Leafs' kids get a chance

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

When the National Hockey League holiday roster freeze ends at midnight, you might expect the beleaguered Maple Leafs to scan the night sky for a relief air drop.

But it looks like the best they will get is to have a swing by from Ricoh Coliseum. Losing four players from the top two lines -- at least three of them until January -- has not yet convinced general manager John Ferguson to go over the salary cap short-term, by going outside the organization for help.

The Leafs have lost Michael Peca (broken leg), Alexei Ponikarovsky (separated shoulder), Nik Antropov (ankle sprain) and Kyle Wellwood (groin/hip flexor injury).

"You are always considering (trade) opportunities from elsewhere," Ferguson said before last night's game against the Wild. "But we feel this is a great chance for a lot of our young players to show they belong."

However, it hasn't escaped Ferguson that some young Leafs have been among the most difficult cases for coach Paul Maurice. The latter has expressed his concern about the development of Matt Stajan, Alex Steen and defenceman Brendan Bell, while Ferguson was succinct last week that winger Alex Suglobov should back up his desire for more ice time with a better performance.

"It's an opportunity (for young Leafs), not only to be counted on to do more, but expand their role, grab more responsibility and accountability," the GM said. "You're not looking at one player, but for (several) to spread it around."

If he can't get Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin in here, at least Maurice knows what Marlie callups such as Ben Ondrus and Kris Newbury are capable of.

"My personal philosophy is look within, because this is who we are," Maurice said "This is our first real test of adversity."

At or near the top of this list of troubled youth is winger Alex Steen, whom Maurice has attempted to pair with Mats Sundin of late.

"He's competed a lot harder in the last little while and slowly gotten better," Maurice said. "That's really what we're asking.

"We're in a position where we need all these guys to step up."


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