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I need Matt Frattin to be my new Lanny McDonald

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?

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.

Kessel, well, Kessel just needs to be himself.  I think most of us would agree he was been pretty steady in terms of his production this season.  We need to surround him with a bit more help, of course.  And yes, it would be nice if he did develop more of an all-around game.  He did, at times, this season.  He’ll never be a fighter or a rugged winger and probably never a leader- but that’s fine, that’s not his game.  I’ve said in the past he reminds me of Mike Walton, the late ‘60s Maple Leaf who could really fly and had a scoring touch, but was poorly utilized in the old defensive-style Leaf system of the time. (That's Walton, left, in late '60s action, skating past Leaf goaltender Bruce Gamble in another great old Harold Barkley photo...)

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…


  1. Minnesota, Anaheim, Carolina, and the Islanders all got wins so our win didn't hurt that much and I think we are still in a lottery spot at 26th.

    I need Lupul to turn into Gary Unger (Gary was once a Leaf) and then Lupal can play a few hundred consecutive games. That would help us allot.

  2. hey mike, i like your projections... it sounds like you really see potential with many of the players on the team. i feel that it is often too easy for fans to say 'the problem is we have bad players, so lets trade all of those guys and get great players in return!' obviously this isn't how it works (as demonstrated by burke trading every player except grabbo/schenn/kulemin, only to achieve the same results). i'm with you in saying we've got several players with a LOT of upside.... these guys only have a year or two under their belts! lets keep them, groom them, and hopefully given some patience, we'll have a quality/dependable team in a couple of seasons.

  3. Thanks DP....Unger is a great reference point. Solid player with Detroit and St. Louis. Put up really good numbers and as you note, didn't miss a game in forever.

    And yes, the "lottery" hope remains alive.

    Thanks DP.

  4. Hi Alex C.

    Like most Leaf fans I have frustrations, but there is no question we have some guys who have nice ceilings- and I hope they all are part of the team going forward.

    We all likely feel impatient, but there is talent here.

    Thanks Alex.

  5. I would think that a good comparison forPhil Kessell would be Mike Bossy. All we need now is BryanTrottier and Clark Gillies clones to go with him!
    Lupul might fill the Gillies role but I don't think we have seen any evidence yet of a Trottier in our midst.
    Of course, having a Billy Smith and Denis Potvin wouldn't hurt either.

  6. I've always had high expectation of Frattin this year, always wanting him to be that winger is strong on all fronts of the ice...20 goals, physical, defensively aggressive...I guess a more physical Kulemin.

    However, maybe with the right players he could become a game breaking talent like McDonald, but on his own I think he's more suited for a secondary role. I can see a future combo that should ignite both players in Kadri - Frattin. I'd even put Grabovski on that line. Seems Grabbo can dish well enough and Kadri has developed a great scoring touch. Of course, Frattin would anchor the physicality of that combination.

    Anyways, I'm rambling...great article Michael, look forward to the next.

  7. Boy, Ed, that was a line, eh? Trottier wasn't overly big but as he matured he was a tough guy to play against. And of course he was skilled, too, and smart. With big Gillies on the other wing, it was seemingly the perfect mix for a sniper like Bossy.

    It's easy to wonder what Kessel could do with that kind of support...

    And yes, Billy Smith, Denis Potvin, Eddie Westfall, Bob Nystrom, Butch Goring....not a bad team that won those four Cups in the early '80s!

    Thanks Ed.

  8. I think your post hits a problem that has been a Leaf problem for years.

    I noticed it was "mini" or a "poor man's Lidstrom" or "even some of the same". That to me is the problem as it is always on the lower end of comparisons. We never seem to have the real deal here in Toronto. Why can't we have the actual Lidstrom, why not the real Niedameyer?

    Don't get me wrong there is some nice talent here in Toronto. I like Frattin, I like Kulemin but really they are support players. Where is the elite talent, where is the best of the best? I might be somewhat disillusioned after this year but I really struggle to see where they are going to get better next year.

    I do think however, that of all the guys mentioned Gardiner has the best chance of being the real Niedermayer. Maybe just maybe he is going to be our real deal.

  9. Thanks for posting, Alex.

    I really do see Frattin as a guy with significant potential. While he is older than McDonald when Lanny joined the Leafs at the age of 20 back in 1973, he has some of McDonald's attributes. He is strong on his skates, has a good quick shot. I love that Frattin is really good driving in on his off wing.

    I just see a young player with skills and a physical edge who could be very good. Maybe as you say, Alex, in a more secondary role, but on a good team that's a valuable piece, for sure. Maybe with Grabbo and/or Kadri as you mention, but I think he could fit with any number of guys.

    Thanks Alex. Good post.

  10. I think that's a very fair assessment, Willbur. I don't disagree. And use, we do need some "real deals" here.

    I agree that Gardiner has real upside. Like most young defensemen he will need to improve in his own zone against aggressive checking, but he has poise, smarts and an obvious skill set to go with those great legs.