Fletch: Stempy was a real catch

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

Before they could pull the trigger on making Lee Stempniak the newest Maple Leaf, coach Ron Wilson and general manager Cliff Fletcher wondered what the catch might be.

They had taken a close look at the Blues winger for the better part of the past three weeks and felt that he was a nice fit, an offensive player with some upside.

And when the going rate was the tiring duo of Carlo Colaiacovo and Alex Steen, ultimately they felt they were getting the value end of the deal.

"Over the last three or four weeks, he has been St. Louis' best player," Wilson said yesterday. "(You ask yourself) what's wrong with this guy? Why don't (the Blues) want him?

"He has found his confidence again. He was injured at the beginning of the season, but he's 100% now."

The 25-year-old Buffalo native passed his physical yesterday and when the two Leafs shipped to Missouri did likewise, Stempniak was cleared to make his debut last night.

And Wilson didn't waste any time getting him in action, starting him at left wing on the opening line with centre Dominic Moore and left winger Jason Blake.

By the second period, he was with the top unit of Matt Stajan and Nik Antropov and counted his first point as a Leaf, getting an assist on Antropov's goal.

PROMISING

Stempniak, who became the first Leaf to sport No. 12 since fellow American Tom Fitzgerald wore it in 2004, figures he moved from one team on the rise to another.

"I think (the outlook in Toronto) is promising," Stempniak said.

"To me, it's a team headed in the right direction, not unlike St. Louis.

"I'm excited to come in and try to contribute and fit in."

After leading the Blues with 27 goals in 2006-07, Stempniak regressed last season, scoring just 13 times.

"The goal-scoring just wasn't there last year," Stempniak said.

"It was frustrating ... I struggled at the start of the year and I sort of got deflated.

"I feel really good this season, confident and making plays when they're there."

Wilson and Fletcher clearly saw the same thing in carefully watching Stempniak's play over the past handful of games.

Wilson also spoke with Leafs forward Jamal Mayers, who played with Stempniak in St. Louis and offered his endorsement.

"Jammer says he's a great guy," Wilson said. "That he works really hard and he'll help our team."


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