Pohl gets a shot at more

BILL LANKHOF -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:54 AM ET

Kyle Wellwood's misfortune may be the best thing that ever happened to John Pohl.

It is the ying and the yang of sports. Harsh as it may be, one man's demise is another's opportunity. It has ever been thus or, at least, since Pipp begat Gehrig; like Caudill begat Henke or Ballard eventually begat the octopus otherwise known as MLSEL.

Just weeks ago, as training camp opened, Pohl was looking at fourth-line duty with hopes of proving he deserved better. But the depth chart at centre had him behind Mats Sundin, Matt Stajan, Mark Bell and Kyle Wellwood. Pohl also has played on the wing.

Then, Bell was suspended by the NHL and now Wellwood has had groin surgery. Suddenly, Pohl is a potential go-to guy in the middle, along with other wannabes Simon Gamache, Chad Kilger, Kris Newbury and Jiri Tlusty.

Leafs management has told its young players if they play consistently they will be rewarded with more ice time and responsibility. Few suspected it would have to happen before the team even broke training camp.

"There's a fine line between the players who make the NHL and those who don't; just like there is a fine line between the players who are really successful and those who aren't," Pohl said. "Last year I got over one plateau and stayed with the club all year. I think I've proven I can play in the NHL. Now I want to prove that I can be a good player and a contributor on an every night basis. My goal is not just to make the team or be in the lineup. I want to contribute ... I want teammates to say, 'We want him out there.'"

Pohl always has been a bit of a darkhorse with a penchant for finding a way to succeed -- in life, in love and now, he hopes, in the NHL

In life, he is a marketing graduate of one of the most prestigious business college's in the U.S. -- the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Business. "I liked hockey better," he said, but hockey didn't always like him best. "I never even thought about the NHL as a possibility until my last year of university.

"I wanted to have something in case the hockey didn't work out. Right now, I'm not sure what I'll do with it (the degree) but I'm glad I've got it."

In love, he scored big in the off-season when he married Krissy Wendell, star of the U.S. women's hockey team. No cornball stuff like walking out of the church under hockey sticks held by the wedding party or exchanging vows at centre ice, either. "Just traditional stuff," Pohl said of the ceremony at a Minnesota church. They honeymooned in Maui, then settled into a new home in Toronto.

Pohl has found his place in the world. Now all he needs is to find his place with the Leafs. He was drafted 255th overall in 1998 by St. Louis and hardly was a sure bet to make it out of Worchester. He was traded to Toronto in 2005 and wound up scoring 36 goals for the Marlies. In his first full NHL season last year he had 13 goals. Scouts say he sees the play well but likely won't be a 30-goal scorer. But he does bring high energy, he has shown more speed this spring, was one of the best players on the ice in a game against Phoenix, and even if his touch with the puck won't be confused with Sundin, he also is projected as more than a fourth-line mucker.

With the Leafs asking their young players to contribute more, Pohl may never find a better moment to prove his value as a Maple Leaf. "We have good veteran forwards who have performed well for a long time but they can't do it alone. I think we have four or five young guys who can step up."

Even before Wellwood's injury, Pohl said his third time through Leafs' camp was proceeding smoother. "I'm more confident. Things are a bit more natural. You know what to expect," he said, "and you're not as intimidated. The play doesn't seem to be as fast as it was when you first came up."

Pohl, it seems, may once again have found his comfort zone. The Leafs can but pray it is so because they may never have needed him more than they do today.


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