Fresh view from press box

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:22 AM ET

Rickard Wallin's slow start this season, culminating in Saturday night's benching, hasn't soured him on returning to the NHL.

In fact, being in the press box might have helped.

"You watch what's going on (a 2-1 shootout win with the ACC crowd pumped) and you appreciate being on the team a lot more," Wallin said yesterday after practice at the Ricoh Coliseum. "When the team isn't winning, something is going to happen and it happened to me. It was a wake-up call that makes you want to work harder to be put back in."

Wallin had two assists in 20 games and was a minus-5, almost all as a fourth-liner. With him gone, the Leafs formed a true crash line with Colton Orr, Wayne Primeau and Jamal Mayers that played well against the Washington Capitals.

It should be noted Wallin isn't a checker by nature. In fact he was a first-line centre and scoring leader with SEL champion Farjestads, as well as a member of the Swedish national team. He had already had an NHL tale to tell his grandkids as a member of the Minnesota Wild for 19 games (10 points) before the lockout.

He traded it all to join the rebuilding Leafs, where the fishbowl existence has been fouled by a 4-11-6 start. He has even been ripped by Don Cherry on Coach's Corner.

"No regrets," the gentlemanly 29-year-old said. "I'd rather be playing here, in front of a sellout crowd that cares, than a few thousand people in Houston.

"I could have stayed back in Sweden and been comfortable every day and have a nice first-line role on my old club. But the best part of hockey is challenging yourself. The players I'm playing against are a lot better and so are those I'm playing with."

Faceoffs have been among the toughest adjustments for him.

"They're better centremen, stronger centremen," he said. "But I also notice the linesmen here are more fair and more professional. Obviously the veterans get the benefit of the doubt over here on draws, as they should. But I'm trying to learn those little tricks.

"I just want to make the easy plays and hopefully, as time goes on, I'll be better able to make offensive plays, show everyone they can count on me and that I'm a responsible player on both sides of the ice."

LANCE.HORNBY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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