Leafs sizing up giant prospect

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:08 AM ET

Maple Leafs patriarch Conn Smythe once said: "If you can't beat 'em in the alley, you can't beat 'em on the ice".

Keith Aulie wasn't brought here to fight, but it's hoped that his 6-foot-6 stature and increasingly beefy physique will convince many opposing players to avoid his turf when he gets his shot at the NHL.

For now, the 20-year-old defenceman, acquired in Sunday's Dion Phaneuf trade with Calgary, is breaking in with the AHL Marlies, across the hall from the Leafs' rink at the Mastercard Centre. The stay-at-home defender is already around 210 pounds.

"I'm still adding five to 10 pounds every year," Aulie said Wednesday, preparing for his Marlies debut Friday in Grand Rapids. "I don't know where I want to be (weight-wise), but I want to get stronger, faster and smarter on the ice."

He was picked 116th in 2007, by a Flames team loaded with defence prospects. Not the case in Toronto, already lagging behind division rivals Boston and Buffalo when it comes to goliaths on the blueline with Zdeno Chara and Tyler Myers.

'OWN IDENTITY'

"You hate to draw comparisons to these kinds of players, but I think he'll find his own identity," Marlies assistant coach Gord Dineen said.

"You look at the mountain of a man that he is. He already looks fully developed and he'll grow some more. Then you see the skill set that goes with it, a great combination.

"You want him to be that big solid presence that other teams are aware of, which is the way he played (with Brandon of the WHL) and in the (2009) world junior championships."

Life in Toronto has so far been a huge culture shock for the Saskatchewan farm boy, who was playing in Abbotsford, B.C., with the Flames' farm team.

"This is going to be an awesome place to play," Aulie predicted. "Toronto's in a rebuilding stage and I think it will be exciting in the next few years. We're going to win a few games here."


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