Some Leafs playing for their futures

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:26 PM ET

TORONTO - As much as they try concentrating on trying to help their team make the playoffs, some Maple Leafs can’t help but wonder whether they are carving enough out of their ice time to solidify their roster spots in the future.

No wonder. The Leafs announced another signing of a NCAA player on Monday, with forward Tyler Brenner on his way to the Toronto Marlies. A few hours later, the Leafs made it public that their 2011 rookie tournament will be in Oshawa in September and will involve rookie teams representing the Ottawa Senators, Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks. Along with the announcement was a reminder that no less than four players who have been on the Leafs roster this season — forwards Nazem Kadri and Marcel Mueller, defenceman Keith Aulie and goalie Ben Scrivens — participated in the tournament last September.

Top-line forwards and defencemen know they can struggle and their jobs are cemented. For those such as forwards Tim Brent and Joey Crabb, who have had to bust their butts for every scrap of ice time they have had in the National Hockey League, there are no guarantees for 2011-12. Both are slated to be unrestricted free agents on July 1.

“You’re always playing for the future,” said Crabb, who has played in 68 NHL games (including 39 with the Leafs this season) since he was drafted by the New York Rangers in 2002. “We’re looking to the playoffs first of all, but if that does not happen, you want to make a name for yourself.”

For Brent, the process began in the Leafs’ first game of 2010-11. He had 19 NHL games on his resume with four teams prior to October, but has become an integral piece of the Leafs’ bottom-six forwards, registering eight goals and 12 assists in 72 games. As well, his faceoff-winning percentage of 52.4% is second among Leafs (to Tyler Bozak) who have taken at least 700 faceoffs this season.

But with change inevitable no matter what happens in the next couple of weeks, and with prospects such as Joe Colborne and Christian Hanson developing with the Marlies, where the Brents of the world are after camp next season is not written in stone.

It’s not a concern now for the 27-year-old Brent.

“I think the entire year you are trying to prove yourself in order to have a job for the following year,” Brent said after practice on Monday. “I don’t think anybody in here is really playing for anything other than getting in the playoffs right now. It has been exciting, we have had some ups and downs, but we still feel like we can sneak in there. We might need a little bit of help now, but we are still gunning to get in the playoffs.”


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