The youth movement for the Toronto Maple Leafs has stalled, for now.
Despite playing well so far in the pre-season, players like Viktor Stalberg, Christian Hanson, Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri might have to put their National Hockey League dreams on hold.
During the post-game press conference at the Air Canada Centre, Ron Wilson hinted that the younger players will likely have to earn their keep playing for the Toronto Marlies or the Ontario Hockey League.
“I guess you could say they have earned a job, but have they stolen anyone’s job? Not in my estimation,” Wilson said.
“A lot of guys will have to start in the minors, but if it was last year it would be a different story and I think we are a little better off than we were last year.”
The Leafs rookies showed some signs of brilliance Tuesday against the understrength Pittsburgh Penguins (no stars), but in the end it might not be enough to crack the big club.
First-round draft pick Kadri scored twice for Toronto, once tying the game and the other in the shootout, but could be on his way back to the Ontario Hockey League for more seasoning.
“He made a great play to tie the game, but I don’t think it was one of his better games to be honest with you,” Wilson says.
Wilson had enough confidence in the young player to put him out in the final seconds of a close hockey game.
“That is why you put him out there at that point,” he says. “I had a lot of young guys out there and you want to see how they react in a situation like that.
“I think [Kadri] and Bozak can eventually become magical players for us.”
If Kadri is sent back to London, Wilson expects him to shine.
“If he goes back to junior, I would be shocked if he didn’t get 100 points in the OHL with the hockey sense he seemed to show,” he says. “He is very confident in a positive way.
“That is why I threw him out there in the shootout.”
Wilson wants to see the younger players, especially Stalberg, become more consistant and a place where that consistency can be found is in the American Hockey League.
“You don’t see the time he doesn’t back check and you don’t see the time he doesn’t get the puck out along the boards,” says Wilson, of Stalberg.
“You’ll see that he scored a nice goal or he skated by someone. It isn’t all about scoring goals, you have to have the ability to stop the other team from scoring and not be a defensive liability”
If the crop of rookies want to have an impact in the NHL, Wilson wants to see them become complete players.
“These guys might not have been asked to do some of these things in junior or college, but you have to do it all up here,” he says.