There was a time when disgruntled Maple Leaf fans would have claimed the "A" sewn on the front of Nik Antropov's jersey stood for "awful."
But that is far from the case these days for the veteran forward, who has assumed an alternate captain's role while defenceman Bryan McCabe is sidelined with a groin injury.
"He deserves it," captain Mats Sundin said. "Nik has been great. I've enjoyed watching his development. There is no doubt he should be a star in this league.
"He has exhibited leadership and he is leading the way for us."
Antropov's 15 points in 13 games ranks him among the league's top scorers, an impressive feat considering he has collected most of those numbers on a line other than Sundin's.
While he claims not to peep at the stats sheet, his lofty scoring status has made him the target of light-hearted dressing room ridicule.
"The guys bug me about it," Antropov laughed. "The thing is, I'm not doing anything different. If I knew why things were working so good now, I would have done them years ago."
BELL'S TIME COMING
Suspended forward Mark Bell is champing at the bit to make his Leaf debut Tuesday in Ottawa.
"Watching the guys and not being out there can drive you crazy," said Bell, who has not played in an NHL game since May when he was a member of the San Jose Sharks.
Coach Paul Maurice said Bell likely will start on the fourth line and will be eased into the lineup.
Yesterday marked the 48th anniversary of the game in which the legendary Jacques Plante first emerged with a mask over his face. "I wouldn't have been caught dead without a mask," goalie Andrew Raycroft said when informed of the date. "It was a different era, and guys didn't raise the puck. But I still probably would not have been a goalie under those circumstances." ... While forward Kyle Wellwood (groin) accompanied the team on its trip to New Jersey and Montreal, the injured McCabe, Carlo Colaiacovo (knee) and Darcy Tucker (knee) stayed behind to rehab. Wellwood will participate in game day skates, but won't play this weekend.