One of the enjoyable aspects of being a fan is projecting what certain guys will do during an upcoming season. For example, anyone who stood up and predicted publicly that Clarke MacArthur, a late-summer signing last year, would have a career season probably felt pretty good about their prognostication skills when the 2010-’11 season came to an end. MacArthur experienced some dry periods, but overall played well enough that he has walked away with a very nice contract—after his previous NHL employer walked away from him a year ago after arbitration.
Some things are virtually impossible to predict, eh? Did anyone think James Reimer would be the Maple Leafs’ number-one goaltender heading into camp this year? Did Leaf fans project Keith Aulie as a top-four “d”-man already? Maybe there were people with those views out there, but I was not aware of them.
In any event, when looking at this year’s roster, a few names jump out that I’m sensing Maple Leaf enthusiasts will be analyzing pretty closely in terms of what they may be able to deliver this coming season.
One of those names is that of Tyler Bozak. Not many held back their view on the young Leaf center, who was rather awkwardly (and we can say prematurely) thrust into a number-one center slot, expected to mesh with Phil Kessel. Some fans would not have minded seeing Bozak cut loose this summer. Others have more modest expectations for this coming season. Me? I think the young man can play, and I anticipate a solid contribution—if he is put in a position where he can succeed.
Lupul? He hardly qualifies as a kid anymore, though he’s far from an old guy, either. Will he play as he did at certain moments as the season wound down, or will injuries again set him back?
And what about MacArthur? Will he be the MacArthur of last season, or the winger we saw with Buffalo and Atlanta—OK, but not a guy worth the kind of contract he just signed?
You get the idea. This roster is full of guys who, if they play as a lot of us think they can, then this could be a surprise season. On the other hand, if Grabovski, MacArthur and Lupul don’t produce, for example, where does that leave us?
If I had to cast one very early “vote”, it would be that Carl Gunnarsson will expedite his career arc in 2011-’12. He surprised us two years ago, then slid back for a good chunk of last season. I just like his combination of skills and the way he can think the game. So for me, Gunnarsson is one Leaf who I feel will step up big this coming season.
Your thoughts? Who progresses big time, who may slide?