It’s not only the goaltenders that are battling for a spot on the Toronto Maple Leafs final roster, but also forwards Matt Frattin and Nazem Kadri.
Both played on the third line along with Darryl Boyce Friday night in a 2-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, and either Frattin, 23, or Kadri, 21, will likely be on the Leafs’ opening game roster.
They both know the level of competition is high and only they can control what they are doing on the ice.
“It’s definitely going to be tough to make this team,” Frattin told the Toronto Star. “There is so much depth. You can’t just put up offensive numbers. You also have to worry about the defensive game and play a two-way game.”
Frattin, who led the NCAA with 36 goals while he played for North Dakota last season, scored twice on Wednesday in the Leafs’ 4-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.
Kadri, Toronto’s first pick in the 2009 draft and second on the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies last year in goals, had numerous chances to score in his first two pre-season games including Friday.
Compared to last year’s training camp, Kadri feels faster on his skates and stronger on the puck.
“Last year I felt a little too slow and sluggish, and this year it’s the complete opposite,” Kadri said to the Toronto Star. “I feel quick. I feel fast. I feel a lot stronger down low.”
Both Frattin and Kadri have speed and vision, qualities general manager Brian Burke and coach Ron Wilson are looking for.
Wilson wants to have his roster down to 26 players after the weekend.
The next few days are also important for Jake Gardiner, traded last February to the Leafs along with Joffrey Lupul and a conditional fourth round pick in the 2013 draft for defenceman François Beauchemin.
A 21-year-old from Minnesota, he had three assists in 10 games last season with the Marlies and played well in his two first pre-season games against the Ottawa Senators and Philadelphia Flyers.
So far, Wilson is satisfied with Gardiner’s performance.
“We’ve seen so many good things from him in our scrimmages and in the rookie tournament and these couple of exhibition games that he’s been in,” Wilson told the Toronto Star. “So we have to keep testing him.”
Goaltenders James Reimer, Jonas Gustavsson, Ben Scrivens and Jussi Rynnas are in the same situation.
With a 2.60 goals against average and a .921 save percentage in 37 games last season, Reimer is favoured for the starting job, but nothing is guaranteed yet.
The battle is mostly between Scrivens and Gustavsson as the Leafs backup and it’s a close one.
Gustavsson, who has the most NHL experience, played 23 games with the Leafs last season compiling a 3.29 goals against average and a .890 percentage.
Scrivens led the Marlies in wins, minutes played, goals-against average, save percentage and saves.
He also won the starting job last season for the Marlies over Rynnas, and is looking for an opportunity to back up Reimer.
Toronto will face Buffalo again on Saturday night at First Niagara Center.