Each could contribute very nicely indeed to the Leafs this coming season—and beyond.
Heck, we could even throw some of the kids into the discussion mix. We saw glimpses of Colborne a year ago, including in the playoffs against the Bruins this past spring and he didn’t look out of place. Rielly is awfully young but also awfully talented. And who else may emerge out of nowhere to grab a roster spot at training camp in September?
Yet the guy I am maybe most interested in seeing this coming season is the long-time Blackhawk centerman, Dave Bolland. I well realize—having been burnt countless times before by the lure of seeing a player I badly wanted from another team that looked fantastic from a distance—Bolland may not be quite what I have envisioned. His role may be different here than it was in Chicago. Maybe, at an early age, his offensive peak has already been reached. Maybe because he has played a lot of playoff hockey already (we haven’t had that problem in Toronto the last decade, eh?) he has a fair bit of wear on his hockey tires. And maybe the Bolland I saw as a developing young player a few years ago in Chicago may not be the same Bolland who suits up for the Leafs this coming season. I don’t know.
But do you remember how I’ve talked here often before about needing guys on this roster who have ‘been there’ before? How we needed players with grit, who have shown they could play when it matters? You know, individuals with playoff savvy, people who bring leadership and winning experience to the table.
I think Bolland brings those things.
Here is a player who has helped the Hawks win two Stanley Cups already in his young career. Was he a dominant player for Chicago in the playoffs? Perhaps not, but he was certainly useful. He played 22 playoff matches when his club won in 2010, and 18 this past spring. At 27, he should be in the prime of his career. Unlike many other Leaf “star player” acquisitions over the years, we’re getting this guy in his prime years—not when he is 33 or 34 already.
We have batted around where exactly he fits on this roster (he has never scored 20 goals in a season, so we may be a bit into our cups if we hope he will suddenly score 30 a year with the Leafs), as in, can he be that elusive second-line center we need? (In truth, since Kadri has emerged as a second-line player, what we really need is a first-line center, but that’s all a topic for another day.)
Realistically, it’s likely that Bolland slots in as a solid third-line pivot, with responsibility for dealing with the best center on the other team in Randy Carlyle’s “system”. Can he handle that? Well, it’s a responsibility he seemed to relish in Chicago, where he was, if not exactly surrounded by, certainly in the company of some elite offensive players like Hossa, Toews and Kane and some very gifted defensemen.
Last season was the first year he has been a minus player in the league. I’m not sure what that means. It may mean precious little. But if he can play at all as he did in Chicago, surely we would be satisfied. He will likely embrace the role that the now departed Mikhail Grabovski eschewed, which should help Carlyle—and the club. (Whether that role was at all fair to put Grabbo in is an entirely different question.)
Let me be clear: I’m not saying Bolland will have a great season. I’m not suggesting he will be more than what I expect, or even what I hope for when I envision him from his time with the Hawks.
What I am saying is he is someone who piques my curiosity because of his hockey pedigree. Anyone who has played significant minutes on a very good, two-time NHL championship team, under a well-regarded coach, may be precisely the kind of player I have been describing that the Leafs need. This is especially so, now that they have made enough roster improvements to, hopefully, be an annual playoff team. He has experience, he is a defensively smart player, and he has helped very good team become even better - and win.
So as things stand now, Bolland’s my guy, the one I am most looking forward to seeing with the Leafs. But I realize there are some other interesting choices for “most anticipated newcomer”. As the calendar turns to September and hockey (at least training camp) is now only days away, who is on the top of your list?