Matt Stajan, the highest-scoring centre with the Maple Leafs last season, admitted yesterday that he is intrigued at the prospect of playing with incoming right winger Phil Kessel.
Stajan finished the year with a team-high 40 assists (and 55 points overall in 76 games) and acknowledged that those numbers could be significantly higher with a player of Kessel's skill on his right side.
"For sure. As a centreman -- and I think I'm more of a passer -- you relish the chance to play with someone who scores (36) goals and hopefully score a lot of goals for this team," said Stajan. "But we'll see what happens. As a player you go to the rink every day and work hard and the coach's will see where Phil fits the best."
Kessel, who was acquired by the Leafs on Friday for two first-round choices and a second-round pick, will not see any game action for a few weeks after undergoing off-season shoulder surgery. But when the 21-year-old is declared healthy, he's expected to have an immediate impact on Toronto's offence.
"He's coming of an injury, so my focus is on one game at a time, and whoever you're playing with, you build chemistry with your linemates and just try to make things work," said Stajan.
Stajan, and the rest of the Leafs, believe Kessel could be the piece of the puzzle that finally propels the Leafs into the playoffs.
"I think we have the guys here now to get to the playoffs and make some noise," said Stajan. "But there's a lot of hard work ahead of us to make sure we do make it work."
Up for the challenge
Veteran defenceman Ian White was a healthy scratch for the first 11 games of last year's regular season, but finished the year as the club's most reliable blueliner. Still, there's no guarantee that the fifth-year Leaf will be penned in as a top six defenceman this season, with the arrival of newcomers Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin, Garnet Exelby, and a healthy Mike Van Ryn.
Still, White believes that his play last season, where he ranked second in ice-time per game, speaks for itself.
"I feel better this year," White said yesterday. "I feel like I've made some gains this summer and it's still early, but the first two (pre-season) games I played, I feel great and ready to pick up where I left off."
White is well aware of his situation.
"It would be nice to have a $10 million contract and be the best player in the league, but that's not the case," the Steinbach, Man., native added. "But I like having to work for things and I don't like being given handouts and it just makes it that much more rewarding when you achieve your goals."
Five to go
The Leafs have five pre-season games left, including back-to-back games tomorrow at home against Pittsburgh and Wednesday in Buffalo.