TORONTO - That trade Brian Burke made last February to get Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardiner from the Anaheim Ducks for defenceman Francois Beauchemin could turn out to be a rather significant steal.
And not because of Lupul.
Gardiner, a rookie defenceman, has been a revelation of sorts for the Leafs in the pre-season with his wheels and offensive skills. In three games, he has two points, but more importantly the 21-year-old has demonstrated a poise beyond his years.
“He’s been a lot better than I expected him to be,” said Leafs coach Ron Wilson. “In the rookie game he was a little tentative, but his confidence has really grown. That kid can really skate and it gets him out of a lot of danger.”
Big Burkie obviously has thought highly of Gardiner for some time, having drafted the Deephaven, Minn., native 17th overall in 2008 when he was the GM of the Ducks. Gardiner’s not huge, but at 6-foot-2, 184 pounds, he’s no shrinking violet either. He had another strong game on Friday night, playing almost 22 minutes and was selected a third star against the Buffalo Sabres.
“I think he’s a great D-man, a great pucking-moving D-man,” said Leafs goaltender James Reimer. “That stretch pass he made to (Matt) Frattin, that was a heckuva play. I wasn’t yelling at him that the guy was open, I don’t know if anybody was. It was just his own vision. It’s pretty impressive to see a guy with that much poise so early in his career.”
Gardiner’s certainly been one of the better defenceman in the pre-season and if he continues to play well, he may force the club to make a difficult decision as to who gets sent down to the Marlies and who stays.
“He’s really putting heat on the other defencemen for sure,” said Wilson.
BE HAPPY LEAFS NATION
Big Burkie goes on a mini-rant during the pre-season about how the media has to stop blaming the team’s 44-year Stanley Cup drought on the current players, all of whom weren’t born the last time the Blue and White lifted the Cup. The message was basically to stop bringing up 1967 all the time. But then the Leafs unveil their third sweater on Friday and it’s an identical throwback to the Leafs’ 1967 sweater, the last year they won the Cup. Hey, Leafs fans are Cup-starved. As Bob Dylan once said: “You gotta blame somebody” (or words to that effect).
Note to the Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets, who play at the Mile One Centre on Monday in St. John’s Nfld. Don’t make any promises that you’ll be back. The good citizenry of the Newfoundland capital are still waiting for the Toronto Raptors to return. Raptors management promised to return to St. John’s for a game after a 2003 pre-season tilt against the Cleveland Cavaliers was cancelled because of moisture on the court. One can only assume that the Raptors are waiting for a block of seats to open up on Air Canada’s Toronto to St. John’s route.
OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND
Speaking of Raptors, there are no longer any Raptors pictures hanging on the wall in the ACC media room. Normally, pictures of Leafs and Raptors hang side-by-side. But according to Raptors media relations guy Jim LaBumbard, images of NBA players are not allowed in the building or on the team’s web site during the current work stoppage. Pretty ridiculous. On the other hand, the open space means more room for pictures of Korbinian Holzer and Petter Granberg.
LEAFS STUFF (SORT OF)
Both Reimer and Ryan Miller played well on Friday night. Miller absolutely robbed Lupul late in the third period with a glove save and Reimer was big on a couple of breakaways ... A press box wag was lamenting the fact that the Leafs lost Christian Hanson this summer (signed by the Washington Capitals as an unrestricted free agent), because if he was still around, the Leafs would have Hanson ‘und’ Franson on the team, and that combination would certainly pump the Leafs up ... You haven’t heard Rush’s Tom Sawyer until you’ve heard it played on an arena organ.
GOOD AND NOT-SO-GOOD
The Good: Nazem Kadri, with excellent feeds all night. Phil Kessel, scored, but also some very clever passes, John-Michael Liles, Gardiner, Dion Phaneuf. Reimer.
Not so good: The Leafs power play.