Leafs have big hopes for Irwin

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:44 PM ET

As he entered the dressing room after his first Maple Leafs’ practice, Brayden Irwin saw the media scrum near his stall, figured it must be for a star player and went searching for another place to sit.

Later, he needed directions just to get out of the cavernous Air Canada Centre and go home.

Clearly, the new office will take some getting used to for Irwin, fresh out of the University of Vermont, which is why coach Ron Wilson decided to hold off on playing the tall centre until Thursday or Saturday.

“He’ll at least get to know his teammates a little bit and I have to see what he can do,” said Wilson, who waited until the end of Tuesday’s morning skate to formally introduce himself to Irwin. “We’ll fit him in on one of our lines at least in one game.”

Irwin, a teammate of winger Viktor Stalberg’s in Vermont, but not his regular centre, signed a two-year NHL entry level contract on Monday.

“I definitely had the butterflies in my stomach out there today,” Irwin said when he realized the gathering of reporters was in his honour. “I’m going to try and get a little more comfortable out there, work on my game and see what the coaches want me to do.

“I’m a late bloomer. I was still trying to figure out my game (when passed up in his draft year five seasons ago). I’ve come a long way.”

For now the Leafs just want the 6-foot-5 Toronto native to just be big. If he makes it next season in the middle, it would be in contrast to the talented, but slight statures of centres Tyler Bozak, Mikhail Grabovski and Nazem Kadri.

Wilson had his greatest successes with big teams, but didn’t want to play down the accomplishments of players such as Bozak.

“I don’t know how big Montreal is in the middle right now ... they’re a small (playoff-bound) team,” Wilson argued. “We do have some size in the middle (John Mitchell, Wayne Primeau, Rickard Wallin, Christian Hanson), we’ll just see how it shakes out.”

Stalberg was excited for his friend, who also played a bit with Stalberg’s younger brother, Sebastien, a Vermont freshman.

“He’s a great guy and he’ll be a good player for the Leafs down the road,” Stalberg said. “His (Vermont nickname) was Brado, he looks like the guy from the movie Saw with the mask and the big beak.”

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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