Under The Rock 2002-2003 Preview

By Steve Gandour

The Leafs traded young prospect Tomas Mojzis to Vancouver for Brad Leeb. Leeb managed to make Vancouver for one game last year, but was unspectacular. Mojzis was not someone the Leafs planned on signing to a contract, so to them it is just a minor league shuffle.

Older news but also important were the signings of two WHL stars in Nathan Barrett and Riley Cote. Barrett lead the WHL in scoring, while Cote was Captain of the Prince Albert squad last year. They aren’t huge additions though, there signings were merely to fill holes left on St. John’s by departures of four of their top scoring players, Dempsey (FA-Chi), Maclean (FA-Clb), Farkas (Tr-Van) and House (FA-Europe).

Below is a list of what to expect and who to watch this season for the Leafs Under The Rock.

1. Carlo Colaiacovo needs to finally have an offensive breakout during the regular season. After two great playoffs, it is time for him to shine. He has lost Brad Boyes however up front and possibly Cory Pecker (St. John Flames likely). While most would expect that to hurt his numbers, it will force him to be more creative himself. That could lead to taking a few more risky chances, but Carlo is solid enough in his own zone to be effective on the pinch and fast enough to recover. Expect him to finally get into near point a game numbers in the season.

2. Brad Boyes will be given a chance to show off for the Leaf brass. Barry Trap’s signing as head scout is a key factor here. He has been openly critical of the Leafs past rushing of top prospects (Antropov and Fichaud for example) and likely will have a say in Brad starting the year in St. John’s. However his numbers and all around play will impress many, and a call up mid to late season is almost a given.

3. Brendan Bell needs to do a lot more then he has since the Leafs drafted him if he hopes to garner a contract at years end. He knows it himself and vows to make a good showing. An appearance at the World Juniors would be a good start, but he may not make the cut.

4. Alexander Steen has been named to the 4 Nations Tournament U-20 Team for Sweeden. He should easily make the top line for that squad, and will have a very impressive season. However don’t expect numbers to be huge this year. He is a consistent two-way player with a lot of leadership skills, and that is where his game will flourish.

5. Todd Ford and Ian White will continue in the mould of Colaiacovo and Boyes as Leaf prospects who learn to gel together. Unlike Boyes and Colaiacovo, there is much less hype on these two… but White will continue to thrive and may threaten the point a game barrier again this year, while Ford should easily top last years win total (18) and match last years GAA (2.97) as he finally will see the majority of action as the number one goalie during the season.

6. Jay Harrison had a great offensive explosion year, topped by representing his country at the World Juniors. Now he is under intense pressure and scrutiny to prove his offensive numbers not a fluke, to be deemed more then just a physical defensive defenseman. He will be very hard pressed to put up 10 goals in his first pro season, but will still be seen as a very aggressive and strong defensive prospect.
Expect the offensive numbers to grow a little in a years time, but not now.

7. Max Kondratiev is too young to be in a make or break year, but he certainly got noticed last year. An impressive performance for Russia at the World Juniors culminated in a Gold Medal and Player of the Game honours in the Gold medal match. However, with added honour comes added scrutiny, and his game is not consistent enough to stand up to the scouting he will get this year. So in essence, he could make or break this year.

8. Matt Stajan could not be happier then being selected by the Leafs. He is already a scoring threat, but knowing he is now working for a chance to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs, expect a surprisingly strong season from the kid. Matt will go all out to attempt to draw the Toronto brass’ attention and earn an early contract. While 100 points is a big stretch, it is not an impossibility for this kids skills. And that is saying something for a player who is considered equally strong offensively and defensively. He won’t be an underated prospect after this season.