Hanson given a fighting chance

TERRY KOSHAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 3:05 AM ET

Christian Hanson won't be thrown to the lions in his Maple Leafs debut.

Rather than be pencilled into the lineup by coach Ron Wilson and left to fend for himself, the 23-year-old Notre Dame product will skate on a line tonight in Philadelphia with the Leafs' top player, Jason Blake, and John Mitchell.

Normally a centre, Hanson will play on the wing against the Flyers, who were beaten 3-2 by the Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday night.

"They're two phenomenal players so hopefully they will make me look good," Hanson said after practice yesterday at the ACC. "I'm ecstatic. To get on the ice and play in the game is going to be another level."

While the writing on the dressing room wall seems clear for some Leafs after general manager Brian Burke on Wednesday promised more changes in the wake of another non-playoff season, Hanson should get a pass for the club's remaining five games. The 6-foot-4, 228-pounder had 16 goals and 15 assists in 37 games for the Fighting Irish, and the Leafs have high hopes for him.

"We view him as a potential top-six forward," Wilson said of Hanson. "Blake has been our best player all season and we have to get John Mitchell playing better than he has been recently."

Wilson did not identify who will be a healthy scratch tonight so Hanson can play, but the safe money might be on might be Boyd Devereaux or Jeff Hamilton. In goal, Martin Gerber will be between the pipes after serving a three-game suspension.

Hanson will become the 10th player to make his NHL debut for the Leafs this season, joining a group of greenhorns that includes forwards Mitchell, Nikolai Kulemin, Andre Deveaux and Tim Stapleton, defencemen Luke Schenn, Jonas Frogren, Jaime Sifers and Phil Oreskovic and goaltender Justin Pogge. Mitchell has played in just 71 games in the NHL but with the youthful Leafs, that's enough to make him a qualified expert to give Hanson some free advice.

"It will probably take him a couple of games at least to get into the flow of things and get all the nerves out," Mitchell said. "The first game was a little bit different for me because we were playing the Detroit Red Wings and they were unveiling their Stanley Cup banner. He knows he will be playing in at least a couple of games, and I'm sure he will do all right."

Regarding Burke's contention a day previous that the Leafs' failure to earn a post-season berth will result in more roster changes, many Leafs indicated they won't be gripping their sticks tighter in fear. With just a handful of games left, it's likely Burke already has a fairly good idea who he will attempt to jettison this summer.

"There are always a lot of could haves, should haves any time you don't make the playoffs," Blake, who would be in the running for comeback player of the year if the NHL recognized such a thing, said. "You can't really comment ... if there are changes, there is nothing you can do. With five games left, you just want to make a good impression on the organization, and whatever happens, happens."

TERRY.KOSHAN@SUNMEDIA.CA


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