Leaf players make their push

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:30 AM ET

Kyle Wellwood has been making a case as one of the game's better young offensive players for a few years now, and it turns out he is a heck of an honest guy, as well.

The 22-year-old centre was terrific against the Montreal Canadiens last night at the Air Canada Centre in a 4-3 Maple Leafs pre-season victory, but appears resigned to making a living at the Ricoh Coliseum this winter.

"I don't expect to make the (Leafs), but if things open up I could get lucky," Wellwood said after scoring a pair of goals, including the winner.

"They have a lot of good players up the middle and there is not really a roster spot. I think I will end up getting some games at some point, but as far as playing full-time, that will be hard."

Wellwood, a wizard with the puck who once was traded for Jason Spezza in junior, is correct in his assessment. With Mats Sundin, Jason Allison, Eric Lindros and Matt Stajan ahead of him on the depth chart -- and with a strong run from fellow centre Alexander Steen -- Wellwood will be in tough to crack the Leafs once camp breaks. But he is not about to shrug his shoulders and wait for coach Pat Quinn to tell him he has been cut.

Wellwood was named the first star last night despite centring a line with Nathan Perrott and Brad Leeb, and scored one of the highlight-reel goals for which he has become known.

On a 2-on-1 early in the second period, Wellwood held on to the puck, waited for defenceman Craig Rivet to commit and roofed a shot over the glove hand of goalie Yann Danis.

Later in the period, Wellwood, who was fourth in AHL scoring last season, stepped off the side boards and wired a slapshot past goalie Carey Price. That was the winner.

"That is what we want, for our young guys to come in and give us some fresh life and know they are going to continue to get better," Quinn said.

"Steen had another fine game in a two-way sense. (With Wellwood), we have not seen a real negative."

Nor have the Leafs seen many negatives in the play of 42-year-old Steve Thomas, who is in camp without a contract but with plenty of heart.

Thomas, who was loudly cheered by the announced crowd of 18,853 each time he possessed the puck, scored off a goal-mouth scramble in the second period, further enhancing his chances of being a Leaf for the third time in his long NHL career.

"I didn't really make too many mistakes and thought I played really well," Thomas said. "I've always had the confidence I could still play at this level. (But) I don't think I have ever done enough."

Quinn defended Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky, neither of whom was overly special on a line with Sundin.

The Leafs had a scare early in the third period when hotshot Habs rookie Guillaume Latendresse kneed Antropov. Favouring his left knee, Antropov left briefly for the dressing room, but returned.

The Leafs were 1-for-11 with a man-advantage and the Canadiens were 2-for-8.

J.F. Racine started in goal for the Leafs and looked sharp in stopping 15 of 16 shots. Mikael Tellqvist took over midway through the second period and made 16 saves on 18 shots.


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