Is Caputi Kaput-i?

LANCE HORNBY, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 6:35 PM ET

TORONTO - Luca Caputi is having the training camp of his young hockey life, getting plaudits from coaches, teammates and fans.

But it’s likely all he gets for his 22nd birthday on Friday is a seat in the press box for the Maple Leafs final two exhibition games, a prelude to an uncertain fate on the team’s NHL taxi squad or possible demotion to the Marlies.

All along, Caputi knew that Fredrik Sjostrom would be given his job back on left wing for the third line, as soon as the Swede received the all-clear from spring shoulder surgery. That came earlier this week, when Caputi found himself with the Purple Haze, five Leafs forwards dressed in mauve with no assigned line.

Sjostrom, a six-year veteran and a long-time favourite of Wilson’s, is slightly smaller and less defined in upper body than Caputi, but has an edge in speed and got the nod to open on the line with Colby Armstrong and possibly Tim Brent at centre. If Caputi did play the middle, he’d be a lock based on this camp, but Caputi is now on a waiting list.

“That’s the cruelty of the NHL,” assistant coach Tim Hunter said Wednesday morning at the MasterCard Centre. “There are other guys better than you and you have to live with that and work hard every day and try and get back in the good graces of the coaches so you can play as a regular.”

Hunter illustrated his point later when asked about defenceman Korbinian Holzer’s surprise promotion for the Ottawa game when Luke Schenn’s back acted up.

“Here’s a guy who was practising with the Marlies this morning and gets a second opportunity. You get sent to the minors, you think your life is over. But things change in a hurry.”

Caputi had a great exit meeting with Wilson and general manager Brian Burke in April. After joining the team in a late-season trade with Pittsburgh for Alexei Ponikarovsky, the 6-foot-2 Caputi had six points in 19 games, was told his foot was in the door and if he came back in autumn bulked up, he’d be kicking it open. He made many improvements in his upper legs and shoulders and had three points in his first four games. But he was given the purple sweater and only made it into Wednesday’s game in Ottawa in part because Kris Versteeg was in Chicago getting his Stanley Cup ring.

“At the end of the day, I can look myself in the mirror and say I’ve done all that I could,” an upbeat Caputi said. “If things don’t work out, they don’t work out. If I do get sent down, I’ll try and get back here as soon as I can. That’s the way it goes.”

The Leafs could cut up to four surplus forwards in the next few days, with centres Mike Zigomanis, John Mitchell and enforcer Jay Rosehill are prime candidates. That would leave Caputi and centre Nazem Kadri. If the 19-year-old Kadri isn’t going to play on the top two lines, he could be demoted. But Caputi isn’t distracting himself trying to play amateur GM.

“You just wait around for your opportunity,” Caputi said. “Just being around the NHL guys is good.

“I love Freddy, too, his stall is next to mine and we talk all the time. It’s just the way things are, it’s a business. At times it doesn’t go in your favour, but you can’t sit there and pout about it, you have to come back and work harder. That’s the way I’m going to go about it.”

He insists he’s not getting a swelled head at the glowing early season media reviews.

“I don’t pay much attention, but you know yourself if you’re playing well and if you have more to give. I’m happy with the way things are going.”

The added weight allows Caputi to protect the puck better, especially on power plays where he admits he was getting worked over pretty good by foes when he was with the Pens. Reinforcement from Wilson and Burke has been gold, too.

“They give me tidbits here and there and you take it for what it’s worth,” Caputi said. “They’ve been in the league a long time, so whenever they give you advice or positive feedback it’s good. Store it in the back of your head and keep doing what you’re doing. “It will be good to get the season started and see what happens.”

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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