Leafs' D in for 'shock'

Coach Ron Wilson considers the Leafs defence to be solid heading into training camp. (Sun...

Coach Ron Wilson considers the Leafs defence to be solid heading into training camp. (Sun Media/Michael Peake)

STEVE BUFFERY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:53 AM ET

Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson dropped a bombshell yesterday following the team's informal skate at Lakeshore Lions Arena.

Not exactly an A-bomb. More like a big firecracker.

In any event, the new Toronto bench boss turned some heads when he suggested that the fight for spots in the starting lineup on defence will be so heated at training camp this weekend that certain favourites, guys who were regulars last season, may end up starting the season with the AHL Marlies.

"If there's one area where I think we're fairly deep, or relatively strong, it's on the back end," Wilson said. "These guys are going to compete and there's probably going to be a shock or two at the end of training camp as far as who's not going to be here, and Cliff (Fletcher) is going to have to make some decisions as far as where people play.

"But it's wide open and everybody will get a chance."

Actually, Wilson said the top two or three spots on defence are pretty well spoken for, with Tomas Kaberle, Pavel Kubina and newcomer Jeff Finger safe bets. But after that, it's wide open, although the coach also suggested that another newcomer, Jonas Frogren, who has played his entire career in Sweden, has the inside track for spot No. 4.

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"Frogren is a big, physical Swedish defenceman ... but other than that, there are a lot of guys who have things to prove and it will be fun," Wilson said.

Wilson reiterated what GM Fletcher said last week, that first-round draft pick Luke Schenn will have to knock their socks off to stick in Toronto.

"You're not going to keep him around here as a fifth, sixth or seventh defenceman," Wilson said. "At least, I don't think Cliff and I believe that would be beneficial to him. At 18 years old, this is a tough nut to crack."

What it comes down to is, if everyone stays relatively healthy, the likes of Mike Van Ryn, Carlo Colaiacovo, Staffan Kronwall, Ian White and Anton Stralman will fight for the remaining two or three regular spots on the Leafs defence and it all will play out at training camp and in the pre-season. Despite the fact that the Leafs are expected to have a lot of trouble scoring this year, particularly with Mats Sundin not expected to return, the club is deep on defence and it should be a battle royale at camp.

"A little competition is always good for us," Kronwall said yesterday. "It definitely keeps you motivated to go hard each day and every shift and I think it will make this team better."

Kronwall, 26, played 18 games for the Leafs last year but didn't manage any points, although he believe he has a lot more to give on offence than he has demonstrated so far with the big team.

"I'm a different player in the Marlies than I am in the NHL, so I have to make that adjustment this year to play the same way as I do in the American League," he said yesterday.

Stralman, 22, is another guy on the bubble this year. The third big Swede (along with Kronwall and Frogren) on the Toronto roster said his experience playing at the world championships this past spring has given him a load of confidence heading into the NHL season.

Also on the Swedish team was Frogren, whom Stralman believes will surprise a lot of people in Toronto.

"He played against Canada in the semifinals, probably one of the best teams in the world championships ever, and he did really well," Stralman said. "He's a good defensive defenceman and I'm sure he's going to compete for a spot."


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