One of the under-the-radar moves the Leafs made at the end of the World Championships this past spring was to sign former draft choice Korbinian Holzer. (Holzer had just come off a good tournament as part of the German national team.)
The young German defenseman, not surprisingly, is slated to start the season with the Marlies. On Monday night, the Leafs played with their top six defensemen, the guys who, barring injury, will anchor the blueline when the regular season kicks off next week.
I wonder if we can read anything into Holzer’s call-up for the game Wednesday night (necessitated by Schenn’s minor tweak)? Likely not. The Leafs are committed those six, as they should be. It’s just interesting that when so many observers were (understandably) talking about Aulie’s future prospects on the backline, for example, is it possible the Leafs actually see Holzer as being somewhat further along the development curve? (It won’t hurt Holzer's cause that he stepped in to lend a hand after Grabovski got nailed in the second period.)
In the short term the call-up likely doesn’t matter, but an injury could lead to some interesting decisions as the season progresses.
Maybe others feel differently, and while I put precious little stock in exhibition game performances, I just feel more comfortable about Beauchemin heading into this season. I said at the end of last season that I fully expected him to play more like the guy he was in his steady Anaheim years, and I still believe that will be the case.
His bout with Kovalev probably indicates he, and other veterans, are tired of the never-ending pre-season tilts and want to get the real season going.
You could just feel all this week how much the entire Leaf brass wanted Kadri to give them a reason to make this team. The seemingly orchestrated comments (albeit, in response to media questions, in most instances) by Burke and Wilson earlier in the week and then by assistant coach Hunter after practice on Wednesday suggest they just want a reason to keep him with the big club. They were nudging him, sending him a message, whatever you want to call it. The bottom line seemed to be that they were under the impression Kadri thought he was doing everything he was supposed to do. So they made it clear he, in their minds, hasn’t quite delivered yet.
Yet they turned around and gave him “first-line” duty last night. Pretty much a written invitation to play well, and delivered on a platter. And as I mentioned earlier this week, if Kadri had scored a goal or two earlier, even flukey ones, people may have felt a lot differently heading into the last few exhibition contests.
So, will last night’s performance (including a power-play goal in the first period, drawing a penalty against Foligno in the third and then a nice move for his second goal of the night and a beauty assist on the game-winner) be the trigger that Kadri needs to play like he can—and that the Leafs need to do what they’ve wanted to do all along? That is, bring him to the big club.
I’d still love to see him progress gradually, and spend time with the Marlies. But we’ll see what the brass decides. They clearly want him here.
With Sjostrom back, it creates a numbers logjam at the forward position. Through last night, it would appear Caputi will have earned the early-season press box seat, but I’m sure he would rather be there and be the first guy “in” if anything happens regarding the first twelve forwards, than playing with the Marlies. There was no guarantee he would make the squad heading into camp, so he’s obviously earned a longer look, in management's estimation.
I’m guessing Hanson will, for now, center the fourth line. I think Kadri becomes the third line pivot (maybe even second-line over time) with maybe some additional power-play opportunities on occasion from the wing. (It worked last night, albeit for one night.)
But things can change.
I’m sure others have a different perspective, but despite all these pre-season games, I really don’t have a sense of where the team truly is at heading into the regular season. I’m sure people are assuming the Leafs won’t start as poorly as they did when they struggled out of the gate last fall. But beyond that, I just don’t know.
Will their goaltending be really good? It could be, but we’ll see.
Will their six defensemen be outstanding? Well, the truth is, it is a group with three experienced defenders, and three young, up and coming players. Not one is a bonafide, year-after-year All-Star. But they are all solid veteran players or young players with genuine potential. Will they be better than last year? They should be.
Up front, it’s just so hard to determine. Pre-season games don’t often reveal a whole lot. We know teams want to be strong up the middle, and the Leafs aren’t in that league yet. They should be a bit stronger on their top-two lines, but I really wonder what we will see beyond that, on a consistent basis.
It’s a very long season. Can their top-six compete against the best forwards on other good teams? And how will the third and fourth lines fare? These are central questions and we won’t know the answers until we are maybe 20 games into the season.