Leafs: The early line

Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin skated with Jason Blake and Nik Antropov at the first...

Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin skated with Jason Blake and Nik Antropov at the first on-ice training camp workout (Sun File/Greg Henkenhaf)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:51 AM ET

A glimpse of the future or an early training-camp tease?

Only time will tell if the tantalizing trio of Jason Blake, Mats Sundin and Nik Antropov will remain together to form the Maple Leafs' top line by the time the season opener against the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 3 comes around.

Either way, the sight of the three veterans lining up together for the first on-ice workout of training camp yesterday certainly sent a mid-morning buzz rippling through the Ricoh Coliseum.

Coach Paul Maurice cautioned reporters against reading too much into the opening-day combination, but that didn't stop Blake from enjoying his stint alongside the veteran Leafs captain. It's something, in fact, he could get accustomed to.

"Hopefully it happens," said Blake, who inked a five-year, $20 million US deal with the Leafs during the summer. "Chemistry is a big deal with linemates and I'm sure we won't have a problem with that.

"I've played against Mats for years and the one thing that impresses me is that he is so big and strong. I probably got under his skin a few times. If I get a chance to play with him, it would be a great opportunity."

Sundin would welcome the chance to combine with the speedy Blake on a regular basis, although the Leafs captain also enjoyed playing alongside towering wingers Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky last season.

"Getting an opportunity to play with a guy like (Blake) would be enjoyable," Sundin said. "Who wouldn't want to play alongside a 40-goal scorer?"

Blake's career-best goal-scoring season got off to a rocky start with the New York Islanders a year ago when he was put on a unit with Richard Park and Shawn Bates. While both are serviceable NHLers, they hardly provided the offensive complements.

So, after four games, Blake approached coach Ted Nolan and requested to be bumped up to the team's top line, centred by Alexei Yashin,

"(Park and Bates) are great players and great guys but I just needed a little offence," Blake said. "When (Nolan) put me in that (new) role, I knew that this was it. This is the best shot, so you do your best."

He loved his new one, finishing among the league leaders in goals.

"I was, because of one word -- belief," he said. "I always knew I could do it. I'm not saying I always knew I could score 40 goals, but I always knew I could score and be the best player I can be.

"And it's no different now. It's even raised up a level because I'm in Toronto."

Maurice's penchant for line-juggling will translate into Blake seeing time on Kyle Wellwood's flank, as well.

"I like our chances," Blake said. "I'm not one for predictions, but its a good feeling.

"I wasn't here, but you can sense some of the disappointment from last year. But everyone is excited and there's a good vibe in the room."


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