Defence decisions loom

MIKE ZEISBERGER

, Last Updated: 7:07 AM ET

For all the complaining about the alleged ailing state of the Maple Leafs' blue line the past few years, there soon could be an embarrassment of riches there.

Ian White, who scored his first NHL goal Saturday, is the fifth rookie defenceman to register a point for the Leafs this season, joining Staffan Kronwall, Carlo Colaiacovo, Andy Wozniewski and Jay Harrison.

Fellow freshman Brendan Bell, meanwhile, did not look out of place in his brief showing with the Leafs.

Wozniewski, Bell, Kronwall and Colaiacovo are injured right now. But the dilemma facing the Leafs down the road is this: Which of the six, when healthy, will be with the parent club next season?

There is a school of thought that suggests the Leafs might use a couple of the youngsters as trade bait. Once again, the question remains: Which ones?

"It's a good question," Leafs coach Pat Quinn said. "I'm not sure you can go five or six (on the roster) next season, but maybe two or three.

"The thing is, we've only seen a lot of these kids for a short time.

"You have to see them long term to fully understand what they bring to the table."

As he talked about the organization's promising young stable of defencemen, Quinn was reminded of the story of 16-season NHL player Steve Duchesne, a defenceman who flourished much more in the NHL than he did in the minors.

"Steve couldn't play in the AHL," Quinn said. "He was called up to us (with the Los Angeles Kings) because the AHL coach didn't want him."

Forward Mats Sundin has been impressed by the young defencemen. White, in particular, has caught the captain's eye of late.

"He's played really well," Sundin said. "If he's No. 5 on the depth chart, I'd like to see the other four."

WELCOME MATT

The SOS Line of Matt Stajan, Jeff O'Neill and Alex Steen continues to play well, with O'Neill opening the scoring in the Leafs' 7-0 win over Buffalo on Saturday.

Stajan has responded with a vengeance since being benched in Montreal nine days ago.

"Matt knew he needed to be more consistent," Quinn said. "He's growing with every shift he plays."


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