OSHAWA - All his yapping, face-washing and subtle stick work won’t speed up Brad Ross’ path to the Maple Leafs.
While it’s easy for the critical eye to move to the far right of his stats line to those 400-plus penalty minutes combined in the past two seasons, the Leafs also want to see scoring numbers and a decent plus/minus to justify him being a third-line left winger within a couple of years.
Last season, Ross took pride when foes called him a “dirt bag,” but at this year’s rookie tournament, he’s out to warrant quality ice time.
“They drafted me (43rd overall in 2010) because of what they want to see me do — to agitate,” Ross said Monday, as the undefeated Leafs rested for Tuesday night’s Baby Battle of Ontario with the 2-0 Ottawa Senators.
“Definitely. I love to throw the body and stuff, but I have pretty good skill and sometimes people underestimate that. If I have a chance down low, I will probably bury it eight out of 10 times.”
Ross had 31 goals and 69 points in 67 games for the Portland Winter Hawks, actually reducing his regular season PIM total from above 200 to 171. That’s still a lot for a 5-foot-11 kid, who usually lets the heavyweights on his team lend a hand if the sparks he create become a fire.
“Sometimes, I get a little too aggressive,” Ross admitted. “Mike Johnson, my coach, always pulls me back. I’m a pretty emotional guy and I get in there a lot. I try (to stay focussed) on my own, but when I need a little help, Mike’s there for support.
“Last year I took a few more minor penalties than I’d have liked, but if I can balance that, my game will improve a lot. I also need to get bigger and stronger so that it’s easier to make that jump from junior to the NHL.”
Though without a point amid Toronto’s nine goals so far in wins against Chicago and Pittsburgh, Ross hasn’t been a wallflower. He triggered a fight in the Chicago game when a couple of Hawks took runs at him and was called for unsportsmanlike against Pittsburgh.
“I know a few guys in this tournament from the Dub (WHL), but I can get under anyone’s skin without knowing them,” he said with a grin. “It doesn’t matter how big they are, I just have to go out and play my game.
“A Chicago guy came up behind me and got me in a head-lock, but he got the penalty. The other guy pushed me over and then (6-foot-5 Leaf thumper) Jamie Devane came in. He got what was coming to him, so that was kind of nice.”
But Devane, who is a little lower on the draft pecking order than Ross, also has a goal and assist thus far. Hockey’s best pests let the game clock and the score dictate their actions.
“We don’t want them running around aimlessly out there,” Toronto player development director Jim Hughes said. “We don’t want a player such as Brad to sit back, but he absolutely needs to play his game intelligently. We have to push the right buttons with Brad as well as everyone else’s.”