It was a second straight season in which the Maple Leafs missed the postseason, but there is hope heading into next season after two players – Ian White and Carlo Colaiacovo – established themselves as top-six defensemen. It was kind of ironic after GM John Ferguson Jr. shelled out big bucks in free agency to sign Hal Gill and Pavel Kubina that White and Colaiacovo would step up and separate from the pack of young defensemen vying for regular ice time. Had they been able to do it a year earlier, it may have shifted the Leafs’ priorities in free agency last summer. However, it makes it quite clear what they will be after this summer.
Ian White, D, 22 (23 on June 4) – (2002 6th Round, 191st overall)
White finished the 2005-06 season strong and continued to roll heading into the 2006-07 season. He cracked the top-six out of training camp after Staffan Kronwall and Colaiacovo were nursing injuries. White received No. 2 defense pairing ice time right from the get-go. By the end of the year, he found himself playing with the towering Gill on a regular basis and getting power play time, as well. The point on the power play is where White will eventually call home if he continues to develop. He quarterbacked Team Canada at the 2003 World Juniors in Halifax, so there is no doubt he can do it at a high level. White has put up points at every stop in his young career – 77 WHL goals – and this year he also proved he could do it at the NHL level, tying for second in rookie defenseman points with three goals and 23 assists. The knock on White has always been his small stature at 5’10 and 185 points, but after finishing with a more-than-respectable +8 rating, he has put those doubts to rest by playing a good positional, puck-moving defensive game. White should be a mainstay in Toronto for years to come as they recently signed him to a new three-year contract.
Carlo Colaiacovo, D, 24 – (2001 1st Round, 17th overall)
Is this the year Carlo Colaiacovo finally stays healthy? Is this the year he can play a consistent all-around game? It seems there are always questions surrounding this talented defenseman. Even after his best season as a pro and a solid January to April, there are still questions heading into the summer. He underwent arthroscopic knee surgery April 29 but he is expected to be ready for training camp. Colaiacovo played 48 games after returning from post-concussion syndrome and a wrist injury. He debuted with the Leafs on Dec. 12 and didn’t look back, scoring eight goals and nine assists to go along with a plus five rating. Scouts have known all along that Colaiacovo was top-two defenseman material but this was the first time he was able to put it together for a significant stretch. The Leafs treated their injury prone blueliner with kid gloves early on as he didn’t see over 20 minutes of ice in a game until his 24th game of the season on Feb. 10. After that he went on to log 20 minutes of ice a game 13 times. When healthy and on his game, Colaiacovo can move the puck, quarterback a power play and lay devastating open ice hits. 2007-08 will be a key season for his development. A season of 70-plus games would go a long way for his development, as well as his confidence.
Kris Newbury, C, 25 – (2002 5th round, 139th overall by San Jose)
Just when it looked like Newbury was starting to find his niche and help the Leafs on the fourth line as an energy guy, his season came to a crashing halt on Feb. 10 against Pittsburgh. After finding himself in a scuffle with Ronald Petrovicky, the two decided to drop the gloves and it would be the last time Newbury would see the ice this season. After getting knocked out cold, Newbury experienced post-concussion symptoms that led to him being shut down for the season. The stocky 5’10 200-pound center has been a good junior and minor league scorer, but scouts doubt he will ever be much more than a fourth liner in the NHL. Newbury scored two goals and two assists in 15 games with the Leafs after scoring 36 points in 37 games for the Marlies.
Ben Ondrus, RW, 24 – (Signed as free agent in 2003)
For the second straight season, Ondrus received a cup of coffee with the big club and in 16 games he registered two assists. In 2005-06 he was held pointless in 22 games. He added eight goals and three assists in 29 games with the Marlies this season. Ondrus’ best chance to prove to Leafs’ brass that he could make it as a fourth liner came in 2005-06, but after being held without a goal in 38 career games his career potential seems to be as a third liner in the minors and an emergency call-up. Ondrus’ energy impresses everyone but his skill set leaves much to be desired.
Jeremy Williams, RW, 23 – (2003 7th Round 220th overall)
There isn’t much you can say about Jeremy Williams’ two pro games. After lighting up junior to the tune of 93 goals in his final two seasons, Williams has two goals in two NHL games and they came on his first two NHL shots. This season he got the call Feb. 26 against Montreal and proceeded to play a little over seven minutes and contributed a goal and three shots on goal. He was sent back to the Marlies after the game and finished their season with six goals and nine assists in 23 games. Williams’ window may have been bigger this season had he not missed the majority of the season with a knee injury. While Williams has the requisite offensive skills – instincts, good shot – it is tough to get a handle on whether or not he will be able to continually put up numbers at the pro level. Williams will be a mystery until he gets significant NHL playing time.
Alexander Suglobov, RW, 25 – (2000 2nd Round, 56th overall)
Suglobov is a riddle wrapped in an enigma with a blazing set of wheels and hands made of silk. But his time may be running out. The big mystery this season was not the fact that he failed to register a point in 14 games with the Leafs, but the fact that he could no longer score at the AHL level. Since being acquired from the New Jersey Devils for Ken Klee at the 2006 trade deadline, Suglobov hasn’t put up a point in a Leafs uniform. But after scoring 33 goals in 66 games with Albany and Toronto in 2005-06, Suglobov plummeted to only three goals and 13 points in 32 AHL games this year. For a player who only contributes in the offensive end, his production this season was inexcusable.
Jay Harrison, D, 24 – (2001 3rd Round, 82nd overall)
The 6’4 210-pound blueliner started the season with the Leafs but after going down five games into the schedule, he never found his way back to the big club. After returning from injury, Harrison struggled to find his game with the Marlies, but by the end of the season he was back to playing his solid defensive game and was one of the best defensemen on a Marlies team that improved down the stretch. He finished with four goals and 18 points in 41 games. After putting up over 100 penalty minutes in each of his first three AHL seasons, he added to his totals with 68 this season. Barring an offseason trade, with the top-six blueline spots locked up in Toronto, Harrison will come to training camp to vie with a number of other players to land the seventh spot or be the first call-up from the Marlies.
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