Thursday, January 17, 2013

Lombardi Trade & Connolly Waiving Creates Opportunity for Young Guns

10 to 1 odds this conversation actually happened
With the season starting up this Saturday, the Toronto Maple Leafs have made a few moves in the past 24 hours to shake things up in the organization. Forward Matthew Lombardi was traded to the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for a draft pick (the deal creates $1.5 million in cap space), as well as the sorta-surprising-but-not-so-surprising announcement that forward Tim Connolly was placed on waivers. While it is expected that he will go unclaimed, Connolly will either be sent down to their minor-league affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, or be bought-out with the NHL's "accelerated buyout" clause.

Now, with those moves, many have speculated that General Manager Dave Nonis is looking towards the future, giving 2009 first round pick Nazem Kadri an opportunity to excel with extra ice-time. Kadri, the 22-year-old centre/winger, put up point-a-game numbers in the AHL this season, and has turned a few heads coming into training camp. Kadri scored a hat-trick in an intra-squad game early in camp, and has earned praises from coaches and analysts. While it is unknown where exactly Kadri will end up, the departing of Lombardi and Connolly indicates that he will at least get a look at centre, likely on the third line behind Tyler Bozak and Mikhail Grabovski.

Leo Komarov has showed that he is worthy of cracking an NHL lineup
Another name that has forced people to take notice is 25-year-old Leo Komarov, a 2006 sixth-round pick who has spent the majority of the past three years in the KHL with Moscow Dynamo. Komarov, who many scouts have compared to fellow Finnish countryman Jarkko Ruutu, is a skilled forward who is smart defensively, and can agitate the opponents best players. One hockey scout that I spoke to earlier today told me, "Komarov has the ability to be an extremely effective hockey player...the guy is very fast, but it's how he uses his speed to his advantage...can and will hit everything in his path". High-praise for a player that has yet to play a game in the NHL, despite being drafted almost seven years ago. Despite many expecting that Komarov will make the team, his impact for the season is almost impossible to predict.

Read this excellent player-profile from Toronto Star writer Dave Feschuk on Komarov.

Multiple reports out of camp have Kadri centring a line with Komarov and James van Riemsdyk, the newly acquired forward from Philadelphia whom the Leafs traded for last spring. If this line were to stick, it would certainly throw a wrinkle at opposing teams, as all three players are good skaters, have offensive upside, and have the ability to hit.

If Kadri and Komarov make the team, it will be interesting to see how the two develop and produce throughout the shortened 48-game season, as both players are restricted free-agents at the end of the year. Kadri has had his name in Toronto trade talks for God-knows-how-long, and has been linked as the main piece on the Leafs end for a potential deal with the Vancouver Canucks for goaltender Roberto Luongo. But with the moves that Nonis has made since being hired, all signs indicate that the blue and white want Kadri to prove that he is a bonafide NHL centre, and deserving of a spot in the Maple Leafs lineup.

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