Young and eager Leafs

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:59 AM ET

PHILADELPHIA — When you hear the Maple Leafs brass talk of the “culture change” around the team these days, a translation is necessary.

With the house cleaned of its old guard and a group of young twenty-somethings left to fend for themselves, at least there remains an opportunity to set the tone for the future.

So with a roster that you need a program to remember, the Leafs coaching staff takes advantage of an ideal teaching environment with a captive classroom.

“What’s been around here doesn’t really matter. It’s what we want to do and the culture we want to create going forward,” Leafs assistant coach Tim Hunter said Sunday.

“That’s our key job, to integrate these guys into the team and become everyday NHLers both on the ice and off the ice as professionals.”

That task is considerably easier when the young players are all ears, in part because their immediate future as NHLers is on the line.

For many, it’s a 20-game audition for next season, a point hammered home by Leafs general manager Brian Burke this past week.

“We’re such a young group, so many guys that have played well under 150 games so you want to establish yourself,” centre John Mitchell said. “This is a young group that we’ll have here for a while.”

Some will get opportunities they wouldn’t anywhere else on teams that are either deeper in veteran players or fighting for the playoffs.

Rookie centre Tyler Bozak is a prime example. Saturday night in Ottawa, he took 31 of the team’s 59 faceoffs and less than two hours before Sunday’s game he was reviewing them on video with another Leafs assistant, Keith Acton.

“There’s a lot I need to learn and (the coaching staff) is trying to set you on the right path,” Bozak said. “Right now, we are getting a great opportunity.”

As the team has gotten younger, the coaching staff has seen some leadership emerge as well. Hunter said that Francois Beauchemin and Wayne Primeau have had the right touch as veterans while newcomer Dion Phaneuf has taken a lead role in off-ice activities on the road.

“It’s a lot younger group and in some ways it’s more fun to coach,” Hunter said. “They’re sponges and they want to learn. I call it counselling more than coaching in a lot of ways. You’re just trying to give them the tools to be successful, make them feel comfortable.”

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca


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