Leafs stacked with options

Maple Leafs forward Clarke MacArthur skates during practice at the RCAF Flyers Arena at CFB...

Maple Leafs forward Clarke MacArthur skates during practice at the RCAF Flyers Arena at CFB Trenton, Oct. 11, 2011. (EMILY MOUNTNEY/QMI Agency)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:12 PM ET

TORONTO - The return of Clarke MacArthur this Saturday is a no-brainer now that he is sprung from Brendan Shanahan’s penitentiary.

The return of Cody Franson will require another heart-to-heart talk with whichever Maple Leafs defenceman has to sit Saturday against the Calgary Flames.

And the return of injured forwards Nazem Kadri and Tim Connolly? Those may be the two easiest for coach Ron Wilson to delay.

While not exactly an embarrassment of riches for the Leafs, Wilson certainly has some options heading into their third game at the Air Canada Centre.

And with a week between starts, you can expect at least two new faces in the lineup as the team looks to keep its 2-0 slate clean.

MacArthur, who will make his season debut on the wing of the team’s most productive line from last season, is itching to go after sitting out the first two games due to suspension for his pre-season hit on Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader.

“I don’t want to lose my job,” MacArthur said jokingly following a business-like 90-minute practice at the RCAF Flyers Arena here. “That’s why I’m hustling to get back.”

MacArthur has no worry about his employment, of course, and is expected to add a spark to linemates Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski.

But his return, along with the expected regular-season Leafs debut of Franson on the blue line, will force two others out of the lineup. And perhaps for the first time in his tenure here, Wilson has credible depth to influence his decision-making.

With the peculiar schedule of having a week between the Leafs’ first and second game followed by six contests in 10 nights, including the team’s first four-game road swing of the season, Wilson knew there would be changes.

And the sooner his players understand the value of such depth and the consequences it creates, the better.

“A real team, I won’t have to worry about (bruised feelings of sitting players out),” Wilson said.

“When we’re consistently winning and it’s all about the team winning, the players won’t worry about what happens to them as individuals.”

A case in point was Franson, who was bitterly disappointed at having started the season in the press box. Wilson and his staff recognized that concern and made sure they talked it out with the former Nashville Predator.

“He understands that this is a long season and he’s going to get his opportunities,” said Wilson, who gave no indication of who might come out of the lineup to make room for Franson. “I’m not going to keep him on the bench for long, but whoever comes out, we’ve got to have the same discussion.

“It’s a tough juggling act. He wants to play and show why we made a big trade like that for him and he’s going to get that opportunity.”

As expected, MacArthur’s return delivered a different look to the lineup for Tuesday’s practice, once again played out before a standing-room only crowd at the rink a short stroll away from the military base.

The spare forwards included the foursome of Connolly, who left the ice after 15 minutes, Kadri, who is recovering faster than expected from a minor knee injury, Colton Orr and Jay Rosehill.

The return of Connolly is extremely doubtful but there’s no rush for him given Tyler Bozak’s play between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul.

The third line, then, is likely to see Matthew Lombardi with Matt Frattin and Colby Armstrong followed by Philippe Dupuis-David, Steckel and Mike Brown.

“I think you always push yourself,” said Bozak, who has seen Wilson’s juggling first-hand, even when the team had much less depth. “That’s what makes us better — when guys have to work hard every day to keep their spots.”

From his non-participant’s perspective in the opening two wins, MacArthur has seen the value of those battles as well, a different look from a year ago.

“Just the games I’ve watched, I really like what we’ve got on our team,” MacArthur said. “I think one of the big lines is going to be Frattin or (Kadri) with (Armstrong) or (Bozak). You’ve got so many guys. When you have a lot of depth, it’s a positive thing.”

Especially for the guy making the decisions.

CONNOLLY DOUBTFUL FOR SATURDAY

If Tim Connolly is making progress towards his debut as a Maple Leaf, it isn’t exactly at high speed.

The team’s prized free-agent forward acquisition remains extremely doubtful for Saturday’s home game against Calgary after leaving the ice just 15 minutes into Tuesday’s practice.

Coach Ron Wilson said Connolly hasn’t had a setback in his recovery from an upper-body injury sustained early in training camp when the centre crashed heavily into the end boards at the Mastercard Centre.

“He was sore today so we backed off,” Wilson said when asked about Connolly’s brief appearance at the RCAF Flyers Arena.

“No surgery is necessary. He is improving day to day.”

While Connolly has practiced with the team for various lengths of time, he has also been shying away from contact drills.


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