As I indicated in yesterday's post, in brackets, I include whether I believe these individuals will be 'core' players going forward, or may be seen as expendable.
Today, we’ll focus on the forwards.
Mikhail Grabovski: B- Projected: B (will be traded at some point, if there are takers)
I know lots of Leaf fans feel differently than I do, because Grabovski is being asked to check good players every night. But heck, he is supposed to be a good player. He is paid like an NHL star and I expect him to be one. Frankly, I could give him a C+. Yes, he has ‘heart” and all that, but honestly, I don’t see it every night and in all situations, at least not like I feel I used to. He’s a “nice” player, sure. He can check and that’s important. But is he a big-time difference-maker? I’m not seeing it. (His being ignored during the Saturday night shootout has nothing to do with this assessment. That decision by Carlyle may or may not have deeper meaning, but at this point, I have no clue...)
Nick Kulemin: C Projected: C+ (no longer necessarily a core player going forward)
Until the 2011-’12 season began, I wrote here many times that I was loving this guy’s career arc. But he hit a big wall last season and I’m tired of hearing how good he is in his own zone. That may or may not be the case. I'm not an expert at assessing defensive play. Like Grabbo, he’s a significant minus player (minus 7 right now). He does not hit anywhere near as often he should, given his skating ability and size. He works reasonably hard but he’s not exactly “tireless”. So my grade reflects my relative disenchantment.
Jay McClement: B Projected B- (he’ll be here for the rest of his contract)
Yes, I’ve jumped aboard the McClement cheering section. We can all see the good things he has brought to the table most nights, including almost singlehandedly creating a new mindset on the penalty kill. That alone is worth something. I just caution us not to build him up into more than he is—a dependable, third-line guy who can chip in offensively at times. That’s why my projected grade is actually lower than where I have him at right now. Let’s see where he is in a year.
James van Riemsdyk: B++ Projected A-
I’ve tried to find the 'fatal flaws' in van Riemsdyk’s game, and I’m not saying they aren’t there. But I will say that he has done just about everything we could expect. He started out the year on the third line, yet moved his way up to the first line. He has been a big factor with Kessel—and I think it’s a two-way street so they both deserve credit for the successful marriage. He is not super physical, but his big time hit on Malkin a few games back reminded us he has a bit of physicality in his game, too. We have long needed a guy who will plant himself, Homstrom style, in front of the opposition net. We seem to have one. (I would like to see him improve his plus/minus, as I would with Kessel...)
Tyler Bozak: C+ Potential: B-
I hesitate to say Bozak will never be better than he is because I think there has been incremental improvement in his game at this level every season. Will he ever become a first-line guy? Does he top out as a pretty good second-line center? I don't know. He’s an NHL player, who does certain things quite well, but is limited in other areas. Thus, the C+ grade.
Phil Kessel: B/B+ Projected: B+
I have a feeling we’ll be debating just what we had in Kessel long after he is gone. Based on his being the most dangerous guy on the ice many nights, that alone makes him valuable. We expect him to produce offense and he delivers quite often, despite drawing the attention of opposing teams. He scores, het sets up his linemates. Is he what I’d like him to be when I contemplate great all-around players? No, so I accept what he is and grade him accordingly.
Joffrey Lupul: no grade (will be a core player going forward)
I just don’t see it as fair to gauge Lupul’s season based on the sample size. Let’s see him back in action for a few weeks and then we can have a discussion. I do think they will keep him, and build with him as the team improves. (As I mentioned in a weekend post, I loved Lupul trying to pump up the crowd after his second goal on Saturday night against the Jets.)
Matt Frattin: C+ Projected: B
Many will no doubt feel this is not a high enough grade given the number of goals he has scored in limited playing time. I concede he has put himself in the right spot at the right time to score some timely markers, but I’m not blown away most nights by his overall game. Yes, he’s spent time with the Marlies and on the injured list- I'm not penalizing him for that. I’ve said here in the past he can be a good mini power-forward, and that’s how I still feel. So he projects out better than his current grade, in my eyes. (Yes, I expect some dissent on this grade!)
Colton Orr: C- Projected: C-
As a fourth-line guy who gives everything he has (and handles a lot of the “fighting” for his teammates) he’s done a nice job—and in fairness, better than expected. He gets in on the forecheck. He deserves credit for trying to re-make his game.
Fraser MacLaren: C Projected: C
Like Orr, a useful fourth-line guy who protects his teammates. He does go to the net. Can he play bigger minutes? I see no evidence of that. So he receives a limited grade until I see he is more than a fighter.
Clarke MacArthur: B- Projected: B-
Frankly, I cringe at giving MacArthur this high a mark, because he is one Leaf that routinely infuriates me and leaves me wanting more. But I can’t ignore his production, so he gets a nice grade—for now. Check back with me in a month.
Leo Komarov: C+ Projected: B
I find not very much to dislike about the first-year NHLer’s game. He hits, finishes his checks, and is annoying to play against. It would be nice, yes, if he could add a bit more offense, but I believe that may come as he gets to know the league better. Right now, he is doing the job asked of him by the coaching staff. He should be even better a year from now.
Nazem Kadri: B+ Projected: B+/A-
As I’ve said here before, can we really know what Kadri’s ceiling is? Will he become a true first-line center? Maybe so. We’ll see. For now, I like the way he has been utilized by Carlyle. As he gets more power-play time his numbers should jump, though they're pretty impressive right now. He has an edge to his game and we all know he sees the ice awfully well and can thread the needle with his passing. So he has earned a solid grade, with an eye toward even better days ahead.
VLM visitors will no doubt see things differently, and isn’t that what we ought to enjoy? A little back and forth banter around who and what we like—and don’t like.
I look forward to hearing from you.