Young Leafs a bright spot

MIKE ZEISBERGER, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 7:08 AM ET

Kyle Wellwood peers around the Maple Leafs dressing room and feels like he is in a time warp.

It was just three years ago that Wellwood joined fellow forward Matt Stajan and defencemen Brendan Bell, Carlo Colaiacovo and Ian White on the Team Canada roster at the 2002-03 world junior hockey championship.

Toiling for Sweden at that same tournament was a talented kid named Alex Steen, son of former Winnipeg Jets icon Thomas Steen.

Those '03 worlds would prove to be a preview of the Leafs future, a window of what was in store for the Toronto organization.

That time has come.

All six players have enjoyed stints with the Leafs this season and represent the foundation of the franchise for years to come.

In what has been a topsy-turvy ride for Leafs management this season, at least there is optimism concerning the up-and-coming kiddy corps.

Wellwood, Stajan, Steen and White each racked up points during a 7-0 drubbing of the Buffalo Sabres Saturday night, a laugher dominated by Toronto's young legs.

And while Bell and Colaiacovo are out with injuries, Wellwood hopes all six one day can suit up together.

"It would be fun if all of us were in the lineup at the same time," said Wellwood, whose Leafs meet the Sabres again tonight at the Air Canada Centre.

"Hopefully by the end of the season we have proven we can do the job at this level."

With the team's playoff hopes dangling by a thread, general manager John Ferguson can take consolation in the development of so many impressive youngsters.

While some of Ferguson's free-agent deals have been head-scratchers, his determination to bulk up the scouting and player development departments is paying dividends.

Perhaps his shrewdest move was luring Paul Maurice here to become head coach of the Toronto Marlies.

Significant improvement in a number of prospects has been quite evident under the guidance of Maurice, the man who led the 2002 Carolina Hurricanes to an unlikely berth in the Stanley Cup final against the Detroit Red Wings.

"The teaching of the (Marlies) coaching staff has been huge for us,"said White, whose diminutive stature has seen him flourish in the more wide-open environment of the new NHL.

"Paul is a good teacher, a good coach and brings a lot to the table. Not only do you learn a lot from him but you are always prepared."

White scored his first NHL goal against the Sabres, perhaps a sign of things to come.

Just another significant moment from one of the many Leafs who played in the 2003 junior worlds.


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