Leafs' Pohl earns praise from Quinn

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

When John Pohl was traded from the St. Louis Blues organization to the Maple Leafs last August for future considerations, he joked that he wasn't sure whether it was "for two cases of pucks, or three."

Judging by the enthusiasm of his coaches in the Leafs system now, you couldn't pry him away from Toronto for an entire puck factory.

Earlier this year, Marlies coach Paul Maurice compared his style to that of classy future Hall of Famer Ron Francis and that's never a bad thing.

Leafs coach Pat Quinn's face breaks into a wide smile when he talks about the contribution Pohl has made the past 10 days since being recalled from the Marlies.

Quinn has used Pohl more and more each game and even had him on the ice during the overtime session against Buffalo the other night.

"He has been real good," Quinn said. "I thought he got stronger as the game went on (Thursday) night. Third period he had some good shifts. Good enough that when we got to overtime, he was one of the guys we used."

When called up for the first time on Dec. 19, Pohl was leading the Marlies in scoring with 19 goals. Though he hasn't scored in three games with the Leafs, he has impressed with his ability to control the puck and his poise.

Eventually and inevitably, he'll be back with the Marlies when some of the Leafs' injured players start to get healthy, but he can consider this stint with the big team as an investment in his own future.

"The opportunity he's getting now I'm sure is making him believe that he can be a guy who plays in this league," Quinn said. "I don't doubt it for a minute now after watching him for myself these past few games.

"He's dogged, he's not afraid to play; he has tried some things, so he has got an imagination; and he's got a conscience about playing defensively, so he has got lots of good tools.

"At training camp, as a coach you don't always see all that. Even though we played him a couple of games, he wasn't as noticeable but watching him more closely in these games, he has shown that he's heading in the right direction, that's for sure."

Born and raised in Minnesota, the 26-year-old was the lynchpin of the 2002 NCAA champion Minnesota Golden Gophers. Over his four-year college career, he amassed 71 goals and 200 points in 165 games.

His first two years in the Blues farm system at Worcester, Mass., he scored 26 and 16 goals respectively, but missed most of last year with a broken thumb. In need of a change of scenery, he seems to have found a new lease on life in Toronto. He says he has been feeling more at home with the Leafs each game.

"I'm a lot more comfortable," Pohl said. "The first game I had jitters and I was playing wing, which is a little different.

"The second game, I was back at centre and I just tried, no matter what, to be responsible defensively. Last game I just said to myself, 'Go play.'

"That's what I have to do. I'm not the fastest and I don't have the best hands, but if I can be strong on the puck and a tough player to play against, I'm a lot better off.

"Whatever happens is going to happen. It's part of the job. When guys come back and if I go back down, no problem. I'll do my best and help the Marlies win.

"If and when they do send me down, hopefully I've left a good impression and then, if they ever need somebody again, they'll feel confident enough to call on me."

He doesn't have to worry much about that. Not only was he the Marlies' leading scorer, but the guy Maurice wanted on the ice in all the important defensive situations.

In only his third game with the Leafs the other night, he was on the ice for 15 minutes 35 seconds. Only five Leafs forwards logged more ice time than Pohl that game.

Coming from Quinn, a coach who doesn't give minutes away without a reason, that's the best compliment a new player can get.


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