Few would have predicted that Staffan Kronwall, Andy Wozniewski, Kyle Wellwood and J-F Racine still would be in Maple Leafs training camp one week before the season opener.
Yet all four youngsters have been impressive in the past two weeks, forcing the Leafs brass to take a long, hard look at the kids entering the club's final three pre-season games.
With Ken Klee still on the limp and Carlo Colaiacovo enduring a few pre-season penalty problems, Kronwall and Wozniewski both hope their auditions to earn a spot on the Maple Leafs blue line are going well.
"I think I've actually been pretty good in scrimmage but, as for the three exhibition games, I'm really not that happy with myself," Kronwall said. "I think I can play better. Hopefully I can get one more game in."
Wozniewski understands a spot on the Marlies defence in the American Hockey League is a realistic possibility.
"If that were to happen I wouldn't call it a disappointment," he said. "But at the same time I am working hard right now, trying to do everything right. I think I have a good shot at (making the Leafs)."
Klee, Aki Berg, Tomas Kaberle, Alexander Khavanov and Bryan McCabe are pencilled in as Toronto's top five defencemen. Coach Pat Quinn likes Wade Belak's versatility, while veteran Bryan Marchment is battling for a spot as well.
Wellwood leads the Leafs with five points in four pre-season games, making his once-predicted demotion to the Marlies not such a slam dunk as first thought.
"Yes, I said previously that I didn't expect to make the team,"the centre said. "But I'll definitely try to play well and hopefully something will open up."
Racine, meanwhile, has taken advantage of a muscle injury to J-S Aubin and an at-times shaky camp by Mikael Tellqvist to enter into the derby for the back-up goalie job.