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|28 сентября 2006
Suglobov aims for roster spot // Toronto Star
Brown's another one making his case
Paul Maurice chuckled, but there was truth in his words.
"About two weeks ago," he quipped when asked last night when he would like to see the collection of Maple Leaf players likeliest to start the season as a team on the ice together for a game.
"We're at that point of anxiousness."
A Leaf camp that began with a variety of difficult questions and concerns has contained bits and pieces of answers, but nothing remotely resembling a resounding answer, or answers.
Last night against the Ottawa Senators, for example, Aleksander Suglobov was a player who continued to try and force the club's hand into giving him a big league job, at least to start the season.
Being a player who was acquired by the current administration doesn't hurt Suglobov's case, but the fact is he has put the puck in the net during the pre-season, which is the type of player he has been advertised to be.
If you scan up and down the current Leaf roster, one of the striking characteristics is that the club is very, very short on scoring wingers capable of scaring the opposition. That's short as in none.
The Hockey News recently rated the top-20 right wingers in the NHL and the top-20 left wingers, and there wasn't a Leaf on either list.
Suglobov, still auditioning for regular NHL work at age 24, always prefers four moves when one would do, and he sure doesn't look like he'll be leading the Leafs in assists any time soon.
But a quick release and a good shot count for something, too.
Meanwhile, other aspects of the Leaf game have come and gone during the pre-season, and last night Maurice expressed concern about the number of shots the club blocks and the penalties it takes on a regular basis.
"It's habits. It's habits. That's all it is," he said. "We've got no complaining to do here about the penalties called against us."
Still, until the roster is set the decision on roster spots will dominate the Leaf discussion, and as long as they've held hockey training camps, it's always been fascinating to see which players figure they've got it made in the shade and those who linger on the fringes but refuse not to be noticed.
One of the latter last night had to be defenceman Brad Brown, who has undoubtedly spied all the injuries on the Leaf blue line and is wondering if, just maybe, there could be an opening for a well-seasoned, highly motivated vet.
Brown, out of an NHL paycheque since '04, fought fearsome Sens heavyweight Brian McGrattan in the first period and acquitted himself surprisingly well. Given how McGrattan kicked sand in the Leafs' faces last year and basically ended Tie Domi's reign as the Toronto enforcer, the fact that Brown was ready and willing had to be noticed.
Then there was Nik Antropov.
Without a point in the pre-season going in, the lanky Kazakh wandered through another contest. If there's a burning desire in his hockey heart or any fear that he'll be left off the roster when the season begins, Antropov certainly didn't betray either with his effort.
Of course, he can read a lineup too, and he knows the club hasn't brought in a lot of quality players capable of taking his job.
It's sad, really. Under the laissez-faire Pat Quinn regime, Antropov never improved, and improvement was never demanded. Indeed, a big part of this Leaf season will be whether Maurice can successfully demand enhanced fundamental play not just from kids, but from Leaf veterans.
Bryan McCabe, prolific but high-risk, would certainly be a candidate.
Jeff O'Neill certainly got a very loud wakeup call last night when he started the night skating alongside Mats Sundin and ended it with Kris Newbury as his centreman.
But at least on a sleepy Wednesday in late September when everybody
just wants the exhibition season to be over, Suglobov and Brown gave the
Leaf coach reason to believe some of his players are familiar with desperation.