The Toronto Maple Leafs are one “playoff step” away from their first Stanley Cup appearance since the 1966-67 season. This fact is not lost on any Leafs’ fan anywhere. A blip by an upstart 1977-78 squad sent the Leafs to the conference finals against a very strong Montreal Canadiens squad. The Canadiens had the far superior team then and sent Toronto to an exit, one round before the Stanley Cup finals.
A veteran and somewhat overachieving team went to the Western Conference finals in 1992-93 and 1993-94 riding the coat-tails of Gilmour, Clark, Potvin, etc. But those teams were built with few young players and the team aged quickly.
The 1998-99 version has surely been a surprise, a very pleasant surprise indeed. This version has been built around some key veteran players, but the core of this team belies youth, talent and speed. Many of the Toronto Maple Leafs, circa 1999, have their best years ahead of them.
A successful regular season and an immensely exciting first two rounds of the playoffs have brought some adversity as it will for most playoffs combatants. A scoring slump, injuries to several key players and you’d think, boy are they done. Not so, as the Leafs’ improving depth reaches to the minors and the junior ranks to find their capable replacements.
Just a few short weeks ago, 20-year old Adam Mair was playing in the OHL playoffs for Owen Sound. He scores a goal in playoff game #3 against Pittsburgh in the second round of the NHL playoffs in his FIRST NHL game. He does it by barreling to the net fearlessly, a trait which Adam has exhibited frequently in his budding hockey career. He’s played on the Leafs’ 4th line and his minutes have been few in the playoffs, but what a way to get his feet wet. Adam has done nothing to show that he won’t belong in the NHL for the Leafs soon, very soon.
Lonny Bohonos, a career minor-leaguer save for 83 career NHL games scattered over 4 years, was one of the last players cut by Toronto in training camp this season. He seemed to sulk a bit and admittedly did not play well in the first half of the AHL, St. John’s Maple Leafs season. Just after Christmas, he caught fire and led the baby Leafs in scoring with 34 goals, 48 assists for 82 pts. in 70 games. Along the way, Lonny scored 3 goals in 7 games with Toronto as a late season fill-in for the injured Fredrik Modin. Modin’s late-season scoring slump continued into the playoffs and Lonny was inserted into the lineup on the first line with Steve Thomas and Mats Sundin for game 2 of the 2nd round series against Pittsburgh. He immediately gave that line a spark, scoring a goal and assisting on 2 others in a big Leafs’ win.
Lonny has long been known as a sniper and he has filled that role beautifully in the playoffs, scoring 3 goals and assisting on 5 others in just 6 games. His offensive skills certainly include a quick, powerful and accurate array of shots, but his playmaking ability has stood out as well. The man who admires the play of Brett Hull has not looked unlike his idol.
Kevyn Adams is a former 1st round choice of the Boston Bruins, who was signed by the Toronto club as a free agent just prior to the 1997-98 season. Kevyn spent 5 games with the Toronto team and the rest of that season at St. John’s. Despite a fairly impressive training camp, he returned to St. John’s prior to the 98-99 season. Chris Schwartz, director of media relations for St. John’s says that Kevyn’s role changed with the team as the season wore on. “Kevyn started the season as a checking center, but he ended the year playing on our top-scoring line due to callups and the trade of Jason Podollan. He is a hard-worker and has a great attitude toward the game, never taking a shift off. His offensive skills and confidence soared as our season wore on”, Schwartz said. Kevyn played in all 80 games for St. John’s, scoring 15 goals and 35 assists for 50 pts., which placed him 4th on the team in scoring. He was arguably, St. John’s best forward in their 5-game playoff loss to Fredricton.
Kevyn was called up to Toronto at the end of his AHL playoffs as a member of the team’s “Black Aces”. He was thrust into the Leafs lineup, centering the teams’ #2 line between wingers, Mike Johnson and Derek King. He gained an assist in his first NHL playoff game against Pittsburgh. Kevyn shows great hustle, speed, and physical play. He is not the most gifted offensive forward on the Leafs, but combined with his excellent work ethic, he is close to cracking the lineup on a more permanent basis and has not looked out of place in the playoffs. Kevyn has been very good at taking draws and has even seen some time on the penalty-killing unit.
Ladislav Kohn played most of the 1998-99 season with St. John’s as well and for the bulk of the season, was St. John’s best player. He was the only member of the team to play in the mid-season, AHL All-Star game. Playing in 61 games, the 24-year old winger scored 27 goals and 42 assists for 69 pts. He came over to the Leafs in a preseason trade with Calgary for defenseman, David Cooper. Kohn had two stints with Toronto this season, scoring his first NHL goal soon after his callup. He spent some time on the Leafs’ #1 line alongside Mats Sundin and in 16 NHL games, scored 1 goal with 3 assists for 4 pts.
The right-winger is known mostly for his offensive skills and playmaking ability, but he showed a feisty side to his play in the playoff series with Pittsburgh, taking on Tyler Wright in one of the series’ two brawls. He handled Wright capably. His playing time has been limited in the playoffs, but he has also not looked out of place and will soon vie for a regular spot somewhere in the Leafs’ lineup.
The appearance of all four of these young prospects in the Leafs’ playoff lineup has been a surprise, a pleasant surprise, and it constitutes the upward climb of the team. The added young depth developing in the system bodes well for the future and so it seems, the present. Mair the tough, young, defensive-minded center with the great future. Bohonos, the sniper, just waiting for a regular shift at the NHL level. Adams, the strong, hustling hard-worker who takes no shifts off. Kohn, the talented winger with the feisty streak. Leafs’ fans, there is more talent on the way for this long, tough, arduous climb toward the Stanley Cup. We are seeing some of it right now in this years’ NHL playoff derby, a little ahead of schedule.