Franson set for Leafs’ debut Saturday night

Cody Franson. (franson)

Cody Franson will be back patrolling the blue-line Saturday when he plays his first regular-season game donning the blue and white.

After being scratched from the lineup and watching the opening two games from the press box, one of Toronto’s off-season acquisitions will make his highly anticipated debut as the Toronto Maple Leafs host to the 1-2 Calgary Flames.

Franson played in 80 games last season with Nashville, scoring eight goals with 21 assists, and had high expectations coming to Toronto.

But that wasn’t enough for his name to be inked into the Leafs’ opening night roster.

“It was very difficult,” Franson told reporters. “I thought I was going to be one of the guys that kind of helped take charge and make the team go in the right direction early.

“It’s just one of those things that didn’t work out that way.”

However, NHL players aren’t naïve to believe that anything is ever set in stone. Franson is no different, as he knows that with each season he has something new to prove.

“They say it’s a matter of losing jobs or winning jobs back,” Franson said. “I don’t plan on giving mine up.”

It can’t be easy for a player to watch their team play in street clothes, especially when they get off to a 2-0 start like the Leafs have. But the 24-year-old is fortunate he has a rare opportunity to make a second first impression.

“I’ve been waiting for it for a while,” he said. “It’s something I’ve been preparing for all summer. To finally get that first game, it will be fun.”

Though it hasn’t been confirmed, all signs point to rookie Jake Gardiner being the odd man out when the puck drops Saturday at the Air Canada Centre. The 21-year-old had a successful and promising pre-season, but has played the fewest minutes of any Leafs defenceman and still has some growing to do.

Coach Ron Wilson appeared to have a diabolical plan coming into the season that left Franson with the short straw waiting for his chance to prove himself, but the Leafs four-year bench boss feels Franson is now ready.

“I think he’s a lot more comfortable,” Wilson told reporters. “We’ve seen a lot of improvement in some of the defensive things that he’s got to do in practice. Now he’s got to do it in the game.”

With Gardiner and the Marlies’ Keith Aulie waiting in the wings, Franson knows he will always be competing on a team with ample depth. But the Sicamous, B.C. native is going to take advantage of the opportunity he’s been given.

“It takes a kick at your pride when something like that happens,” said Franson. “I don’t like watching games. I want to put my best foot forward and make it tough for them to take me out again.”