Little Leaf has big task

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:18 AM ET

KITCHENER -- Christopher DiDomenico is not particularly big, quick or tough.

So, how can a kid like that not make the Maple Leafs someday?

Actually, DiDomenico could skate for the blue and white in the next few years if he continues to develop as he has since being drafted 164th overall by the Leafs in 2007. But to say the 19-year-old Woodbridge native is a dark horse to ever play in the NHL is a major understatement.

Undrafted by the Ontario Hockey League, DiDomenico signed with the Saint John Sea Dogs juniors in Quebec two seasons ago, posted a respectable 75 points in 70 games and was named to the QMJHL all-rookie team, prompting the Leafs to gamble on the kid with a sixth-round pick.

Last season, the nifty little centre posted a stellar 39 goals along with 56 assists (95 points) in 70 games and the buzz is that he could challenge for the Q's MVP title this season.

DiDomenico is a less-than-strapping 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds and his walking orders from the Toronto brass last season was to get bigger, stronger and work on his skating. So, he spent the summer skating with trainer Dan Blackburn at Etobicoke's Westwood Arena.

"It was unreal. Dan's a good guy and knows what he's talking about. I took what he gave me and put it in my workouts," said DiDomenico yesterday, prior to the Leafs' rookie tournament game here at the Memorial Auditorium, a 5-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins prospects in front of a crowd of about 3,000.

DiDomenico was one of the best players on the ice for the Leafs, creating scoring chances and delivering some good hits. He set up Kyle Rogers from behind the net for the Leafs' second goal early in the third period.

As for the weight and strength, DiDomenico said he has become stronger, but for the life of him, can't seem to put on any beef, at least yet.

"I'm trying," he said with a laugh. "But I guess I'll have to try harder."

If he does put on some girth, the Leafs believe that, with his hockey sense and offensive touch, DiDomenico could be playing for the Marlies this season or next.

"That is my goal, trying to get an invite to the main camp (next weekend) and see what it's like at the next level," he said. "But if I don't, I'll go back to my junior team and work and put it all in place. I think we have a shot at the Memorial Cup this season."

Also in the lineup for the Leafs rookie squad yesterday was 2008 first round pick (fifth overall) Luke Schenn, a star last season with Kelowna Rockets of the WHL, along with Thomas Stajan of the Brampton Battalion, the cousin of current Leaf Matt Stajan, and Eric Wellwood of the Windsor Spitfires, the younger brother of former Leaf Kyle Wellwood.

Eric, who is bigger and faster than his brother, blew past a Penguins defender in the first period to for the Leafs' first goal.

Yesterday's affair was upbeat and hard-hitting, as players on both teams obviously tried to impress the various GMs, coaches and scouts in attendance. At stake are training-camp invitations and contracts.

As a result of last season's tournament, Toronto GM John Ferguson signed Canadian university star Darryl Boyce to a two-way contract. Boyce, who was actually preparing for a life after hockey after playing at the University of New Brunswick, came up from the Marlies and played for the Leafs on Jan. 24 last season.

He was named the Marlies' rookie of the year and is captain of the Leafs team at this year's rookie tournament.


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