Sizing up the Leafs' future

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:18 PM ET

With the youngest roster in the NHL at season’s end, much of the team’s ability to move forward any time soon is based on the potential of a handful of core players still on it.

Here’s an evaluation of some of the more relevant individuals as it applies to the team’s immediate future.

Jonas Gustavsson

Much-touted rookie goaltender certainly had an eventful introduction to the NHL. Two minor heart surgeries plus the death of his mother were not the ideal start to his NHL career.

The Monster didn’t exactly get the anticipated tutelage from enigmatic Vesa Toskala, but once J-S Giguere came onboard his play improved markedly and he has responded favourably to the coaching of Francois Allaire.

Tyler Bozak

If the college free agent continues to develop, he may back up Burke’s claim that he is an equivalent of a first-round pick, which takes away some of the sting of the Kessel trade. Bozak may already be the Leafs’ best faceoff man and responded to all challenges, including the premature promotion to first-line centre.

Phil Kessel

Back-to-back 30-goal seasons have him long graduated from prospect status, but there is still work to be done. Coach Ron Wilson seemed to ride him hard towards the end of the season, challenging Kessel to go to the difficult areas of the ice more often. That’s not his game, but how much more effective would his shot be if he could get closer to the net? His value only increases if Burke finds him a big-time centre.

Mikhail Grabovski

Still fits in both categories. Would seem to have a world of talent, but a 10-goal season is not what the team had in mind. Have to wonder how much more time and money Wilson and Burke want to invest in this project. Like Kessel though, he needs a solid linemate.

Luke Schenn

While he still had some lapses late in the season, at least the big defenceman’s woeful start was negated by some strong play in the middle portion of the season. That said, the former first-round pick must step up his play significantly in his third year to deliver on the promise he showed as a rookie.

Nazem Kadri

Last year’s first rounder is lighting it up with London in the OHL playoffs and Leafs brass would love him to make the transition to the NHL in October. To do that, Kadri needs to beef up in the summer and come to camp with an attitude and willingness to adapt his game to the pros.

Nikolai Kulemin

Big winger took a step forward this season and his size and physical play may make him a Burke mainstay for the foreseeable future if he can be signed in the off-season.

Viktor Stalberg

Another rookie with plenty of upside. When he utilizes his considerable speed he shows flashes of being an impact player worthy of being on the top two lines.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca


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