June 23, 2012
Leafs have makings of young, speedy defence
By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency
TORONTO - If they all make it to the NHL some day, the Maple Leafs will have themselves a blue line built for speed.
It was easy to fall in love with Jake Gardiner’s sensational just-finished rookie season and his sublime skating ability. It was equally easy to admire the potential of last year’s first-round defensive selection, Stuart Percy.
And to add to that stockpile of offensively gifted defencemen, Leafs general manager Brian Burke selected Morgan Rielly Friday night with the fifth-pick overall of the 2012 NHL entry draft.
Too much of one style at one position? Given that Percy and Rielly are likely two seasons away at least and there is no guarantee on either — not at all.
It was clear that Burke wasn’t alone in his opinion that beyond pick No. 3, forwards weren’t worthy of consideration in his window of the draft. That may come back to bite him if some of the big centres taken later in the first round develop quickly into stars given the Leafs’ desperate needs up the middle — but the Leafs honcho stuck to his guns and opted for best available than need with his first pick.
And think of it this way: If the Los Angeles Kings showed us anything in their recently completed Stanley Cup run, moving the puck quickly from your own end is a proven style that works in the current NHL.
“It’s the type of defenceman this game is leaning toward right now,” Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray told TSN when talking about Cody Ceci, his first-round pick who has a similar skill set to Rielly.
While there are concerns with Rielly after a knee injury kept him out of so much of last season, the highlight reel looks pretty impressive and he had a strong enough showing at the NHL combine earlier this month. The kid has got some moves and if his passing skills develop to the pro level, he would be a natural to feed Dion Phaneuf on the power play.
Just don’t expect it to happen any time soon.
SUMMER OF NAZ
If forward Nazem Kadri is to become the first Leafs draft pick since Luke Schenn (2008) to crack the Toronto lineup and stay there, a big off-ice summer would help.
Toronto Marlies coach Dallas Eakins, who arguably has worked closer with Kadri than anyone in the organization, says the diminutive forward needs to get stronger if he is to survive the rigours of a full NHL season. It’s no secret that the No. 7-overall pick in the 2009 entry draft can be moved off the puck a little too easily.
“His chances this year are probably better than ever if he is willing to do the work he has to this summer,” Eakins said Friday on an interactive chat with Leafs fans on the team’s website.
“It’s up to him now. We’ve given him the necessary information. He know he needs to get stronger, he needs another step and he knows the rules that are in place for his game when he’s on the ice. He’ll either accept those and become a very good NHL player or he won’t accept them and move on somewhere else.”
NET GAIN, NET PAIN
Another day, another potential goaltender locked up by a team other than the Leafs, with Sergei Bobrovsky headed to Columbus.
Not saying that the inconsistent and largely unproven “Bob” was the way to go for Toronto and the Flyers certainly aren’t the organization to go goalie shopping.
That said, the Leafs are clearly looking for some security at the position, it’s just a matter of how aggressive they get and how much they are willing to pay. Eakins suggested on Friday that Ben Scrivens might not be quite ready to take the saviour’s role and could benefit from at least from another partial season in the American Hockey League.
And as Burke told reporters in Pittsburgh Friday night: “I don’t need a goalie until opening night.”
Burke’s Leafs lesson of the night: Toronto players don’t wear ball caps on stage after being selected because they mess up pictures ... Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul (@jlupul) didn’t waste any time welcoming Rielly via twitter, complete with a good-natured jab: “Congrats Morgan Rielly on becoming a Maple Leaf. Look forward to playing w you. Now go get me some tape. #rookie.” ... Don’t get all wound up about Burke’s claim that he had Rielly ranked first on his board. Rare is the GM that doesn’t say he had his first-rounder picked higher ... Because he remained unsigned, 2010 Leafs draft pick Josh Nicholls, now 20, was eligible to re-enter the draft. A seventh-round pick from the Saskatoon Blades, the winger played just 56 games last season while nursing a knee injury ... With Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgenson as Buffalo prospects taken in the first round Friday night, legendary Sabres play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret is going to have to live up to his Hall-of-Fame status ... Of course, if both of those big centres turn into legit NHL centres soon, it will be all the more painful for Leafs fans who are tired of every year with little up the middle ... Where was Burke on the trade front? Might have been an indication of what other teams think about the assets he’s willing to offer.