The trio of Mikhail Grabovski, Viktor Stalberg, and Niklas Hagman will be relied on to produce much of the Toronto Maple Leaf’s offence this upcoming season, says coach Ron Wilson.
In eight exhibition games, the three Leafs amassed 17 points including six goals from Stalberg who impressed again Sunday with a two point effort, in a 7-6 exhibition loss to the Buffalo Sabres.
While the 23 year-old Swede produced at an unforeseen rate coming out of training camp, Grabovski and Hagman are looking to improve on the 20-plus goal seasons they had last year.
As a line they showed great chemistry against the Sabres using their speed, good hockey sense, and overall creativity to produce open space and quality chances.
Wilson showed confidence in the unit by putting them out on the power play and in the dying minutes of the contest in an effort to tie up the game.
Despite questions of Stalberg’s commitment to two-way play he showed that he has enough defensive responsibility thus far to stay in the big leagues.
“Stalberg will be in the lineup on opening night,” said Wilson in the team’s post-game media conference. “He seems to be a complete player without any holes right now.”
Combined with Hagman’s notoriety as a smart two-way winger and Grabovski’s constant tenacity and determination, the unit could be a successful component to the Leafs success this season.
Grabovski looked like a prototypical Brian Burke player on Sunday, netting a goal and getting physically involved while relentlessly pursuing the puck at both ends of the ice.
Leaf goaltender Vesa Toskala, on the other hand, was probably looked upon less favourably by the Leaf’s GM after surrendering seven goals on just 24 shots.
He did not look comfortable in the net, especially when he was beaten on a fairly routine wraparound attempt by Jochen Hecht and later on an innocent Matt Ellis backhander.
The performance does not bode well for the Finn’s role as this year’s starting netminder, especially after the excellent showing by Jonas “The Monster” Gustavsson in Saturday night’s 2-1 victory against Detroit.
But Wilson assured that Toskala will be the go-to-guy when the regular season gets underway for the Leafs this Thursday versus the Montreal Canadiens.
“I’m gonna say right now, Vesa will be starting on Thursday. So there is no controversy, no problem.”
At least not for now.