Maple Leafs Roster Beginning to Take Shape

By pbadmin

With less than a week to go before NHL teams must submit protected lists for the annual NHL Waiver Draft, Toronto’s training camp roster has been pared down to 34 players. And except for a few mild surprises, this current batch of players bears a striking resemblance to the group that took Pat Quinn to the Eastern Conference Finals in his first year as coach of the Maple Leafs.

In goal, Curtis Joseph had the starting job locked up before camp even started, and Glenn Healy was all but guaranteed the job as backup to the man they call Cujo. Joseph has seen limited action, but has looked strong, stopping 30 shots from his former Edmonton teammates for a 4-2 victory on September 14th.

During the off-season, Healy underwent a rigorous training program and in his most recent pre-season game on September 17th, he dazzled by stopping three breakaways and was by all accounts the difference in the game.

Off-season acquisition Jim Waite has been solid in camp, but will start the season in St. John’s of the AHL, the Leafs top farm team, where he is expected to receive the brunt of the work. Waite signed a two-year deal with Toronto in the off-season, a two-way deal for this season and a one-way deal for next season. With Healy expected to retire next summer, Waite is the early favourite to back up Curtis Joseph for the 2000-2001 season.

Jason Muzzatti was also acquired in the off-season, and still remains in camp along with Joseph, Healy, and Waite, and is unlikely to be sent to St. John’s with Waite. Muzzatti could play in the IHL, perhaps with the Chicago Wolves or the Utah Grizzlies.

Youngsters Marc Robitaille and Francis Larivee are battling it out in the St. John’s camp for what will likely end up being the backup job to Waite. Relative unknowns Sebastian Centomo and Vladimir Kulikov impressed in the Leafs rookie tournament in Kitchener, and were sent to Rouyn-Noranda of the QMJHL and CSKA in Russia, respectively. Jamie Hodson, regarded as the Leafs top goaltending prospect, did not participate in camp due to an injury suffered late last season with Brandon of the WHL, and will start the season there once again. One of either Hodson or young phenom Jomar Cruz is expected to be traded from the Wheat Kings once Hodson returns to health.

On defense, the story continues to be the holdouts of veteran Leafs Dimitri Yushkevich and Bryan Berard, key players in Toronto’s playoff run last season. The sides are reportedly still a ways apart in contract negotiations, although there were rumblings last week that Berard was considering a three-year proposal plated by the Leafs. The two holdouts leave the Leafs thin on the point, and they could either be looking to acquire a veteran through a trade or free agency to plug the gap, or they might drop to a five defenseman set once the season is underway.

Incumbents Sylvain Cote, Tomas Kaberle, Alexander Karpovtsev, Danny Markov, and Chris McAllister are guaranteed spots, with only McAllister on the bubble if either or both of Berard or Yushkevich re-sign. Greg Andrusak and Terran Sandwith, acquired from the off-season scrap heap, are expected to fill the void in the short term. Andrusak was effective against Toronto in last season’s playoffs for Pittsburgh, and has a shot at winning a regular job with the Leafs.

The surprise of training camp on defense has been the solid play of defenseman Dmitri Yakushin, the 140th player taken in the 1996 Entry Draft. A Druzhba ’78 alumnus, Yakushin came over to North America for the ’95-’96 season and played for Tier II Pembroke of the COJHL. After spending time out west with Edmonton and Regina of the WHL, Yakushin played his first pro season with the Baby Leafs last season, scoring 8 points in 71 games. The knock on him had been his offensive production, but he has demonstrated a strong shot and poise with the puck that is reminiscent of Tomas Kaberle cracking the Maple Leafs roster last season. The fact that he remains with the Leafs as one of the final eight defensemen in training camp this season is a testament to his willingness to learn and to improve his game. He will likely end up back in St. John’s to start the season, but I said that about Kaberle last season.

In the forward ranks is where the real battles for jobs are shaping up. Coach Pat Quinn must chop the list of 22 remaining forwards down to 14 this week, and the fate of many players are still up in the air.

At centre, Mats Sundin and Yanic Perreault likely have the top two spots sewn up, barring the rumoured trade of Perreault, of course. Alyn McCauley will likely start the season as the third-line centre once he is given medical clearance to play, and Igor Korolev and Steve Sullivan are all but guaranteed jobs either at centre or on someone’s wing.

Newcomer Jason Bonsignore and prospects Kevyn Adams, Nikolai Antropov, and Adam Mair are on the bubble. Bonsignore and Adams are the most immediate choices to centre the fourth line, but will have to really impress to take away a job from a returning player. The 6’4″ Bonsignore might have the best chance, as his offensive skill and unlimited upside play in his favour. If Adams does not make the Leafs this season, he will become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Mair is good enough to play every day in the NHL right now, but may fall victim to a numbers game, as the Leafs have entirely too many borderline forwards, and Mair is not one lucky enough to have a guaranteed contract. Antropov has excelled at the Leaf camp, showing a tremendous head for the game, better than expected skating skills, and superb moves to go along with his thin 6’5″ frame. The Leafs are hoping to place him in the OHL this year, but Brampton, the team that owns his rights, have already used both their import spots, and he is expected to be dealt to Barrie, one of the better developmental teams in the OHL.

Right wing is the only iron-clad position for the Leafs, as Steve Thomas, Garry Valk, Mike Johnson, and Tie Domi will fight off Ladislav Kohn and Darrin Shannon, who will likely be sent to St. John’s. Thomas is coming off a superb season on Mats Sundin’s wing, and will be situated there again. Valk has been placed with his playoff linemates, Yanic Perreault and Sergei Berezin, and they have been by far the Leafs most dangerous line offensively in the pre-season. Johnson and Domi both committed to training programs in the off-season, and Johnson has added more bulk to his 6’3″ frame while Domi is looking to expand his skills and is reportedly in the best shape of his life.

On left wing is where the logjam really starts to become apparent. Only Sergei Berezin is guaranteed a spot, with Perreault and Valk, as he has been the Leafs best player in camp, bar none. Berezin also trained this off-season, compiling a series of workouts that he has found to be most effective in past off-seasons. Berezin appears poised to build on last year’s 37-goal effort, and could emerge as one of the League’s elite goalscorers.

Other hopefuls on the port side include Antropov, who’s best hope to stay with the big club in the short-term might be on the wing, Lonny Bohonos, who shone in the playoffs on Sundin’s wing, Jonas Hoglund, signed as an unrestricted free agent in the off-season from Montreal, Derek King, a 24-goal scorer last year, Kris King, an inspirational leader and one of the most underrated players in the league, Adam Mair, who projects to be a centre in the future, Fredrik Modin, who is outplaying Hoglund thus far in camp after a dreadful ’98-’99 campaign, and Todd Warriner, who may be running out of chances with the Leafs.

Igor Korolev and Steve Sullivan are also candidates to move over to the left side, and Korolev’s puckhandling skills could be a nice complement to the speedy and skillful Sundin and Thomas. Sullivan actually prefers the wing because of the lesser defensive responsibilities, and could be given an extended chance to show his stuff on the left side. Hoglund started off camp as one of the favourites to snap up the vacant left wing job on the top line, and has shown a good shot and nose for the net with his 6’4″ size. However he has not meshed well in limited chances with the dynamic
duo, and could be looking at a ticket to St. John’s before long.

Adam Mair has the ability, as mentioned, to play every day in the NHL, beginning this season, and if he cracks the lineup for opening day, he could be a candidate for the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year in the NHL. His 6′ 190 lb frame belies his hard-nosed style, as he has no fears of throwing his weight around and creating havoc in the opposing end. His style may make him injury prone in the short-term, but he has NHL-calibre skills and is a good bet to make the team.

Here are the players left in camp. The roster must be pared down to 23 by opening day (Oct 1), although either of McCauley or Korolev might be placed on the injured list by then, as they are still waiting to be cleared to play. The goaltending and defense are pretty much set, barring a trade or a signing (free agent or Berard/Yushkevich – don’t hold your breath).
F Kevyn Adams (C)
F Igor Korolev (C)
F Alyn McCauley (C)
F Yanic Perreault (C)
F Steve Sullivan (C)
F Mats Sundin (C)

Left Wing:
F Nikolai Antropov (LW)
F Sergei Berezin (LW)
F Jonas Hoglund (LW)
F Derek King (LW)
F Kris King (LW)
F Fredrik Modin (LW)
F Todd Warriner (LW)

Right Wing:
F Tie Domi (RW)
F Mike Johnson (RW)
F Darrin Shannon (RW)
F Steve Thomas (RW)
F Garry Valk (RW)

D Greg Andrusak
D Sylvain Cote
D Tomas Kaberle
D Alexander Karpovtsev
D Danny Markov
D Chris McAllister
D Terran Sandwith

G Glenn Healy
G Curtis Joseph

F Syl Apps to the St. John’s camp
F Aaron Brand to the St. John’s camp
F Bobby House to the St. John’s camp
F Frantisek Mrazek to the St. John’s camp
F Vladimir Antipov to the St. John’s camp
F Craig Charron to the St. John’s camp
F Dennis Maxwell to the St. John’s camp
F Ryan Pepperall to the St. John’s camp
F Jason Sessa to the St. John’s camp
F David Nemirovsky to the St. John’s camp
F Konstantin Kalmikov to the St. John’s camp
F Shawn Thornton to the St. John’s camp
D Bryan Fogarty to the St. John’s camp
D D.J. Smith to the St. John’s camp
D Marek Posmyk to the St. John’s camp
D Nathan Dempsey to the St. John’s camp
D Chris Bogas to the St. John’s camp
D Justin Hocking to the St. John’s camp
G Francis Larivee to the St. John’s camp
G Marc Robitaille to the St. John’s camp
F Lonny Bohonos to the St. John’s camp
F Jason Bonsignore to the St. John’s camp
F Ladislav Kohn to the St. John’s camp
F Adam Mair to the St. John’s camp
D Dmitri Yakushin to the St. John’s camp
G Jim Waite to the St. John’s camp
F Luca Cereda to Ambri-Piotta of the Swiss A-League
F Jonathan Gagnon to Cape Breton of the QMJHL
F Mirko Murovic to Moncton of the QMJHL
F Morgan Warren to Moncton of the QMJHL
F Brian Wiseman to Houston of the IHL
D Allan Rourke to Kitchener of the OHL
D Dwight Wolfe to Drummondville of the QMJHL
D Vaclav Zavoral to Sault Ste. Marie of the OHL
D Jonathan Zion to Ottawa of the OHL
G Sebastien Centomo of the Rouyn-Noranda of the QMJHL
G Vladimir Kulikov to CSKA in Russia
G Jason Muzzatti released

Not in camp:
F Jeff Farkas (college – senior)
D Bryan Berard (unsigned)
D Dimitri Yushkevich (unsigned)
G Jamie Hodson (injured)

Projected lines for opening day:

Korolev – Sundin – Thomas
Berezin – Perreault – Valk
Mair – McCauley – Johnson
Sullivan – Bonsignore – Domi

Cote – Markov
Kaberle – Karpovtsev
Andrusak – McAllister
With Kris King and Fredrik Modin as the extra forwards, Terran Sandwith as the seventh defenseman, and Curtis Joseph and Glenn Healy in net.

Several forwards, including Derek King, Kris King, and Todd Warriner, are expected to be left unprotected for the waiver draft. The Leafs have said that unsigned defensemen Bryan Berard and Dimitri Yushkevich will be protected for the waiver draft, despite the frigid relations between the two sides.

I am disappointed to see Bonsignore demoted, with the uncertain status of Korolev and McCauley I thought he might have something to contribute to the big club. By the way Bohonos, Bonsignore, Kohn, and Waite will be left unprotected for Monday’s waiver draft. Surviving the latest round of cuts are Nikolai Antropov, Darrin Shannon, Kevyn Adams, and Jonas Hoglund.

The recent “inconclusive” tests on McCauley by Dr. James Kelly in Chicago have the Toronto media all in a tizzy – they are suddenly convinced that McCauley’s career is over. Let’s reserve judgment, shall we? McCauley was looking for a perfect test – he wants to know that his head is completely 100% and that he has nothing to worry about before lacing up the skates again. With his history of concussion problems, that was unlikely at best, and he can only be applauded for his caution. There’s no sense in rushing him back at this point, or at any point for that matter. Speculation says that Dr. Kelly advised McCauley never to play again, but that is unconfirmed and also unlikely at this point. More likely is that Dr. Kelly saw something he wasn’t too sure about, and wanted to be sure before giving Alyn his blessing.

Trade rumours are still floating around. Cale Hulse was injured last week and won’t be ready for the start of the season, so his name has vanished from the Leafs radar screens, only to be replaced with Calgary captain Todd Simpson, who is a similar defenseman to Jason Smith, tough workhorse who knows how to clear the front of the net. Calgary might be looking for Yanic Perreault, but after a super camp Perreault is the Leafs second line centre. The Leafs have apparently also made a pitch for Tampa d-man Cory Cross. Toronto really likes Cross, and are offering Todd Warriner according to a report. If the Leafs do acquire a defenseman, look for Terran Sandwith to be on his way to St John’s.

Sergei Berezin scored another goal last night and has been the best forward at Leafs camp. Berezin trained hard in the off-season and has apparently improved his acceleration. He could be in for a monster year – look for him to emerge as one of the league’s elite goalscorers.