TORONTO - There were times during the pre-season when things didn’t come as easily to Cody Franson as they did in the first two years of his NHL career.
Different partners most practices and games were an adjustment, as was taking his right-hand shot to the left side of the blueline, a position he had never previously played.
In the big defenceman’s mind, though, working through such issues is what training camp was for, especially on a new team.
So when the news came that he would be starting the season as the team’s seventh defenceman — which is to say he wouldn’t be starting it all — Franson didn’t take the demotion well.
It was, as he said Wednesday, a kick in the groin. First there was frustration, then there was anger and calls to his family and agent. And finally, a resolve to make sure it won’t happen again.
After sitting out the first two games, both Leafs victories, Franson will get his first opportunity to make his case Saturday against the Calgary Flames.
“It takes a kick at your pride when something like that happens,” Franson said following the Leafs’ final practice here at the RCAF Flyers Arena. “(The Leafs coaching staff) just say it’s a matter of winning jobs back and I don’t plan on giving mine up.”
After averaging 15 minutes per game with the Nashville Predators last season, Franson felt his move to Toronto would represent an opportunity to step up that ice time and continue progressing towards being an elite defender. That may still happen, but on a deep Leafs blueline, nothing is going to be handed to the 6-foot-5, 215-pounder.
“I came here and thought I was going to be one of the guys who helped take charge and make the team go in the right direction early,” Franson said. “It’s something I prepared for all summer. It was very difficult on me. It’s just one of those things that didn’t work out right away and I had to deal with that, had to bury my chin and keep working.”
In his return to the lineup, Franson won’t just be eased back into action. On Wednesday, he participated in power-play drills with Carl Gunnarsson, suggesting he will be part of the second powerplay unit behind Dion Phaneuf and John-Michael Liles.
And Leafs coach Ron Wilson said as long as there are eight healthy D-men (including Keith Aulie, currently with the Marlies) expect plenty of movement in and out of the lineup.
“The problem is managing the ice time and trying to keep guys happy and keep them from grumbling about it,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. “Somebody’s going to be out every night who probably should be playing, but that’s a good problem to have.
“We are trying to eliminate that sense of entitlement. If a guy has three or four bad games in a row — someone who you would think would be automatically included in the lineup — he could find himself watching the game.”
Though Wilson wouldn’t say who Franson will replace, Saturday (rookie Jake Gardiner could be a lead candidate) he has some clear expectations from the former Pred.
“He’s got to play well defensively and I know he can help our power play with the shot he has,” Wilson said. “He’s just getting used to a different style of play altogether. I think he’s a lot more comfortable. We’ve seen a lot of improvement in practice. Now he’s just got to do it in games.”
Don’t expect Franson to play tentative to avoid making mistakes, though. It’s not his style.
“I want to put my best foot forward and make it tough for them to take me out again,” Franson said. “I don’t like watching games. I’m going to do my best to make it tough on them.”