With training camp opening on Friday, the wait to find out if the Toronto Maple Leafs can improve upon their 29th-place finish last season is nearly over.
Players will converge upon the Mastercard Centre in Etobicoke in the morning for physicals before commencing on-ice practices at 10 a.m on Saturday.
There are 63 players heading to camp with hopes to nab a spot with the Leafs, including six goalies, 19 defencemen, and 38 forwards.
Dion Phaneuf, who will be entering his first season as captain, told the Canadian Press he and his teammates are ready to get started.
“It’s going to be an exciting camp,” he said. “I know everyone’s excited to get going. We’ve been here for a couple weeks skating together, almost every guy.
“Everybody’s ready to go.”
While invitees will have every chance to impress the top brass, much of the roster is already set.
One of the most important tasks for the players will be coming together and meshing as a team as early as possible.
That may be difficult in a pre-season chock full of games with little practice time. The blue-and-white will have just three days of training behind them when they play their first exhibition match on Sept. 21 against the Ottawa Senators.
They will play five games in a row and a total of nine in 12 nights.
With the club wanting to get a look at everyone, core players may not get an opportunity to develop team chemistry right away.
Head coach Ron Wilson will have to figure out how to accommodate everybody and divvy up the ice time. The pressure will be square on his shoulders, with his team needing to get off to a better start than last year’s 0-7-1.
Spotlight on Kadri
One of the biggest questions to be answered before the season begins surrounds forward Nazem Kadri and his status with the big club.
Kadri had a strong training camp last year, but was ultimately sent back to the London Knights. This year the centre has a legitimate chance to crack the roster.
Since being selected as the Leafs’ first round draft pick, seventh overall, in 2009, the 19-year-old has faced high expectations and high hopes as Toronto continues to search for a top-line centre.
His performance throughout camp could dictate whether he’s ready to stay with the Leafs once the season starts.
“The biggest thing with Nazem is he needs to grow up a little bit, get a little more experience,” Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins told QMI Agency. “And instead of a kid, being a little more of a man.”
The Leafs could send him down to the Marlies to gain that extra maturity and further exposure to big-time hockey.
Jerry D’Amigo is another young player who should receive plenty of attention at camp. The 19-year-old left college to sign an entry-level deal with Toronto this summer, and the forward was one of the best players at this week’s rookie camp in London.
Players will have just under three weeks to make a positive impression before the season starts on Oct. 7.