Leaf coach eyes playoffs

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 3:15 PM ET

Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson would love to see his team end a franchise-record playoff drought next spring, but not at the sacrifice of progress towards having a powerhouse team in the more distant future.

Wilson was in town to get a first look at the Leafs' top draft pick, Nazem Kadri, who signed a three-year entry level contract Monday, and a group of other young players at the team's summer prospect camp.

As he prepares for his second season behind the Leafs bench, Wilson likes the changes general manager Brian Burke has made since the July 1 beginning of NHL free agency, but won't lose sight of the big picture.

"We would still like to make the playoffs next year and we'll do our best to do that," Wilson said at Lakeshore Lions Arena following the second of two on-ice sessions for the prospects.

"But I think for the next couple of years we are going to be spending a lot of time developing players. If we can make the playoffs doing that, I think that's going to be great but primarily, if I'm going to have five, six rookies on the team again -- which is a real possibility -- I have to make sure they get better as hockey players."

That was Wilson's approach last season where rookies such as Luke Schenn and Mikhail Grabovski were given generous ice-time to help fast track their development. It wasn't always pretty, but the team is confident enough in its coaching staff that young players can improve significantly over a season where there isn't intense pressure to be one of the top teams in the league.

"A lot of teams where there is pressure on you to make the playoffs, most coaches will throw a lot of the young guys under the bus. (When you do that) you tend to rely on veterans and I've got to guard myself against doing that."

Wilson and Burke wouldn't rule out Kadri making the team following training camp, though returning to his junior club in London is a distinct possibility.

"It's all up to Nazem," Burke said of the seventh overall pick who was wearing No. 19 for his first official session. "We're looking for him to force us into a decision."

As for another decision on his team, Burke was hoping to hear sometime in the next 24 hours where free-agent Swedish goaltender Jonas Gustavsson intends to play next season. The Monster has apparently narrowed his options down to four teams, including the Leafs.

Notes: The Leafs re-signed forwards Ben Ondrus and Ryan Hamilton to one-year contracts, and signed free agent forwards Jay Rosehill, Tim Brent and Richard Greenop.


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