The Toronto Maple Leafs begin this season hoping to earn a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2004. With guys like Phil Kessel, Nikolai Kulemin, and Mikhail Grabovski being joined by free agent Tim Connolly there’s hope that the Leafs can fight through a tougher Eastern Conference and crack the postseason.
As the team heads into training camp next week, most of the spots on the team would appear to be close to filled leaving training camp to be not quite so competitive for players seeking to impress coach Ron Wilson as well as Burke. Burke tells James Mirtle of The Globe And Mail that there could be competition going into camp for one starting forward spot and not much else.
“We think we made some changes that have made our team dramatically better,” Burke said. “We made some changes to the coaching staff, we made some changes on the blueline and we made some changes up front. And we think those things will put us in the position where we want to be which is in competition for a playoff spot.”
As for battles for roster spots, they will probably be few and far between.
“If you notice, we’ve left one spot open,” Burke said. “We want some competition for one of the forward spots. Whether that’s Matt Frattin or Nazem Kadri or Joe Colborne or whomever, we do want to have some competition open for a spot. Other than that, we think we’ve filled the holes. But we’re going to find that out.”
Depending on where that opening is in the Leafs lineup would help determine who gets the call to fill it. Frattin is more of a physical forward than Colborne or Kadri. Kadri is a slick skating offensively creative guy while Colborne is a big center with some offensive touch.
There’s also the chance that Burke used their three names in particular because he wants them to know right up front that he wants to see big things out of them. They are three of the youngest guys heading into Leafs training camp and they’re guys that all have higher than normal expectations. Kadri was the Leafs top draft pick back in 2009, Colborne was acquired from Boston last year in the Tomas Kaberle deal and has high potential after being a first round pick of the Bruins in 2008, and Frattin was a fourth round pick of the Leafs in 2007.
Asking your younger guys to step up and show a little more in camp isn’t anything new but with the pressure for younger guys to show they’re NHL-caliber guys so high these days, the Leafs would love to add a bit more offensive production to their other lines. Getting it from any of these three would go over very well in Toronto. If there’s just one starting forward spot to be had the way Burke intimates, the competition that would seem to be lacking could very well turn intense through training camp.