'Good pieces in place'

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

The Maple Leafs team jacket is a nice fit on Ron Wilson, but the team itself will have to be tailored by the new coach.

Wilson was with his new charges for the first time yesterday at Lakeshore Lions Arena, mainly to watch the prospects camp, though Alexei Ponikarovsky and Carlo Colaiacovo were among those in the house.

"Don't compare the Leafs to an expansion team," Wilson said when asked if this assignment mirrored his days with the fledgling Anaheim Ducks. "There are good pieces in place, we just have to put in some structure."

Wilson joined the scouts in the stands while 24 kids toiled on the ice. Before watching their power skating session, Wilson had a 10-minute pep talk with the young defencemen, including first-round pick Luke Schenn, who will be given a chance to make the team as an 18-year-old.

Tabbed as a future leader of the pack, it could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Schenn and his coach, who played many positions, including defence, for the Roger Neilson-era Leafs in the late 1970s. Soon after Wilson moved on to play in Europe, the Leafs drafted a number of green blueliners, such as Jim Benning, Bob McGill, Gary Nylund, Al Iafrate, Fred Boimstruck and Craig Muni and rushed most of them into a no-win situation.

But even before Toronto took Schenn fifth overall, Wilson had been talking about incorporating a teenaged defenceman -- under the right circumstances.

"A player has to be more mature than his age, moreso in Toronto," Wilson said. "I was lucky in San Jose with Marc-Edouard Vlasic (who played a full season on defence as a 19-year-old)."

General manager Cliff Fletcher continues to fine-tune the roster, but Wilson said he would be comfortable starting the year coaching the current group. He took special interest yesterday in winger Nikolai Kulemin, who is the other invitee to the prospect camp pegged to start the year with the Leafs.

Schenn and Kulemin will be joined by a third NHL neophyte, 28-year-old Swedish defenceman Jonas Frogren.

Wilson, who spent the past six years in the Western Conference, is trying to familiarize himself with all the Leafs this summer.

"I've not seen them all on the ice, but I'll be open-minded and I hope the players will be open-minded, too," Wilson said. "They will learn to understand my coaching (concepts); good defence and strong on both sides of the puck.

"I'm a believer in attention to detail, because a lost detail is a lost game."

Part of that responsibility will fall to his Sharks assistant coaches Rob Zettler and Tim Hunter, who are both expected to be announced here today, joining incumbent Keith Acton.

Wilson is quickly becoming reacclimatized to Toronto, completing the sale of his home in San Jose home in the past few days, buying new digs in Yorkville, and vowing to take the subway to the Air Canada Centre when he can. He has been spotted by fans a few times already and joked about wearing a Detroit Red Wings cap when travelling at rush hour to remain incognito.

"Aw, I'm fine with being recognized," he said. "I think it's going to be fun being here."


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