October 5, 2011
Meet the 2011-12 Maple Leafs
By LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
TORONTO - GOALTENDERS
#34 James Reimer, Age: 23
Last year: 20-10-5, 2.60. Few in the hockey world heard of him in October, then he started all but three games from Jan. 25 onwards. NHL rookie of the month in March. Great positional goalie and humble attitude made him immediate team and fan favourite. Played for Canada at the world championship.
This year: Signed new three-year deal that pays $2.2 million this season. He’s acquired all the team playoff pressure and lost the element of surprise against rival shooters. But also spent his most intense summer in the gym and worked on being more ‘explosive’ in the torso area to improve reaction time and get post-to-post.
Did you know: Of all the nicknames he’s been given, likes ‘Optimus Reim’ or the ‘Reim Minister’.
#50 Jonas Gustavsson, Age: 26
Last year: 6-13-2, 3.29. It was difficult to measure his NHL progression in his second season in Toronto. There was another heart-related problem and the rise of Reimer limited his playing time. When he was healthy, he continued to over-play many pucks. Was 3-1-1 in a conditioning stint with the Marlies.
This year: Management has done everything it can to pump him up, ultimately keeping him as back-up after a strong push by Ben Scrivens. Gustavsson was hot and cold for most of his pre-season gig. Of his 65 games as a Leaf, 39 have been regulation or overtime defeats. That ratio can’t continue if he hopes to stay in the plans beyond 2011-12.
Did you know: Installed Manchester United as his favourite for FIFA 2012 soccer because native Swedish clubs are so bad.
#2 Luke Schenn Age: 21
Last year: 82 GP, 5-17-22, 34 PIM. Led NHL defencemen in hits (251) and the team in blocked shots (168). Despite his young age, had the courage to call out teammates last year when effort was slipping. Averaged 22:22 in ice time last season. Has steadily brought his penalty minutes down in his first three NHL years.
This year: After a drawn-out contract negotiation, signed for five years and $18 million US on the eve of camp. Will likely start the year paired with veteran John-Michael Liles. Leafs need another full season from him, the only team blueliner to play all 82 last year. He’s missed just three games the past two terms.
Did you know: Parents Rita and Jeff made the home opener of both Luke and brother Brayden last year when latter was with L.A.
#3 Dion Phaneuf Age 26
Last year: 66 GP, 8-22-30, 88 PIM. First year as captain was marred by a freak leg injury that cost him 16 games, but he had a great second half. Reached the 30-minute mark for ice time on a couple of occassions. Had six points in a four-game stretch in mid-March and 22 assists to reach a minimum of 20 since 2005-06.
This year: Getting more comfortable in his role with the ‘C’, with officials, teammates and media. A great open-ice hitter, though one who could run foul of more stringent league rules about contact to the head. His power-play numbers could perk up now that Liles is feeding him.
Did you know: He was the Leafs’ rep on the NHL summer media tour, visiting Sports Illustrated, the New York Times and major TV stations.
#8 Mike Komisarek Age 29
Last year: 75 GP, 1-9-10, 86 PIM. Despite some rough patches, a post-lockout low of 13:38 in ice time and a brush with the law in L.A., he ranked third on the Leafs in hits. As always, when he simplified his game it led to better results. Scored his first goal as a Leaf and reached a career high in assists.
This year: There was summer speculation the Leafs would try and stick Komisarek in the minors to erase his $4.5 million US salary, but he dedicated himself to getting lighter and had a productive camp. The Leafs will start him as explosive rookie Jake Gardiner’s stay-at-home partner.
Did you know: He’s the Leafs’ NHLPA rep, pending re-election in late October.
#24 John-Michael Liles Age 30
Last year: 76 GP, 6-40-46, 35 PIM. Ended his seven years with the Colorado Avalanche with a bang, a career high in assists. That included one in each of the team’s first nine games, an NHL record. At 22 minutes he was the Avs’ leader in ice time. Ranked 16th in scoring among NHL defencemen, 10th in assists.
This year: Replaces Tomas Kaberle as the first-pass breakout defenceman, but real impact should be on the power play where he helped Colorado to 11th place. Continues to be a late-draft bonus from 2000, a year when he, Travis Moen, new Leaf teammate Matthew Lombardi and Henrik Lundqvist were picked 155th or higher.
Did you know: Liles was born in Indianapolis and is a huge supporter of Peyton Manning and the Colts.
#22 Cody Franson Age: 24
Last year: 80 GP 8-21-29, 30 PIM. What’s this, a Leaf with recent playoff experience? Franson played 12 games for Nashville, more post-season work than anyone in camp except for the juniors. That was on top of his career high in goals.
This year: The knock against the 6-foot-5 Franson is that he doesn’t use his size effectively, something the often timid Leafs want him to exploit. He also has a cannon of a shot that might find its way on to the power play. The Leafs made an astute move to shuffle cap space to get Franson and Lombardi, but now it’s payoff time.
Did you know: His uncle, Chris Franson, bought him a Wendel Clark jersey when he was born in Salmon Arm, B.C.
#36 Carl Gunnarsson Age: 24
Last year: 68 GP, 4-16-20, 14 PIM. Continued to battle on the fringe of the roster, and solidified a spot late in the year during the spring surge. Given more offensive duties after Tomas Kaberle was traded, he played more than 21 minutes a game down the stretch, with a little points’ streak in March.
This year: He signed a new contract in June, but the arrival of higher-profile defencemen threaten his role. He might have to play with more of an edge to stay in the top six.
Did you know: His hometown of Orebro, Sweden is noted for a 13th century medieval castle.
#51 Jake Gardiner Age 21
Last year: 41 GP, 10-31-41. 24 PIM. His University of Wisconsin mates held their breath sometimes when Gardiner took off with the puck, but it was often worth the risks. Gardiner has the speed to get out of trouble as fast as he gets in. Getting his feet wet with the Marlies for 10 games last year was a big help.
This year: Definitely going to be one of the most exciting Leafs to watch, either here or with Marlies. He was judged a better bet than a shaky Keith Aulie in camp, but the stipulation is that Gardiner must play if he stays with the big club.
Did you know: Majored in consumer affairs at Wisconsin.
#9 RW Colby Armstrong Age 28
Last year: 50 GP 8-15-23, 38 PIM. Despite a rash of injuries, literally from head to toe, Armstrong was one of the most inspirational Leafs and provided a visible boost when in the lineup. Established on third line right wing, he had a five-game points’ streak and a three-point night before a broken foot finally finished him.
This year: Likely to be named an alternate captain, he might get a chance to show his offensive side if paired with Matthew Lombardi or Nazem Kadri when the latter returns. In a full season, Armstrong is capable of 40 points.
Did You Know: Armstrong’s father and Clarke MacArthur’s dad were senior hockey foes on either side of the Saskatchewan-Alberta border town of Lloydminster.
#11 C Philippe Dupuis Age 26
Last Year: 74 GP, 6-11-17, 40 PIM. Even those familiar with his checking and penalty-killing prowess wondered if he could escape the minors for a whole season and stay in the NHL. But Dupuis became a staple in Colorado and played a career-high 74 games. Came to the attention of new Leaf player personnel boss Rick Dudley, who likes his moxy.
This year: Beat out the popular Darryl Boyce for a role, based on his penalty killing. But with a two-way contract, he can’t afford a let-up with so many like-minded forwards here. He once had 105 points for Moncton in the QMJHL and could pot a couple of goals off turnovers to enhance his position.
Did you know: His first NHL goal was a short-handed effort against ex-Leaf Andrew Raycroft.
#12 C Tim Connolly Age 30
Last year: 68 GP, 13-29-42, 20 PIM. Cursed by injuries in Buffalo, but also lack of playoff production that helped pave his way out of town. With just two assists in six games last year, it extended a streak of no goals in 28 post-season matches. But when healthy and motivated, Connolly could be a force in the middle.
This year: Projected to centre Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, Connolly had two non-descript pre-season games and then hurt his shoulder. He has stated often that the change of scenery and the challenge of picking up the Toronto offence appeals to him, but the early injury could be a bad omen.
Did you know: Only two of the four players picked ahead of Connolly in the ‘99 draft are still active — the Sedin twins.
#15 C/LW Matthew Lombardi Age: 29
Last year: 2 GP, 0-0-0, 0 PIM. Lombardi’s season came to a violent end just two games into the Predators’ schedule when he took a nasty head-first tumble into the boards. The concussion symptoms did not abate until well into the summer, by which time the Leafs had taken his salary off Nashville’ hands.
This year: A series of milestones culminated in Lombardi playing in Toronto’s final exhibition game with permission for contact. As other Leafs have fallen in pre-season, Lombardi has gained strength and has well-respected speed.
Did you know: Lombardi was picked 215th by the Edmonton Oilers, didn’t sign, went back in the pool and was selected 90th by Calgary.
#16 LW Clarke MacArthur Age 26
Last year: 82 GP, 21-41-62, 37 PIM. A late addition after a salary row with Atlanta GM Rick Dudley (now a Leaf), MacArthur was the perfect complement for the Leafs’ Russian-speaking duo, Mikhail Grabovski and Niklolai Kulemin. MacArthur reached career highs across the board, but tailed off a bit after the all-star break.
Finally nailed the contract he’d waited for and enjoyed a fine pre-season with his old linemates. Until he lost his cool on a hit in a game against Detroit that will cost him two regular season games.
Did you know: Shares coach Ron Wilson’s affinity for the TV show Dexter.
#18 LW Mike Brown Age 26
Last year: 50 GP. 3-5-8. 69 PIM. Another poster boy for pain, Brown put his body on the line several times to block shots, to fight and take some punishing hits, But he did reach a career-high in points and felt comfortable in his new surroundings.
This year: Lingering problems from last season and extending his playing calendar to the world championship for Team USA caused him an off-season groin injury and slowed his camp progress. But he should be able to play a strong fourth-line role again.
Did you know: He was a rollerblader until his mother saw a learn-to-skate brochure and signed him up.
#19 LW Joffrey Lupul Age 28
Last year: 56 GP, 14-17-31 33 PIM. By the end of 2010-11, people had forgotten Lupul had missed a chunk of time with a back injury. He looked at ease on first line left wing, with a drive-the-net presence that Phil Kessel sorely needed. Since 2007, he has missed 115 games.
This year: Lupul hopes to get back to his 20-plus goal pace of a few years ago, but that depends on finding chemistry with Connolly or whomever might end up at centre. He is not a stranger to the Eastern Conference after a couple of years in Philadelphia.
Did you know: Of Ukrainian descent, he plays guitar for relaxation.
#20 C/LW David Steckel Age: 29
Last year: 75 GP, 6-6-12, 26 PIM. Dealt to Jersey by the Caps for Jason Arnott near the deadline. Led NHL in faceoff percentage with 62.3% last season. Has placed in the top seven of top faceoff men in the league in his first four NHL campaigns.
This year: Acquired Tuesday for a fourth rounder, the 6-foot-5 Steckel will be Toronto’s biggest forward and addresses concerns about lack of size down the middle and success in the dots. Has the Sidney Crosby hit hanging over him, but his penalty minutes have been in decline since posting 103 in ‘08-09.
Did You Know: A first round pick of the L.A. Kings in 2001, he was in the same draft class as new teammates Komisarek and Armstrong.
#28 RW Colton Orr Age 29
Last Year: 46 GP, 2-0-2, 128 PIM. Team enforcer’s role came to a screeching halt in January when he was decked by Anaheim’s George Parros. Resulting concussion eventually subsided, but cast some doubt on Orr’s future effectiveness. Did score twice to give him six goals in two years.
This Year: Showing no ill effects from his injury and continues to play a smart defensive game. But the Leafs have Jay Rosehill to use in similar situations and might have to squeeze other forwards into the lineup at Orr’s expense.
Did you know: Did not skate until age 11, while trying to emulate his father, a semi-pro basketball player.
#38 LW/RW Jay Rosehill Age: 26
Last year; 26 GP. 1-2-3, 71 PIM. Started the season in the minors again, but was called up twice and finished in a regular role. Has gained respect for being a good soldier with the Leafs and Marlies.
This year: Earned himself a coveted new one-way contract in the summer, but Orr is back and the Leafs have added some fiesty fourth-line role players.
Did you know: First time since being drafted by Tampa Bay in 2003 that he’ll stick on an opening day roster.
#39 LW Matt Frattin Age: 23
Last year 1 GP, 0-0-0, 0 PIM. NCAA star at North Dakota played in the Leafs’ last game of the season after lighting it up right through to the Frozen Four tourney. His 60 points in 44 games made him a Hobey Baker finalist and quite a find for the Leafs, who picked him 99th overall in 2007.
This year: Beat out fellow rookie Joe Colborne and was neck-and-neck with Kadri when the latter was hurt. But as is the case with Gardiner, he’ll have to play a lot and score at the start to dodge an eventual assignment to the Marlies.
Did you know: Was MVP of the Archbishop O’Leary High School soccer team in Edmonton as a senior in 2006. He also played on the volleyball squad.
#41 RW Nikolai Kulemin Age: 25
Last year: 82 GP, 30-27-57, 26 PIM. The most reliable two-way forward continued to hone his defensive game and become one the Leafs’ best penalty killers. Good speed and net savvy complements the line with Grabovski and MacArthur. Has missed just 13 games in his three NHL seasons.
This year: The expectations increase, although Wilson says he’ll be happy if the goal output remains the same and he stays strong on the other side of centre. Command of English is much better, thus the Russian is more comfortable in the room and around the city.
Did you know: Watches TV shows to increase his vocabulary.
#42 C Tyler Bozak Age: 25
Last Year: 82 GP, 15-17-32. 14 PIM. Square peg in a round hole was not a good overall fit with first liner Phil Kessel. A whopping minus-29 eventually convinced management to go in another direction in the off-season. But he was good on faceoffs and in different roles.
This year: Looked great in camp on the third line with Armstrong and Kadri, but ironically, will be starting in his old job because of Connolly’s injury. He has played underweight for many years, but applied himself to conditioning in the off-season, in anticipation of more physical play in his new position.
Did you know: To fatten himself when at home in Saskatchewan, he loads up on grandma’s perogies and cabbage rolls.
#43 C/LW Nazem Kadri Age: 21
Last Year: 29 GP 3-9-12, 8 PIM. Things didn’t start out as he hoped with a crash and burn at camp, but he persevered and eventually won himself a third-line left wing job. He was constantly challenged by Burke and Wilson, in public and in private, and was a more well rounded player by April.
This year: Suffered an MCL injury in an exhibition game and will be out at least the first two games. Started camp with a bang, but gave ground to college sniper Frattin. Could be back at centre depending how other experiments work out or might be demoted in a numbers’ crunch.
Did You Know: Fourth NHLer of Lebanese descent after John Hanna, Alain Nasreddine and Ed Hatoum.
#81 RW Phil Kessel Age: 24
Last year: 82 GP, 32-32-64, 24 PIM. By the end of his second year as a Leaf, Kessel finally stopped people from calling the Boston trade a one-sided defeat and showing some versatility. He now has 20 power play goals, though a minus 20 stood out as well.
This year: Pre-season reviews haven’t been great, but that’s due in part to the Connolly injury. Leafs are optimistic he can get to 40 goals under the right circumstances and that balanced scoring will get checkers off of him.
Did you know: Phil Kessel Sr., was drafted by the Washington Redskins and was the third quarterback of the 1984 Birmingham Stallions of the defunct USFL.
#84 C Mikhail Grabovski Age: 27
Last Year: 81 GP 29-29-58, 60 PIM. Made full conversion to a well-adjusted every-day centre. His ability to take a pounding also won praise from the coaches. In turn, Grabovski credited the extra ice time Wilson gave him, up around 20 minutes, with improving his outlook.
This year: Pre-season scoring leader was attacking the net in camp, a weak spot among Toronto forwards the past couple of years. But Wilson would like to see him get a lot better on faceoffs.
Did You Know: Liked the Colorado Avalanche as a young fan.