Rebuilding on the “Rock”

By pbadmin
All Maple Leaf fans are anxious to know who is down in St. John’s, training and honing their skills in order to become Toronto’s next star player. Well unfortunately, there weren’t many bright spots on last year’s St. John’s Maple Leafs squad. The team’s GM, Bill Watters, will have a busy summer trying to rebuild this team with young drafted players as well as with some seasoned minor league veterans.

The Baby Leafs finished dead last in the AHL this past season. The Leafs finished with only 58 points (23-49-8-4), scored a league low 202 goals for and surrendered the 4th highest number of goals in the league with 277. The Leafs also boasted the league’s worst power play (13.4%) and had the 4th worst penalty killing unit (79.5%). The two lone bright spots on the team were rookie Adam Mair and veteran goaltender Jimmy Waite. Mair was 9th in the league in rookie scoring 66-22-27-49-124, while Waite was 15th in the league in goaltending with a 3.05 GAA and a tie for the league lead in shutouts with 6. Waite led the league with 37 losses, minutes played with 3460, and saves 1815. Waite, however, did accumulate 20 wins on the season.

Needless to say the Leafs will have a new look this season – primarily with a major influx of European and graduating junior talent. The Leafs will be a younger team and may struggle in the early going. Major rebuilding is required at nearly every position on the club.


The following is an early look at who’s in, who’s out, and who’s on the bubble in St John’s:

Goaltending

Returning players: Jimmy Waite (if he’s not needed with the big club).

Coming In:

Jamie Hodson (20) – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL). Jamie Hodson will more than likely become the backup in St. John’s for the 2000-01 season. Hodson posted good numbers in his three years of junior. However, he is coming off a rocky season during which he was forced to recover from knee surgery and play behind a young team that struggled. Hodson can hopefully start between 20 and 30 games this season.

Insert name here – A veteran goaltender if Glenn Healy is not re-signed and Jimmy Waite becomes Cujo’s caddy in Toronto.

Going Out:

Marc Robitaille – Marc has had a tough two years with the Toronto Maple Leafs organization. Robitaille was signed two years ago after his sophomore season at Northeastern University amid some fanfare. His numbers have not been impressive and the Leafs are probably not going to re-sign him.

Francis Larivee – the third highest goaltender ever drafted by the Leafs (behind only Felix Potvin and Eric Fichaud) has not met the expectations that the Leafs once had for him. He struggled in the ECHL last season. Larivee will not be re-signed either.

On the Bubble:

None.

Defense

Returning players: Nathan Dempsey, D.J. Smith, Dmitriy Yakushin.

Coming In:

Allan Rourke (20) – Kitchener Rangers (OHL). The OHL’s leading scorer among defensemen with 31 goals and 43 assists in 67 games. Rourke’s offensive ability will be welcomed in St. John’s. With Nathan Dempsey re-signed, Rourke will have a good mentor and should become the power play quarterback in St. John’s for a year or two.

Petr Svoboda (20) – Trinec (Czech Republic). No relation to Tampa Bay’s defender of the same name. Petr was Toronto’s second pick in 1998 and will be looked upon to provide some immediate help along with Rourke. Svoboda has played the past three plus seasons in the Czech Republic’s Elite League, where he held his own against much older players.

Going Out:

Justin Hocking – signed last summer and was a top six defensemen on the Baby Leafs. Hocking did not put up great numbers and he had plenty of company on the St John’s blueline. Hocking is now expendable with Rourke and Svoboda arriving in town.

Terran Sandwith – like Hocking, he was signed last summer as a free agent. Sandwith is similar to Hocking as he didn’t produce very much and is at risk due to the arrival of younger prospects.

Tyler Harlton – he is one of the most popular players in St. John’s due to his robust play. Harlton tried hard every night and became a fan favorite. Many thought Harlton would have been given a qualifying offer from the Maple Leafs but he was not and is now an unrestricted free agent.

On the Bubble:

Chris Bogas – played for Louisiana of the ECHL and had a very good first professional season. Bogas was recalled towards the end of the season and amassed 6 penalty minutes in 8 games then was sent back to Louisiana for their playoffs. Must step up this fall if he’s serious about a career in professional hockey.

Hugo Marchand – played for Louisiana of the ECHL as well and struggled a little in his first pro season. Marchand had only one point all season (a goal). Marchand is a hulking defensemen (6-3, 210) and may need to spend another year improving in the ECHL before significant playing time in the AHL is made available.

Centers

Returning players: Adam Mair (pending performance at Toronto’s training camp), Donald MacLean, Syl Apps III.

Coming In:

Jonathan Gagnon (20) – Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL). At this time last season Gagnon was on the bubble of being signed. Playing for three teams in the 1999-00 season, Jonathan played very well at each stop. Gagnon is considered to be a great face-off man and probably will be the pivot on the third or fourth line in St. John’s this year.

On the Bubble:

Aaron Brand – one of the best two-way forwards in St. John’s Maple Leafs history. Aaron may be out of a job in St. John’s with so much new young talent set to arrive this year.

Left Wingers

Returning players: Frantisek Mrazek, Konstantin Kalmikov.

Coming In:

Jeff Farkas (22) – Boston College Golden Eagles (Hockey East). Jeff Farkas amazed all Leafs’ fans with his play in the playoffs. Farkas was drafted in 1997 and was said to be too small to play in the NHL. After two rookie camps, which he paid his own way to attend, and 25 extra pounds Farkas is ready to invade the AHL. The only event that could ruin this debut would be if he makes the Toronto roster come October. Farkas plays with speed, speed and more speed. If assigned to St. John’s, Farkas will definitely play on the first line.

Jacques Lariviere (20) – Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL). Originally drafted by New Jersey, Lariviere was signed as a free agent last summer. He is pure enforcer, probably signed to help out Thornton with security duties on the “Rock”.

Michal Travnicek (20) – Litvinov (Czech Republic). Travnicek has been known more for being suspended lately than for his play. At the 1999 WJC he spit on a referee and was suspended for the remainder of the tournament. He was banned for three years by the IIHF for misuse of his stick on one Mattias Weinhandl. Travnicek is a gritty winger with a fair scoring touch. He will be welcomed on the “Rock” and probably become a fan favorite quite quickly. Look for Travnicek to be paired with Mair on a gritty forechecking line.

Going Out:

None.

On the Bubble:

None.

Right Wingers (the most congested spot on the team)

Returning players: Jason Sessa, Bobby House, Shawn Thornton.

Coming In:

Mikael Hakansson (26) – Djurgardens (Sweden). Hakansson was drafted back in 1992 by the Leafs. He was a member of the Swedish Elite League’s Championship Team this past season. Hakansson signed a one year deal with the Leafs and probably will start out in St. John’s. Hakansson is known as a great two-way player but will probably be given an offensive role. He is slated to be a second or third line winger. He can also play center.

Alexei Ponikarovsky (20) – Dynamo Moscow (Russia). Bill Watters is very high on Ponikarovsky. Alexei played well this past year in Russia and has the size to become a power forward (6-4, 196).

Morgan Warren (20) – Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL). Warren was in the same boat as Gagnon last summer and was signed at the last moment before he could re-enter the 2000 draft. Warren had a decent year in Moncton and played well in the playoffs. Warren is slated to be a checker and probably play in the third or fourth line.

Going Out:

Ryan Pepperall – was once highly thought of by the Maple Leafs and had a decent year last season with the Baby Buds. With so many young players coming to St. John’s, Pepperall might be out of a job.

On the Bubble:

Vladimir Antipov – started the season with St. John’s and was sent down to South Carolina of the ECHL where he spent four games and was quickly assigned to Long Beach of the IHL. Antipov is a speedy winger that has learned a sound defensive system while playing for Yaroslavl of the Russian Elite League. Some still consider him to be a potential star.

David Nemirovsky – was the leading scorer on the St. John’s Maple Leafs for a time last year until bowing out with an injury. Nemirovsky has good skills but will probably be shipped out to the IHL in order to accommodate the youngsters in St. John’s.

With the uncertainty of player contract situations to be resolved and the organization’s various agreements with IHL and ECHL teams to be considered, it is very tough to predict who will end up playing on the “Rock” in 2000/2001. However one thing is for certain, the Baby Leafs will be a better and more interesting team next year!