TORONTO -- Could a French-Canadian succeed Mats Sundin as the next captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs?
Francois Beauchemin can be that captain, if he isn’t already the Leafs captain without the C.
It is all there for him. He is that kind of natural, if not quiet, leader. He has a captain’s presence, a quality that can’t always be defined. All he has to do is make some subtle changes in his game. All he has to do is stop his occasional guessing on the ice.
A captain has to be dependable. A captain has to be trusted — by the players, by the coaches, by management. And as the Maple Leafs make larger and more impressive strides in this season once lost, it is clear that Beaucheim is the most likely of this group to be anointed team captain.
He is, like his hockey team, getting better with each passing night.
He is playing a significant defensive role on team in desperate need of significant defence. Wednesday night, against the New York Islanders, Beauchemin was on the ice every time John Tavares was on the ice. Well, almost every time.
When Beauchemin jumped over the boards for his first shift, he got on the ice, saw that the Tavares line wasn’t and quicky jumped off.
“He wants to be play against the best player every night,” said Leafs’ coach Ron Wilson. “He asks for that assignment.”
It was Tavares (who scored both his goals on power plays, his first on a two-man advantage) Wednesday night, Ilya Kovalchuk on Monday night, and neither of the impressive scorers hardly were prominent at even strength. Thursday in Boston, it will be Marc Savard, if the Leafs can end up with the matchup they want. Saturday night is Alex Ovechkin time.
It’s not an easy job, but it’s the only job Beauchemin wants. He and Ian White have grown into the Leafs’ shutdown pair. Just as Beauchemin and Chris Pronger or Beauchemin or Scott Niedermayer were, at times, that pair in Anaheim.
Not coincidentally, the turnaround in this Leafs season began when some of the new skaters, such as Beauchemin, began playing the way they were expected to play. This was his first shot at free agency and, in a way, he hit the jackpot. He got long-term money and the pressure that goes with it. Early on, he looked like a Brian Burke mistake. Those were the first weeks of the season.
But once he got comfortable, once he realized what was and wasn’t expected of him, he began to find his game and his place.
He isn’t Tomas Kaberle offensively. He isn’t Pronger intimidating in his own end. He has his own game, smart, thoughtful, mostly compact, except for those few instances in most games where he gets too aggressive.
A little pinch here. A bad decision there. Eliminate those ticks and what you have is the leading candidate to be Leafs captain, what you have is a sound signing, for now and in the future.
That’s one of the large differences between the Leafs team of today and the Leafs team that began the season so horribly. The Burke acquisitions are starting to pay off. Beauchemin is leading.
Mike Komisarek has left his chasing game behind. Colton Orr, for lack of a better word, is scaring people. Wayne Primeau is a master of playing without the puck and has moved nicely into a third-line checking role. Phil Kessel has been everything anyone could have expected. Jonas Gustavsson, before going down with heart troubles, looked to be becoming the goalie many think he can be.
Garnet Exelby aside, the new Leafs have turned a new Leaf.
There may be no need to name a captain this year. You don’t do it unless you are absolutely certain.
But as the Leafs continue to crawl up the standings, there is, at least, some reason for hope and suddenly some players to believe in.