Ready or not, some National Hockey League teams give starting position to their young draft picks.
The Maple Leafs have created enough depth the past couple of years to be judicious where their juniors are concerned. Which is fine, except that it’s hard for a kid to be exposed to a big-league camp, practise for days and not play in at least one exhibition game. It’s more difficult this September because two prospects the Leafs wanted to see on centre stage are hurt.
First rounder Stuart Percy is proceeding slowly at the club’s insistence after a concussion scare in last week’s rookie tournament. The defenceman took an elbow to the face in a game against the Pittsburgh freshmen, did not return and has been worked back into practice in degrees. Bad timing for an Oakville lad who has dreamed of playing for the Leafs since he was old enough to watch Hockey Night in Canada. But no team is taking chances in today’s scrutinized environment of head trauma.
“I got an elbow to the jaw and they’ve done their cautionary concussion (protocol),” Percy said Tuesday at the MasterCard Centre. “I chipped the puck in, tried to get out of the way and he just kind of caught me.
“I’m back on the ice now and feeling good. We’ll see how it goes from here. That would’ve been good to get in a game. I still hope I might, but the junior season is coming up and I don’t know what they’re thinking up there (in management).”
A bunch of cuts to the 70-man roster are coming Wednesday afternoon after the Leafs complete two games and name their roster for the night game in Philadelphia. Usually the first to go are the most current drafts such as Percy, but he’d hoped to at least go back to the St. Michael’s Majors with a war story or two. As did David (The Brolldozer) Broll, a burly winger from the Soo Greyhounds, who suffered a left wrist injury in the rookie tourney and is nearing the end of a prescribed week’s rest from contact.
“I jammed it pretty bad,” said the sixth-rounder, who has worn a brace since. “I didn’t think it was bad, then I went to stick handle next shift and something wasn’t right. I taped it up, tried to shoot and then I knew something was wrong. I had went hands-first into the boards behind the net and felt a little pop. If I can’t be 100%, there’s no point of me going out there and not looking as well as I should.”
Broll was also on the ice Tuesday and though there was improvement in his grip, it won’t likely be in time to play here.
“You go from the rookie tournament all excited, hoping for an exhibition game,” Broll said. “But it’s best to take care of this now, so you don’t have a lot of problems later on.”
Luck may yet shine on forward Brad Ross, who missed his chance to play at his first Leafs’ camp in 2010 with an injury. The agitator from the Western Hockey League, Toronto’s first pick (43rd overall last year), was working out with many of the players who will be travelling to Philadelphia on Wednesday afternoon, though there is no confirmation he’ll end up on the final list.
Getting a chance to take on the Flyers right in the Wells Fargo Center in an NHL debut would be “like a dream come true” Ross said.
“Just watching the game (Monday against Ottawa) gives you goose bumps. Playing against a Chris Pronger or a Jaromir Jagr would be so cool. I’m not sure what they have in store. If I do get the opportunity, I want to show I’m ready.”
Norwegian Sondre Olden wants to test his improved 6-foot-4 frame from last season in a game as well. He’s been slowed by the flu the past few days, likely hastening his arrival with his new junior squad, the Erie Otters.
But an injury doesn’t mean a player such as Broll considers this camp a downer.
“I look at NHL guys working out off the ice and the intensity that they bring. It gets you excited and it’s going to make me a little bit more prepared for next year. I know what to expect. It will be exciting to come back and hopefully, I can partake at camp.
“I was in the gym with Colton Orr the other day and he went through all his steps throughout hockey. He told me how he made it through the AHL and got his chance in the NHL and ever since, he’s been up. He said if there’s anything I need, to come and talk to him. That’s so supportive and it makes me feel really comfortable.”