Back to the Future 1: The Leafs’ Rookie Camp Preview

By Stephen J. Holodinsky

After years of believing it to be a contradiction in terms to mention the Toronto Maple Leafs and prospects in the same sentence things are beginning to change. Gone is the Harold “Draft ‘em, pay ‘em, play ‘em” Ballard era in which so many promising youngsters washed out after being thrown to the wolves. Gone as well is the Cliff “Draft, schmaft” Fletcher in which any chances of having youth to begin with was squandered on veteran role players. Now a new age is dawning. The Buds are finally getting their act together and spending serious time and resources on scouting and player development.

While no one is putting the Leafs in the New Jersey Devils category yet when it comes to launching successful NHL careers, they have indeed come along way in the last 3 or 4 seasons. The team can count defenders Tomas Kaberle and Danny Markov, as well as forward Nik Antropov among those drafted and developed within the system as regular contributors. Kaberle, at 22, shows every sign of developing into an All-Star defenseman along the lines of Niklas Lidstrom. He had a breakout season last year, and he should only improve in the future. Markov, makes up for his offensive shortcomings with his ‘Junkyard Dog’ approach to defense in his own end. After Bryan Berard went down he showed the ability to join the rush, but he is still going to have to improve his finish when he does receive the crossing pass. Antropov though, may be the jewel of the trio. In his first year in professional hockey, he dominated so much on The Rock management just couldn’t keep him down. Once he made it to the show his performance came in three separate parts. First there was the feeling out process in which he demonstrated jaw-dropping passing skills as well as good scoring ability when the opportunity arose. Then came the wall. Shortly after potting his first career hattrick in a Christmastime game against the Florida Panthers, his offense dried up. However, rather than let that ruin his year, he started improving his defence. By the time his offense returned down the stretch, he had become a very responsible center. As a rookie, he had the best net +/- on the squad (Players +/- minus team average +/-). There isn’t anyone to compare him to so strange is the package he offers. His feeds are very reminiscent of Mario Lemieux, but he is more physical and his skating is not on that level.

Now comes the next crop, most of which will be at rookie camp but a couple of which will report with the veterans. Jeff Farkas, the speedy sniper from Boston College, Adam Mair, the meat and potatoes of some very successful Owen Sound teams, and Mikael Hakansson, fresh off a championship season with Djurgarten in the SEL, will have the privilege of reporting with the big boys. However, there will be a few participants in the Rookie Tournament, who will be looking to stick around come the 7th of September when the Leafs training camp opens in the same venue. Who’s got the best shots of earning an extended stay in Oktoberfest country and what do they need to show? Without further ado a look at your future Leafs:

On the Bubble

Petr Svoboda-D-Czech: Svoboda has been hailed as the next Tomas Kaberle because of the possibility of him joining the Leafs in his first trip to North America. Dominant in the Czech Men’s League as a 19 year old, as long as he shows the organization what they are accustomed to seeing, he’ll get his invite.

Something to Prove

Jamie Hodson-G-Brandon (WHL): Injuries have robbed this once promising prospect of his rightful place in the pecking order and with the Leafs drafting two netminders in the third round of this years draft, the clock is definitely ticking. Mikael Tellqvist has recently passed him as the Buds’ puckstopper of the future. This might be his only shot to prove the scouts wrong.

Peter Reynolds-D-North Bay (OHL): A brilliant rookie camp last year was followed up by a very poor season by Reynold’s standards. Although he did start coming around towards the end of the year, he has to show the folks is wasn’t a fluke. With the amount of blueliners in the system the Leafs have, the pressure is on him.

Frantisek Mrazek-F-St. John’s: Although he has been compared to Rangers super prospect Pavel Brendl he blew out an ACL early in his debut season on The Rock and was lost for the year. At 21 years old, the Leafs can afford to be patient with him knowing that power forwards (6’4″, 220 lbs) take longer to develop than most players. That said the Leaf brass have to see that he has lost nothing in the way of speed or range of motion for him not to be downgraded.

Luca Cereda-C-Switzerland: Looked like the real deal two years ago but, after a couple of nagging injuries and off-ice problems, the wheels fell off. Questions were raised about his desire and his discipline. Chances are he’ll end up learning under Brain Kilrea of the Ottawa 67s this year but he needs to work hard every shift and play the system to quite his critics.

Alexei Ponikarovsky-LW-Russia/Mirko Murovic-RW-Moncton-QMJHL: Both of these two have already shown they have the work-ethic and grit essential to being in the NHL. Now both have to start lighting it up. Whichever one develops his offense the quickest will have the inside track.

Needs to make an Impression, Any Impression

Sebastien Centomo-G-Rouyn (QMJHL)

Lance Galbraith-LW-Ottawa

Johnathon Gagnon-C-Drummondville (QMJHL)

Jacques Lariviere-LW-Rimouski (QMJHL)

Ben Ondrus-C-Swift Current (WHL)

Morgan Warren-RW-Moncton (QMJHL)

Happy to be there

Jean_Francois Racine-G-Drummondville (QMJHL)

J.P. Cote-D-Cape Breton (QMJHL)

Allan Rourke-D-Kitchener (OHL)

Lubos Velebny-D-Zvolen Jr (Czech)

Vaclav Zavoral-D-Soo (OHL)

Jon Zion-D-Ottawa (OHL)

Brad Boyes-Erie (OHL)

Miguel Delisle-RW-Ottawa (OHL)

Vadim Sozinov-C-Kazakhstan

Mikail Travnicek-LW-Czech

Kris Vernarsky-C-Plymouth (OHL)

Throughout the Rookie Tournament, Randy Nicholson and myself will be keeping you up to date on the rockets, the duds, and all players in between. Stay tuned.