Leafs’ Rookie Tournament – Recap

By Randy Nicholson
Congratulations to all involved as the Leafs’ rookies sailed through this past weekend’s round robin affair undefeated and won the annual Kitchener Tournament. There were many surprises (some good – some less so) amongst the players representing Toronto at this competition. In the end, though, it was exciting just to see all of the Maple Leafs’ best young players together in one place at one time. There is really no better opportunity to get a quick snapshot of the relative strengths and weaknesses of each player in the development system.

Hockey’s Future’s own tournament correspondent, Stephen Holodinsky, will be posting his final grades for all Maple Leafs’ prospects within the next day or two. That said, here’s how each of the boys in blue and white appeared to this observer:

Goaltenders

Sebastien Centomo – A Rookie Tournament veteran who shone at last year’s event … Centomo’s experience in this format was telling and he was clearly the more impressive of the Leaf’s netminding prospects … Sebastien is quick and agile but still tends to play too low and will have to adjust when facing NHL caliber shooters … Centomo will be a starter in the QMJHL this season …

Jean-Francois Racine – One of two keepers selected by Toronto in the 3rd Round at the Entry Draft in June … Racine is a big goaltender who covers a lot ground by playing the angles efficiently… Jean-Francois didn’t fare too well against the Sabres after playing strongly in the Rangers game … Racine will also be a regular in the QMJHL this season …

Jamie Hodson – Did not play during the Rookie Tournament … Hodson is highly rated and will likely be the back-up in St. John’s this season …

Defensemen

Jonathan Zion – Demonstrated poise, mobility and clever puck movement throughout the tournament … Jonathan could easily be one of the most outstanding players in the OHL with Ottawa this season … Zion may be the closest thing to a true quarterback presently in the Leafs’ system … he must continue to work at adding strength and perfecting his defensive positioning in order to have a real shot at playing in the NHL …

Peter Reynolds – Possesses the physical attributes (height, weight, mobility, toughness) needed to compete against the behemoths now populating many NHL rosters … the former 2nd Rounder has been a bit slow to develop but now certainly appears to be on the right track … Reynolds was the captain of Toronto’s rookie squad and possesses obvious leadership abilities … Peter will return to North Bay for a final junior season and also has a good chance of earning a spot on the final roster for Canada’s World Junior Team …

Petr Svoboda – Initial predictions that he would jump directly to the Leafs’ NHL line-up this year may have been a bit too optimistic … after all, the Maple Leafs weren’t quite as strong or deep when Tomas Kaberle accomplished this feat two seasons ago … Svoboda was able to flash his immense potential in Kitchener, showing himself to be a heady, mobile and well schooled defender … Petr also possesses good size and plays the game aggressively … even if he is asked to begin his career in St. John’s this season, it shouldn’t take Svoboda very long to reach Toronto …

Lubos Velebny – Velebny hails from Slovakia and is yet another of Toronto’s big, powerful and mobile Eastern European blueline prospects … did little to draw attention to himself in Kitchener but this is not necessarily a bad thing for a defensive player … at this point, it is uncertain whether Velebny plans to play in the Canadian Hockey League or return to his homeland for the coming season …

Jean-Philippe Cote – A top prospect when he entered the QMJHL from midget hockey, Cote experienced some growing pains and was subsequently available to the Leafs in the final round of the 2000 Entry Draft … he certainly looks like a good defensive prospect – big, mean and aggressive … his skating must be improved but this same statement could be made about 90% of the players in junior hockey …

Allan Rourke – A big time scorer with the Kitchener Rangers last season, Rourke didn’t begin to make a similar impact at this tournament … Allan is a big defender who doesn’t shy away from contact, skates very well and possesses a booming point shot … he is not expected to be an offensive force in St. John’s this season but is expected to make the team with little trouble … Allan would be well advised to concentrate on his defensive positioning in 2000 / 2001 and let the offense take care of itself in time …

Vaclav Zavoral – In many ways, he was the most impressive defender at the tournament simply because its so easy to project him into the NHL one day … Zavoral demonstrated all of the requirements – size, skating ability, toughness, vicious defense of the goal crease, sound positional play and the occasional intelligent offensive foray … Vaclav will return for a final junior campaign in Sault Ste. Marie and his progress there should be of intense interest to all Maple Leafs’ fans …

Forwards

Luca Cereda – Toronto’s 1st Rounder from the 1999 Entry Draft, Luca experienced some well documented difficulties with his club team in Switzerland last year … he will suit up with the Ottawa of the OHL this season and this should really help to put him back on track … after a slow start in Game 1, Cereda came on strong in the tournament and helped to spearhead Toronto’s attack the rest of the way … he has everything needed to be a significant NHL player in time (good size, skating ability, vision, instinct and intelligence) and Leafs’ fans are hoping that 67’s coach Brian Kilrea can help him to begin to harness these gifts in 2000 / 2001 …

Lance Galbraith– Attended this camp on try-out basis and was easily the most pleasant surprise on the entire Leafs’ roster … delivered enthusiastic physical play as expected but also chipped in with surprising offense … scored twice in each of Toronto’s final 2 games and none of the goals were of the cheap variety … he has certainly earned a contract with the Maple Leafs but may now be sent to St. John’s rather than back to Ottawa for his overage year … on the other hand, Galbraith’s potent collaboration with Cereda this weekend indicates that a full season together in Ottawa could be of great benefit to both players …

Miguel Delisle– The third member of the 1st line, Delisle is also scheduled to play in Ottawa this year … Toronto’s brass were positively delighted when they were able to grab this player in the 4th Round of the June Entry Draft … Delisle has size, speed and demonstrated solid offensive moves in Kitchener …
he will also benefit greatly from a full season beside Luca Cereda if Coach Kilrea elects to leave them together …

Brad Boyes – Toronto’s 1st choice this past June, Boyes improved markedly during the course of the 3 games … though still slight and far from the fastest player on the roster, Brad controlled the play whenever he was on the ice … he also showed that he wasn’t bothered at all by the rough play that prevailed during much of the tournament … Boyes will be the main man at Erie of the OHL this season and must simply continue to get bigger, stronger and faster (just as Jeff Farkas has done) in order to secure an NHL future for himself …

Mirko Murovic – Although the name sounds European, Murovic is a Montreal native who plays for Moncton in the QMJHL … the scouting report on Mirko was verified to a large extent by his efforts during the tournament – Murovic is big and plays that way, works very hard, skates fairly well but really struggles around the opponent’s goal … he must pick up his offense and will have one last kick at becoming a decent scorer in junior hockey during the upcoming campaign …

Vadim Sozinov – One of the more mysterious players on the Toronto roster simply because so very little is known about hockey in his native Kazakhstan … Vadim’s ambition is to become a sniper of the first order and his next stop on this journey will be Ottawa of the OHL … although he scored once in two games played, Sozinov looked a lost at times in Kitchener and will need a great deal of support from the 67’s staff in order to better adapt to North American ice surfaces and training methods …

Morgan Warren – A QMJHL grad signed by Toronto just prior to the deadline date last spring, Warren is an enigma in that his production in junior hockey has never matched his tools … Morgan has good size, decent wheels and a hard accurate shot but has not yet been able to translate these gifts into big goal scoring totals … the transformation of this PEI native into a prototypical pro winger will begin in earnest this season in St. John’s …

Alexei Ponikarovsky – It was impossible to ignore this hulking Ukrainian forward on the ice in Kitchener … Ponikarovsky is listed at 6-4 and looks even bigger … he also has an extremely wide, thick frame that proved virtually impossible for opposing defenders to handle one-on-one … more importantly from a Leafs’ perspective, Ponikarovsky can skate and play hockey at the skill level generally associated with top European prospects … Alexei has a chance to be a very significant player in St. John’s this year and could eventually become an NHL star if his offense continues to progress at its present rate …

Michal Travnicek – No player entered the tournament with as much baggage as this Czech winger did … previously banished by the International Ice Hockey Federation on 2 occasions for separate spitting and high sticking incidents, Travnicek’s performance in Kitchener left little doubt as to his preferred playing style … he hit everything that moved and played a tough (almost dirty) game very reminiscent of the Sabres’ Vaclav Varada … Michal also demonstrated ample skill and hockey sense but must continue to work on improving these areas in order to advance further … Travnicek will also play in St. John’s this season …

Kris Vernarsky – The Leafs’ 2000 2nd Rounder, Kris played extremely well at the Rookie Tournament and showcased a very well rounded game … conscientious and mature far beyond his tender years, Vernarsky anchored what was arguably the best line for Toronto over the course of the 3 games … Kris will return to Plymouth of the OHL this year and it will be very important to see how much he can potentially improve upon last year’s modest scoring totals …

Jonathan Gagnon – Following a solid junior career with several teams in the QMJHL, Gagnon will move up to play on the “Rock” this year … billed as a sound two-way pivot prior to the tournament, Jon’s play in Kitchener did nothing at all to tarnish this reputation … as with the vast majority of players moving from junior to the minor-pro level, Gagnon will need to separate himself from the pack by improving a wide variety of skills (skating, shooting, face-offs, penalty killing etc.) while waiting for advancement opportunities to present themselves …

Ben Ondrus – Ben was the second free agent invited to play for the Leafs in Kitchener and, though not as productive as Lance Galbraith, didn’t hurt his chances of landing a contract with the team … Ondrus considers himself to be a gritty forechecking specialist, not unlike Toronto’s own Gary Valk … Ben did a very effective job of using his speed and aggressiveness to stalk opposition puck carriers and also chipped in with 2 markers of his own … it will be interesting to see what the organization decides to do with this sparkplug …

Jacques Lariviere – Signed as a free agent after making a significant splash at last year’s camp, there is absolutely no deception in Lariviere’s game … Jacques is a highly qualified policeman who took it upon himself to stand up for his team mates throughout the course of the tournament … though many players show a willingness to do this job, Lariviere is brutally good at it and inflicted some very serious beatings on opposition goons … pugilism will help to get him into the line-up at St. John’s this year but Lariviere will still need to improve his skating and other soft skills in order to make it all the way to Toronto in the long run …

Frantisek Mrazek – This hard luck winger didn’t participate in the Rookie Camp due to illness … Mrazek missed all of last season with St. John’s due to injury as well … he’s under contract and still highly thought of … Frankie will still get plenty of chances to impress the brass if he can only stay in one piece …

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