It's your time young men

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:36 AM ET

When the Maple Leafs began training camp a year ago, Kyle Wellwood gave a frank statement to reporters: He did not think he stood much of a chance to make the team.

Wellwood was right. He did not crack the club out of camp, but was recalled from the Toronto Marlies after Mats Sundin was hurt in the season opener and did not miss another game.

EVERYDAY PLAYER

Wellwood wound up with 11 goals and 34 assists in 81 games and proved he could be an everyday NHL player. Now, however, he does not think that is good enough.

"I am expecting a lot of things -- to produce a lot, become a key member of the team and hopefully establish myself as a player to pay attention to out there," the 23-year-old Wellwood said. "I am lot more confident. Last year we had so many long-term veterans, players that required ice time and other things where you did not want to step on their toes.

"This year I really have the opportunity to move in and be a good player."

One of the byproducts of the Leafs' coaching change will be that young players won't have to wait for older colleagues to get hurt before they receive a true shot. In turn, youngsters such as Wellwood,Alex Steen and Matt Stajan have no choice but to become bigger parts of the team. That message was sent indirectly during the summer when general manager John Ferguson added only one forward, Michael Peca. And Peca was not signed to score goals.

Stajan did not make an upward move in the points department last season when he equalled his rookie output with 27 points. At 22, Stajan has said he expects more of himself.

Put Steen, 22, in the same boat.

Steen also had a fine rookie season, scoring 18 goals and adding 27 assists. Importantly for the Swede, he knows better what to expect from having played a year in the NHL. In the latter third of 2005-06, he became tired with the pace.

"I think the high expectations on us come from ourselves," Steen said. "I don't think we think too much about what the expectations are from the media and the outside. I think the more important things are the goals we set for ourselves."


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