White has earned his spot

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:54 AM ET

With all the bumps Ian White has been through in his short National Hockey League career, a 20-stitch cut in his mush isn't so bad.

White has been criticized for his size, his low draft position, the arrival of three new blueliners supposedly ready to push him to the fringe or perhaps the press box.

But White, the club's Bill Masterton Trophy nominee last year for perseverance, not is only still here, but leading the troubled defence with a plus-3 on a team that's allowed 18 more goals than it has scored.

He's second in plus/minus to Alexei Ponikarovsky and tied with a group for club scoring with four points.

'OUR BEST'

"Probably our best defenceman right now," coach Ron Wilson said of White, mentally checking the list of Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin, Luke Schenn and Tomas Kaberle.

"He's had to battle from where he started on the depth chart. I wouldn't say he's surprised us. He's played the same way as last year. The surprises have been other guys who haven't played as well as expected."

White, who turned 25 in the off-season and is approaching his 250th NHL game, earned the respect of teammates when he stepped in at right wing to save his spot in the lineup. He might end up there again, if Toronto's scoring woes persist.

White missed only one practice after being struck by a Sean Avery deflection in a 4-1 loss to the Rangers on Saturday.

"At least I didn't lose any teeth," White said jokingly. "I'm a little battle-scarred. It makes me look tougher.

The Leafs brought in Komisarek, Beauchemin and Garnet Exelby this summer, but the 5-foot-10 White still is flourishing.

"I really didn't feel like I was on the outside looking in," White said of the moves. "You just come to work every day. I know I can be a success at this level. I guess my reward is being out there."


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