Big Phil gets a start

STEVE BUFFERY

, Last Updated: 7:24 AM ET

Ron Wilson wanted rookie defenceman Phil Oreskovic to have a memorable experience playing at the Bell Centre in Montreal for the first time.

So the Maple Leafs coach decided last night to give the 22-year-old, who had played only six games for the Leafs since being called up from the Marlies, a rare start.

"I think a young guy like that, Saturday night in Montreal would be a big thrill for him and get him even more excited for the game," Wilson said.

Wilson said Oreskovic reminds him of rugged Swedish defenceman Douglas Murray, who Wilson coached in San Jose for three seasons. Like Oreskovic, who as drafted 82nd overall in 2005, Murray is a big, physical defenceman who was selected late (241st overall in 1999) largely because his skating was suspect for the NHL level. Murray since has become a fixture on the Sharks' defence, signing a four-year contract extension with San Jose last September.

"(He was) similar to Douglas Murray in the sense of what we saw at training camp," Wilson said of Oreskovic.

"He struggled with his feet, because he's a big man. What he has to do -- he's not going to be Bobby Orr or anything like that -- is just move the puck quickly, get it to your partner, clear the front of the net and use your size to your advantage."

Oreskovic, who also has afforded himself well in two fights since being called up to the Leafs, has been working diligently with Leafs skating coach Graeme Townshend. Wilson said that he has seen the improvement in Oreskovic's skating.

"Douglas Murray didn't think he needed to work on his skating, but everybody else in the world did and it took him some time to buy in. I don't think that's the case with Oreskovic," Wilson said. "And he's so excited. Every day he shows up at the rink he has a big smile on his face and I think you'll see that enthusiasm will spill over on to other guys."

Baby stuff

Forward Nikolai Kulemin arrived back with the team on Friday in the wake of the birth of his son Alexei, which forced him to miss Thursday's game in Florida.

"Hopefully he didn't have to spend a couple of sleepless nights and will be a zombie," Wilson said. "Usually you bounce back from those things and you're all excited to play."

Kulemin said that he played last night's game "for my son," and then scored a goal.

When asked how big the baby was, Kulemin's friend and teammate Mikhail Grabovski interjected: "As big as Nikolai." Teammate Jeff Hamilton then suggested that the baby was named after teammate Alexei Ponikarovsky.


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