A popular debate amongst followers of the Leafs these days is which of Luca Cereda and Brad Boyes will be the better player down the road. Drafted in the first round by Toronto in the 1999 and 2000 drafts respectively, they were the second and third pivots selected first by the Buds in a row (with Nik Antropov going in 1998). So who is better? It’s still too early to tell, but a closer examination of both skaters is in order as the NHL gets ready for it’s various training camps.
Cereda since his draft year has had a myriad of problems, some personal, but the main one medical. With his heart murmur and surgery behind him now, this coming season looks to be the one in which he will leave his mark on the Leafs farm system. A slick distributor with the puck, the Swiss product is a rock on his skates who sees the game very well, both offensively and defensively. While there has been a knock on him that he is not a physical player, this columnist having seen him play doesn’t buy it. He will never be a Darcy Tucker type flying into the boards at high speed regardless of risk. That said, he uses his lower body strength very much to his advantage. Other players might have to get an elbow up here or there to gain leverage in the corners, but Cereda just plants himself and pivots where they aren’t. His skating doesn’t come into question as he is above average across the board. If there is something he could work on, it’s his finishing ability. Cereda will never been a 40 goal man, but he will no doubt be the setup man for one down the line. The best comparison when it comes to styles of play might be a bigger, harder to move version of Pittsburgh’s Martin Straka.
Boyes, on the other hand, is a different breed. While Cereda isn’t a behemoth by any means he definitely has the advantage over the 6’0″ 181 pound Erie Otter middleman. They differ in other ways as well. While his Swiss counterpart has ice water in his veins, Boyes is one for wearing his heart where everyone can see it. In fact, it is his leadership abilities that earn him extra marks in the intangible department. Following the departure of Tim Connolly to the New York Islanders after the 1998/99 campaign, Boyes stepped up and made the Otters his own. While he could use about 20 more pounds and a bit of power-skating, he does have the positional game down. He is a better finisher than Cereda, albeit slightly less deadly distributing the puck than the ex-Swiss leaguer. From the standpoint of style, his game reminds some of Chris Drury, though without Drury’s skating skills or outright speed.
Whether either of these two players live up to these comparisons is another thing again. For that to happen they must be given a chance to develop fully and work hard to not only attain that level of play but maintain it as well. Be that as it may, there is no evidence to say that this pair won’t put forth the effort and everything to say that they will. Indeed, if both Cereda and Boyes work to perfect their games like they can, the Leafs will be very strong up the middle for years to come.