WASHINGTON -- Back in training camp, Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice wondered about two players he knew best.
Would men he coached with the Carolina Hurricanes -- Jeff O'Neill and Bates Battaglia -- have the ability to rebound and become productive NHL regulars again?
O'Neill floated through last season after the death of his brother and it was unclear whether O'Neill would round into shape both mentally and physically this year. Battaglia spent the 2005-06 campaign in the minors under Maurice with the Toronto Marlies and entered camp as somewhat of an afterthought.
A couple of months later, Maurice likes the progress each has made.
"With Jeff, you see it in his hands and his shot," Maurice said. "When he was at his peak, he hit a lot because he was getting there and he was fast. He is starting to finish some checks and his shot is getting off his stick a quicker.
"I think Bates looks like a National Leaguer again. He gets in on the forecheck first, throws a few bodies and controls the puck. The only thing you are not seeing from him is putting pucks in the net, but I think that will come."
For O'Neill, who had a goal and two assists last night and was named first star, the most important factor is his mindset. Simply, his head is back in the game. It shows when he is on the ice -- O'Neill is going to places that wouldn't have crossed his mind a year ago, though he did score 19 goals.
"It's almost like you come to and realize, 'Geez, I am playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs,' " O'Neill said. "Everybody has to deal with adversity and you can either fold or bear through and come out the other end."
At 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, Battaglia knew his best chance of regaining a foothold in the NHL would come if he used his size. That's what he has done and his place in the Leafs lineup is solid.
"Being in the (AHL) all last year, you never knew what was going to happen this year," Battaglia said. "I thank my lucky stars to be where I am now. I am happy to be in the league and getting a regular shift."