Leafs coach has heady praise for Gardiner

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:59 PM ET

TORONTO - Ron Wilson doesn't like to compare players.

But when the topic of young defenceman Jake Gardiner came up, the Maple Leafs coach did acknowledge a similarity in style between the promising rookie and that of Buffalo's Christian Ehrhoff.

The same Christian Ehrhoff who scored 14 goals in each of the past two seasons with the Vancouver Canucks.

The same Christian Ehrhoff who was among the leading scorers among defencemen in the National Hockey League in 2010-11, notching 50 points.

The same Christian Ehrhoff whose fine play earned him a whopping 10-year, $40-million US free agent contract with the Buffalo Sabres this past summer.

Heady praise indeed for Gardiner, who wasn't even expected to make the team in the first place but played himself onto the roster thanks to an outstanding preseason.

“Jake’s been excellent up to this point,” Wilson said on Monday afternoon. “I’d have to say he’s been the biggest surprise of training camp.

“Everybody’s been enticed with his speed, for sure. Sometimes his speed actually gets him in trouble, but he has a knack of finding holes and getting out of those situations.”

Not only has Gardiner made the team, he apparently has earned himself a spot in the Top 6. Wilson pretty much ensured that Gardiner would get a shot at significant ice time when he revealed that Cody Franson, acquired from Nashville during the off-season, would be the team’s seventh defenceman.

“It’s exciting, sure, but I always believe that your job is never secure,” Gardiner said. “I can’t let up. I have to keep improving.

“I didn’t play well at rookie camp but once the preseason came, I seemed to improve with every game.”

For the moment, it appears Gardiner will be teamed up with veteran Mike Komisarek on the back end for Thursday’s season opener against the Montreal Canadiens at the Air Canada Centre. Other prospective pairings include Dion Phaneuf-Carl Gunnarsson and Luke Schenn-John Michael Liles.

Up front, Wilson said there is a “50-50” chance that forward Tim Connolly will be ready to face the Habs. Connolly has been out with an upper body injury.


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