The Future: The Front Lines
What is stopping the Leafs from ending their playoff drought? Is it the goaltending? No, the goalies are willing and able to carry the load of a playoff team. Ah! The defense! Well no, it's our strongest position. So What about the forwards? Well...
The Leafs enter the 2010-11 season with a much improved forward corps. With the additions of Mike Brown, Kris Versteeg and Colby Armstrong, and the likely arrival of top prospect Nazem Kadri, the Leafs will no doubt be a much more violent team (if Ron Wilson allows them to play their own game) and threatening in terms of offensive fire power.
Let's take a look at the Leafs options for the top 6:
Kessel, Bozak, Kulemin, and Versteeg are a given. It's who will play alongside Versteeg that we are trying to figure out as it is unlikely for Ron Wilson to split up the Kessel, Kulemin, Bozak line after such a late-season show of chemistry. So we have Versteeg, a fast, gritty player that will be good for around 20+ goals.
Kadri is the Leafs top prospect. He's a playmaking center that can put the puck in the net and has a bit of an edge to his play as well - the perfect center. Why wouldn't he step into the Leafs top two lines? Well Ron Wilson and Brian Burke may want to start him off on the third line, with Fredrik Sjostrom and Colby Armstrong. This will provide Kadri with some time to get used to the speed of the NHL and, let's face it, a shutdown line of Kadri, Army and Sjostrom will give coaches fits in the third period. Pair that with the drive for the puck Armstrong and Kadri will bring to the table, and the opposition is looking at a recipe for disaster.
Now, we are left with Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur. Both are fast players, although they sometimes try to do too much. Grabo, MacArthur and Versteeg could round out a very solid line.
So with that being said, the opening night front lines will be fighting in the trenches a little like this;
Keep in mind this potential lineup is only an "on-paper" look at the club. This does not factor in any surprise bloomers in the fast-approaching pre-season.
We will likely see Luca Caputi and Christian Hanson in the line-up throughout the season when injuries expectedly hit.
Does this group of 14 players have enough to take the Leafs into the post-season and possibly past the first round? Questionable.
The fact of the matter is, unless Kessel reaches 40 goals, Bozak reaches 60 points, and Kadri has a Calder winning type rookie season, the Leafs front lines will be the reason they miss the playoffs.
NEXT BLOG: The Future: The Marlies
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