My mind wandered during the Leaf game Thursday night and I started daydreaming a bit. (A 3-2 win in overtime against Stamkos and the Lightning felt a bit anti-climactic, and probably divided Leaf fans anyway. Some were likely hoping for a loss because of the pending draft lottery, while others were no doubt happy with a win...) As the game went on, I couldn't help but think about some of the good young talent the Leafs do have, and what they could possibly become.
It's probably not fair to compare players from the old days to those of today, though I do it here pretty often. And it’s certainly not fair to have expectations of players beyond what they can deliver. But just for today, given that we need hope in Leaf universe going into the long off-season, here’s a short “wish list” when it comes to some of the young players with the Leafs, and what they could, maybe, become:
What if Tyler Bozak became a.....Russ Courtnall? You know, speedy, elusive, creative. Russ never was a rough and tumble player, but he was exciting, could kill penalties and was a nice offensive player with a great burst of speed. Heck, he had a 15-year career (though we traded him way too soon), scoring almost 300 regular-season goals and 750 points. Not bad, eh?
Can Bozak do that for us?
Can Bozak do that for us?
I need young Matt Frattin to morph into a Lanny McDonald kind of player. He doesn’t have to fight like Lanny could (though Frattin gets marks for courage for standing up to Foligno the other night against Buffalo). Frattin is faster than McDonald, and has a big shot, though Lanny could really blast it too, and had an amazing wrist shot as well. But if Frattin developed linto a real power forward like McDonald (who we, sadly, traded to the Rockies…what a mistake), that would be a tremendous boost for the Leafs. Lanny (right) should always have stayed a Maple Leaf. I'm hoping Frattin is part of the plan going forward.
Gunnarsson, who should be back and healthy next fall, just needs to be our poor man’s Nik Lidstrom. It’s certainly not realistic to expect him to play like the legendary Red Wing captain, but he has some of Lidstrom’s quiet game already. I hope Gunner stays a Leaf for years to come, though I fear he may have to be trade bait if the Leafs are looking for some skilled forwards with size in the off-season. No, he’s not a tough guy, but you need smarts and poise on the back end, too, defenders who can play a simple, efficient game. Gunner has that.
We just need Kadri to be an opportunistic guy, a developing player who can score goals and put up some points, maybe like an Eddie Olczyk, eh?
Grabovski is our energizer bunny. I’d be happy if he was our Kris Draper. He has more offensive pop than Kris did in his great Detroit career, but I loved Draper. He was such an important part of those Red Wing Stanley Cup teams. He was strong on the puck, could skate, played hard and was a defensive stalwart. Just a tremendous all-around player, and Grabbo can be that for the blue and white.
A lot of us have already said Gardiner is a "mini" Niedermayer. That’s asking a lot, but young Jake does show some of the skills that made Niedermayer an important difference-maker in New Jersey and Anaheim all those years. (Did you see that goal against Tampa?) If he becomes as intuitive a player as Niedermayer, (he already has the poise of a veteran player), he’ll be something.
I’d love for one of my favorite Leafs (who never got going this year), Kulemin, to pick up where he left off last season and become an impact player in 2012-’13. It’s a bit much to ask him to be our Bob Gainey, but he flashes some of Gainey’s traits. He can be hard to play against. He can score. He can be physical, though Gainey was way more consistent in terms of his physical game. But both were/are speedy guys and very smart players.
I love Mike Brown, but we still don’t have our modern-day Bert Olmstead, the great old corner man of Montreal fame who joined the Leafs late in his career and helped Toronto to a Stanley Cup in 1962. Olmstead (right) was an ornery guy, not a particularly friendly teammate, but he cared about winning—full stop. We don’t have anyone like that now. The closest we have had in recent memory was Gary Roberts, and he was a much-appreciated Maple Leaf in his relatively short tenure here a decade ago—for good reason.
I’m sure you have your own wishes, hopes and projections for this group, too. So send your thoughts along…