No surprise Niklas

TERRY KOSHAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:42 AM ET

Niklas Hagman can't speak a lick of Russian, which, so far, has not impeded his ability to do his job.

Despite scoring 27 goals last season for the Dallas Stars without getting tons of ice time, Hagman didn't exactly conjure visions of a Stanley Cup parade when the Maple Leafs signed him to a four-year deal in July.

But Hagman has become the talk of Leafs Nation in the past little while, as he and linemates Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin have been making something happen each time they hop over the boards. Hagman, a 28-year-old Finn, doesn't have to communicate verbally with Grabovski, who was born in Germany and represents Belarus on the international stage, and Kulemin, a plain old Russian, when they're on the ice together. Simply, the three Europeans have clicked.

CONFIDENCE

"They hold on to the puck a lot, and when you have the confidence to play with the puck, I would say it's the best defence," Hagman said.

Hagman shares the Leafs points lead with Nik Antropov at 10 each, equalling nearly a quarter of the 41 points Hagman had last season in Dallas. Leafs coach Ron Wilson has been spreading the shifts around, but Hagman leads Toronto forwards with an average of 17 minutes, 55 seconds per game and his plus-5 is tops among all Leafs skaters. His career high in one season is 15 minutes, 36 seconds, done during last year with the Stars.

"Most Eastern Conference people don't watch anything that is going on in the West," Wilson said. "To say he is a surprise, he's not. He's a good player."

With four goals in 13 games, Hagman is on pace for 25 goals if he skates in all 82 games. After playing in Dallas and Sunrise, Fla., with the Panthers, the city of Toronto marks the first place he has played since leaving Finland in 2001 that people don't call the sport "ice hockey."

"I had a lot of fun in Dallas, but things change and it was time to open a new chapter," Hagman said. "I knew that at the start we might have some rough times, but to sign a four-year deal, I believed in the long run we are going to build something special.

"Everyone is on the same page. I believe we are going to get better and better."


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