Leafs high on Holzer

Maple Leafs defenceman Korbinian Holzer. (STAN BEHAL/QMI Agency)

Maple Leafs defenceman Korbinian Holzer. (STAN BEHAL/QMI Agency)

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:44 PM ET

TORONTO - Korbinian Holzer’s development with the Toronto Marlies could progress to the point where he is a full-time defenceman for the Maple Leafs in 2012-13.

Or it might not.

“No one is automatically on the team,” Leafs assistant general manager Claude Loiselle said Tuesday. “Anyone has to come in and make the team.”

But in Holzer’s case, the Leafs think he is ready to take that next step. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound native of Germany helped form the Marlies’ shut-down pair with Mark Fraser, and among his assets is his skating, which is a basic for any player with designs on playing regularly in the National Hockey League.

“No. 1, he’s a good skater and he sees the ice well,” Loiselle said. “He plays with a little jam, and being paired with Fraser, it brought out the physical part of his game. He was just one of many guys who benefited from the Marlies’ playoff run.”

Part of what enabled Holzer to excel in the AHL was the Leafs’ willingness to let him learn at a comfortable pace. There was no need to rush him to the Air Canada Centre — Holzer played for the Leafs in two games two seasons ago, and though he was recalled a couple of times last season, wasn’t kept around for long stretches with the Leafs simply to watch from the press box.

“That’s the key, the work at that level and playing in meaningful games,” Loiselle said. “Playing upward of 25 minutes a game and in key situations.

“He was a horse down there, but now he has to come and make it (with the Leafs).”

Selected by the Leafs 111th overall in 2006 when John Ferguson Jr. was the general manager, Holzer had one goal and 19 assists in 67 games and was plus-7. In 17 playoff games during the Marlies’ march to the Calder Cup final, where they lost to Norfolk, Holzer had one goal and four assists in 17 games.

Holzer’s deal, announced by the Leafs on their Twitter account on Monday night, is for one year and is one-way, at $575,000 US. There’s a spot to be had on the roster with the departure of defenceman Luke Schenn in the trade that brought forward James van Riemsdyk from the Philadelphia Flyers.

With Holzer signed, the Leafs have six defencemen under contract, including captain Dion Phaneuf, John-Michael Liles, Mike Komisarek, Jake Gardiner and Carl Gunnarsson.

Restricted free agent Cody Franson is not necessarily close to a new contract, but Loiselle is not concerned that one will not get done.

Schenn’s departure doesn’t mean the blue-line picture will have a little more clarity. The emergence of Holzer was one reason why the Leafs didn’t have a problem trading Schenn less than a year after signing him to a long-term pact, and the club also is high on prospect Jesse Blacker, whose intention is to fight hard for a job when training camp opens in September.

And not to put too much emphasis on it, but 2012 first-round pick Morgan Rielly made headway during the prospects camp last week, demonstrating he could not be that far off from making an impact on the Leafs blue line.

If Holzer does not claim a job in camp, he will not have to clear waivers to be sent down or recalled from the Marlies.

MUM ON DOAN

And though the Leafs have been linked to Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan, who is an unrestricted free agent, Loiselle refused to comment on whether Toronto actively is pursuing the 35-year-old winger.

It has been speculated that the Leafs are one of as many as 16 teams that have made inquiries regarding the services of Doan, who is considering a change from the desert with the Coyotes’ ownership issue unsettled.

“We try to improve our team every day of the year,” Loiselle said. “If we feel there is something that can help, then we go for it. You keep plugging away.”


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