Toronto Maple Leafs Ready To Open 2013 Season

Photo courtesy of Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

By Tony Ambrogio (@SNTonyAmbrogio)

Somewhere Brian Burke must be pleased.

The Toronto Maple Leafs will start the year with more grit and sandpaper than it had at any point last year.

Matthew Lombardi has been traded and Tim Connolly will start the year with the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League.

The Leafs will start the season with a 23-man roster that will feature 8 defenceman, 13 forwards and a pair of inexperienced goalies.

Nazem Kadri will get a chance to start the year in the NHL. The Leafs 2009 first round pick impressed the Leafs with his all-around game.

Colton Orr who couldn’t play in the NHL last year has lost weight, is faster and is more suited to play under coach Randy Carlyle than Ron Wilson, so he will start the season with the Leafs.

In forward Leo Komarov, the Leafs have a winger who is in the words of defenceman Carl Gunnarsson a “pain in the ass” on the ice. He’s a pest who has played the last couple of seasons in Russia.

Defenceman Mark Fraser will make it difficult for the opposition who try to set up room in front of the Leafs net. He has 114 penalty minutes in 30 games with the Toronto Marlies.

It is a team that is certainly more in the mold of Randy Carlyle – hard working and difficult to play against. Will it be enough to move the Leafs into the playoffs for the first time since 2004? That’s a question more difficult to answer.

“If you earn a chance and you put the time in, we can’t keep talking about giving young players an opportunity and never doing it,” said GM Dave Nonis. “The coaches have the say as to who they want to play. I never went into the room and said ‘Randy you have to put young players in the lineup.’ But he’s embraced it. Randy’s happy with how the young guys have played.

“It also gives the players with the Marlies a little bit of hope. We have some good young players there, who are still in their second or third year of their entry level deals. When they see guys get an opportunity, they know that when we tell them if they play well enough, you’re going to be in the big leagues, that we’re not lying to them.”

18 year-old defenceman Morgan Rielly was sent back to the Western Hockey League but he left a positive impression on the Leafs.

“He didn’t do anything wrong,” coach Randy Carlyle said. “With six days of training camp, taking 30 guys and picking an NHL team, it’s unfortunate for him that he didn’t get an opportunity to show us more in scrimmages and exhibition games. We just aren’t afforded that in these circumstances.

“We don’t want to put a player in a situation where he could possibly regress. That was our message to him: That he did nothing wrong. He has NHL quality skills. Does he need to work on some things? Sure he does.The next time you see him will probably be towards the end of this year. We have the right to bring him back, to the Marlies or here, and we said [to him] you’re going to see us very shortly again.”

While Matt Frattin will return to the AHL Marlies but is a player the General Manager insists in one who will be part of the Leafs moving forward.

In goal the Leafs will go with James Reimer and Ben Scrivens who combined have just 83 NHL games experience.

Yes the Leafs will be harder to play against but goaltending will once again be an area of concern, no matter what the Leafs say.

“Do I like our goaltending in terms of quality and are they capable? The answer’s yes,” said Nonis. “Do we have a veteran presence, do we have experience? The answer’s no. That’s the concern that we have.

“We’re going to start the season with them. It’s up to them to play at an NHL calibre and our players have to play as hard as they can in front of them. If we can upgrade and get some more experience, we will. But not at the expense of moving some young players that we think would be very important moving forward.”

Here is a look at the opening night roster.

Forwards:

Lupul – Bozak – Kessel

MacArthur – Grabovski – Kulemin

Van Riemsyk – Kadri – Komarov

Brown- McClement – Orr

Steckel

Defence:

Phaneuf – Kostka

Liles – Franson

Gunnarsson – Komisarek

Fraser – Holzer

Goaltenders:

Reimer

Scrivens

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