Leafs Should Try Hanson

With the Toronto Maple Leafs failing to garner at least a point against the Chicago Blackhawks last night after an admirable performance from goaltender Vesa Toskala, there was an issue with the Leafs’ offensive squad that became increasingly visible in the dying minutes of the game.

Grit.

Yes, even after Brian Burke boldly stated his team would no longer be “picking their teeth out of the glass,” he forgot to mention that offensively, the current squad are about as intimidating as a Hal Gill bodycheck.

Besides the fourth line, which lacks any sort of offensive acumen, the Leafs are not in possession of a player that can play the role of an effective power forward. Excuse me for mentioning Mats Sundin, but I can vaguely remember the days when Sundin and Nikolai Antropov would dominate down low, using their size and strength to control the play behind the net and in the corner boards.

Last night, for example, the Blackhawks’ defense were clearing the puck out of their zone with relative ease throughout the game, and specifically in the dying minutes. They were aggressive on the puck carrier and forced the Leafs to dump the puck down low. And, no surprise, due to a lack of grit, the Hawks out muscled the Leafs’ diminutive forwards in the corners on a regular basis and stymied any sort of chemistry the Buds were attempting to establish.

Which brings me to my point.

Perhaps it’s time to bench Matt Stajan, who has been underwhelming after his 55-point breakout last season, and call-up Christian Hanson, who leads the Toronto Marlies with 13 points in 13 games.

Hanson, a natural center, has the tools to become an effective player at the NHL level, but he’ll have to develop the composure and confidence required to thrive as a player of his nature. He has the size, strength and offensive upside to establish a role as a power forward, and perhaps now is the time to give the 23-year-old another shot.

The Leafs need some sort of net presence to screen the goalie and cause havoc for the defenders down low, and although Hanson isn’t the second-coming of Christ (Gustavsson stole that title), he may help the Leafs remedy, if not temporarily, the glaring weakness they have upfront.

At this point, the fourth line seems to have the exclusive responsibility of displaying some aggressive play in the opponents end. If the Leafs hope to compensate for their lack of skill, they’ll have to start scoring some garbage goals. And that’s not going to happen if the forwards are too afraid to a) screen the goalie and b) dig for the puck in the corners.

Sure, the Leafs could call-up players like Viktor Stalberg or Jiri Tlusty, but isn’t that just more the same? It’s time to implement some truculence upfront, and experimenting with Hanson is a start. When Ponikarovsky is the most threatening presence in the top-nine, you know it’s time to bring in some grit.

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