JFJ given high praise

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:41 AM ET

Brian Burke has received a lot of praise for some of the moves he has made since joining the Maple Leafs as general manager last November -- most notably for his signing of free agents Tyler Bozak and Jonas Gustavsson, and now the trade for young centre Phil Kessel.

But there are two young players still at the Leafs camp, forward Viktor Stalberg and defenceman Carl Gunnarsson, who were not Burke signings and who have stepped up to the point where one or both could surprisingly make the team this season.

Burke, to his credit, has been quick to point out that he had little to do with either player joining the organization.

In fact, when he is questioned about the play of the two young Swedes, he makes a point of it to let everyone know the pair were drafted by former Leafs GM John Ferguson Jr., who virtually was run out of town last year.

"Fergie is a good man," Burke said yesterday. "And since he got thumped for everything he did wrong, I'm determined to see he gets praise for the stuff he did right."

Burke's kind words towards Ferguson can't really be put down to a GM's code or anything like that. It's been a while since Burke has had anything good to say about former Edmonton Oilers GM Kevin Lowe, now that club's president of hockey operations.

Though he was much-maligned during his time in Toronto, the decision by Ferguson and his scouting staff to draft Stalberg and Gunnarsson has proven to be shrewd. There's a chance one or both could start the season with the Marlies, but almost certainly they'll both see time with the big club this season.

Stalberg, 23, was a sixth-round pick (161st overall) in the 2006 entry draft and has turned heads at camp with his size, skating and all-around game. There is talk he already has been pencilled in to start the season with the Leafs, alongside fellow rookie Bozak.

As for Gunnarsson, hardly anyone outside the Leafs organization knew who he was coming into camp this year.

The 6-foot-2, 189-pound defenceman was overlooked three times in the NHL draft and finally selected by the Leafs in the seventh round (194th overall) in 2007.

SOLID SEASON

Gunnarsson, 22, played for the bronze-medal winning Swedish team at the 2009 world championship and had a solid season playing for Linkoping of the Swedish Elite League last year, prompting the Leafs to bring him over this season.

And though he certainly is unspectacular, Gunnarsson has shown to be a competent all-around defenceman, and seems to be moving up the organization's depth chart, having survived the first round of cuts Saturday.

"He hasn't been a surprise to us," Burke said of Gunnarsson. "He had an excellent world championship in Bern, Switzerland, and he's smart and very sound positionally. His point shots get through on net, and at a tip-able height.

"He will definitely play, if he gets stronger," Burke added. "A solid, Fergie pick."

The knock against Gunnarsson is his strength, and he acknowledged yesterday following an off-ice workout at the club's practice facility that he needs to gain some bulk.

"I've got to get bigger and stronger and get used to the smaller ice size and pace of the game," said Gunnarsson, whose father, Bjorn, played goal in the Swedish Elite League. "But it's no problem if I start the season with the Marlies. I'm here to stay. If I'm playing with the Marlies, I'm going to do my best there to take a spot here."

STEVE.BUFFERY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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