Lumbering Nik Antropov never will give the Donovan Baileys of the world a run for their money.
But he might surprise those who think he can't keep up on Mats Sundin's wing this season. While coach Paul Maurice is still formulating lines for training camp, expect Antropov to get a week or two with Sundin to show the Kazakh put summer conditioning to good use.
He looked spry enough yesterday at a Toronto arena where more than 20 Maple Leafs and Marlies began informal workouts in advance of the main camp on Sept. 14.
"I've never been a fast guy in my life," Antropov said with a laugh. "But I've been working a lot on core strength (through the lower torso) and that's going to help me get in the right position on the ice.
"I haven't heard anything yet about playing with Mats, but our line (with Alexei Ponikarovsky) was really clicking in the last 20 games. Who knows what will happen?"
The addition of free agent centre Mike Peca gives Maurice and assistants Keith Acton, Randy Ladouceur and Dallas Eakins some line options at camp, perhaps keeping Antropov, Ponikarovsky and Sundin intact and building a new unit around Peca, Alex Steen and 28-goal scorer Darcy Tucker.
Antropov was under a barrage of criticism last year, struggling with both the fluid style in the new National Hockey League and another bout of injuries. Fan patience had snapped with the former first round draft choice, even though he came on strong with Sundin in Toronto's late-season run, with 11 points in eight games before another knee problem intervened. He needed to have the knee scoped, but it wasn't as bad as his reconstructive surgery on both joints in previous years.
He also dealt with the passing of his father and ended '05-06 with 31 points in 57 games. Trade rumours surfaced earlier this month amidst talk of saving salary to sign unrestricted free agent Anson Carter. But at this stage, Antropov will get another chance with Maurice taking over from Pat Quinn.
"I'm excited for a lot of reasons; a new season, new coach and new style," Antropov said.
Yesterday's workout was also significant for defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo. Despite being cleared to play last May after a concussion on Jan. 23, the hard-luck Colaiacovo had to wait the whole summer for a chance to test his body against NHLers.
"I'm feeling fine," a relieved Colaiacovo said after a high tempo scrimmage completed the workout. "It has been a slow process, but I don't feel the need to get (too reckless to make up for lost time)."
In his absence, Ian White, Staffan Kronwall, Brendan Bell, Andy Wozniewski and Jay Harrison saw time with the Leafs and had passing grades.
"I wasn't upset, just happy to see my friends do well," Colaiacovo insisted. "The worst part was not feeling part of the team when we did well at the end of the year."