April 29, 2011
Net asset for Leafs
By LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
The Maple Leafs have added yet another young European goaltender, raising questions about the future of projected backups Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson behind No. 1 James Reimer.
Mark Owuya signed a two-year entry level contract on Thursday after recording the best save percentage in the Swedish Elite League last season, .927 with Djurgarden.
General manager Brian Burke finalized the deal while in Europe for the start of the world hockey championship. Similar visits there led to Burke signing the Swede Gustavsson and Finnish-born Jussi Rynnas. Owuya crowds the net picture even more with Rynnas and Ben Scrivens completing their first pro years with the Marlies.
“We’ve put another top prospect in the system,” said vice-president of hockey operations Dave Poulin. “The evolution of the reports we’ve had on Mark through our European scout Thommie Bergman is significant. He just became better and better. The beauty is we don’t have to say who is No. 1, 2 or 3 right now. That will work itself out next year. We also have the draft coming up and potential free agents.”
Owuya, who is of Russian and Ugandan descent, was ranked 12th among European goalies in his 2009 draft year, but not selected, though he was part of Sweden’s silver-medal team at the world juniors. The 6-foot-2 Owuya was born in Stockholm and played 32 games this year for Djurgarden, with a 2.18 goals against average and 1.66 in seven playoff games.
He has attended Francois Allaire’s goaltending clinics in Europe the past several years, another feather in the cap of the Leafs’ netminding guru.
Poulin laughed when asked about Owuya’s off-ice pursuit as a rapper, going by the name Mark From Da Park and appearing on a Swedish-style Idol show.
“I think that was something he did in his mid-teens,” Poulin said. “There are things we all did in Grade 10 that we wanted to try.”
It was just this week that Giguere said he was making a quick recovery from sports hernia surgery and that he would accept the role of understudy to Reimer. The unrestricted free agent, who turns 34 next month, would of course get nothing near his old salary of $6 million US.
“I owe it to myself to try it, see if I like being a backup,” Giguere told TSN Radio. “For one year. See if I can do it.”
Poulin called Giguere “the ultimate professional” for being open to such a concept in the autumn.
But neither would Poulin count out Gustavsson, who received votes of confidence from both Burke and coach Ron Wilson at the end of the 2010-11 season, despite a step backward in his second NHL season. He was hindered by inconsistency and his third heart ablation process in less than two years.
“There were 20 teams that expressed interest in The Monster (as a free agent) and five that came after him hard,” Burke reminded at his end-of-the-year news conference. “I don’t think all those teams were wrong and I don’t think we were wrong. This guy is a legitimate NHL goaltender.”