow at the Ricoh Coliseum and Sunday night brings the pre-season opener against the Ottawa Senators at the Air Canada Centre.

Stajan was stronger in the AHL as last season wore on. Thanks to the lockout, he was able to play in situations that would not have presented themselves in the NHL.

"I played the power play, penalty kill, the last few minutes of periods and I would not have had that I played in Toronto," Stajan said. "I was fortunate to have that opportunity when everybody else was sitting at home."

Stajan has played spurts on the wing and is willing to make the switch full-time if it means a steady and productive role.

"I'll play any wing, fourth-line centre, whatever," Stajan said. "Some of us are going to have to make some sacrifices and move to the wing. That's fine."

And as for that condo? He's not going to stay at his parents' place in Mississauga, where he lived during his freshman year, while it is being built.

"I'll rent," Stajan said. "I felt like I developed as a player and moreso I grew off the ice (in St. John's). Maybe a few nights a week I will go home for some home-cooked meals. It's always good to have that."


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