Kilger gaining confidence

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 12:30 PM ET

Paul Maurice spent a lot of time during the summer watching tape of last season's Maple Leafs in an attempt to get a handle on the players he was about to inherit.

Something about Chad Kilger caught his eye.

"I think Chad got himself to a point where he respected the simple game," Maurice, the Leafs coach, said. "He has a huge shot and great speed and it looked to me like he accepted last year that those were the two things he was going to rely on. He stopped playing that slow kind-of-find-a-hole game."

Kilger, the fourth pick overall by Anaheim in 1995, never has met expectations usually placed on a high pick. But he had a career-high 17 goals last season and was rewarded with a three-year contract as the regular season ended in April.

Of Kilger's 28 points, 25 were at even strength, which tied him for fourth on the club.

The Leafs rewarded him handsomely. Kilger made $475,000 US last season but is at $1.2 million in 2006-07 and will get $800,000 and $700,000 in the following two years respectively.

In five-on-five play, an area where the Leafs were sorely lacking last season, Kilger was one of the few bright spots. The Cornwall native was given an opportunity to play by Pat Quinn, but it was what he did with those minutes that allowed him to improve. As Maurice pointed out, while the obstruction crackdown was good for small players, it aided the big ones as well. Enter the 6-foot-4, 224-pound Kilger.

"Get the puck and go to the net," Kilger said. "With the rule changes, there are a lot more rushes. Before, it used to be dump and clutch and grab and now you are allowed to generate a lot more speed in the neutral zone.

"I'm able to use my size more freely in front of the net."

Case in point came Thursday night in Ottawa during a 6-0 victory against the Senators. Kilger was left by himself in front of Senators goalie Martin Gerber and deposited a pass from Alex Steen into the net. Earlier, Kilger scored a short-handed goal.

COMPETE, CONTRIBUTE

It's doubtful the 29-year-old Kilger is about to have a complete rebirth in his NHL career and start scoring 40 or 50 goals a season. But he owns some confidence now that was missing earlier in his career, when he had stops in Anaheim, Winnipeg, Phoenix, Chicago, Edmonton and Montreal and a few stints in the minors.

"I have gone through a lot of spells where they weren't going in," Kilger said. "I want to compete and contribute. It's something I've done at times but not consistently. I think I can contribute more now."


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