THE NEXT STEP

Bol­stered by vet­eran trio, Maple Leafs look to build on promis­ing sea­son

The Western Star - - Sports - BY NEIL DAVID­SON

Maple Leafs look to build on promis­ing sea­son.

The Toronto Maple Leafs opened camp Thurs­day look­ing to build on last sea­son’s promis­ing plat­form and a sparkling ar­ray of young tal­ent.

The Leafs listed 73 play­ers on their camp ros­ter with at­ten­tion fo­cused on three vet­eran new­com­ers: for­wards Pa­trick Mar­leau and Do­minic Moore and de­fence­man Ron Hain­sey, who have 3,247 NHL reg­u­larsea­son games be­tween them.

“I think we’re an im­proved team tal­ent-wise, ex­pe­ri­ence­wise from last year,” said coach Mike Bab­cock, with a nod to his ad­di­tions.

“We’ve done more and now we’d like to take a step (for­ward). And we think these guys, be­cause of the men they are as much as be­cause the play­ers they are, are go­ing to help us with that.”

Toronto (40-27-15) fin­ished eighth in the East­ern Con­fer­ence last sea­son be­fore tak­ing the first-place Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals to six games in a se­ries that fea­tured five over­time con­tests. Led by rookie of the year Aus­ton Matthews, the young Leafs fin­ished with 95 points dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son — up from 69 the pre­vi­ous sea­son.

While ex­pec­ta­tions are high among fans af­ter that, de­fence­man Mor­gan Rielly played down what the team did last year.

“We’re happy with some strides for­ward that we took last year but when you look back at it, I think we made the play­offs on the last day of the year and lost in the first round,” he said. “So we’ve got a long way to go to get to where we want to and we’re all aware of that.”

Added GM Lou Lamor­iello: “We’re still grow­ing.”

Bab­cock finds him­self with a wealth of op­tions up front with the ad­di­tion of Mar­leau and Moore. The Leafs had three suc­cess­ful lines last sea­son in Matthews, Wil­liam Ny­lan­der and Zach Hy­man; Tyler Bozak, James van Riems­dyk and Mitch Marner; and Nazem Kadri, Leo Ko­morov and Con­nor Brown.

Add in Matt Martin, Nikita Sosh­nikov, Josh Leivo and other fourth-line con­tenders and the num­bers game is very tight.

Told he had more NHL-ready for­wards than open­ings, Bab­cock grinned.

“Isn’t that great, eh,” he said. “The right peo­ple al­ways end on the team. Some­times they don’t end up on the team right away,” he added.

Hain­sey, who won the Cup with Pitts­burgh last sea­son af­ter join­ing the Pen­guins from Carolina, will bol­ster a de­fence that in­cludes Rielly, Jake Gar­diner and Nikita Zait­sev.

Vet­eran Ro­man Po­lak is also back in camp, this time on a pro­fes­sional try­out. The 31-year-old Czech is com­ing off a grue­some leg in­jury dur­ing last spring’s play­offs. Fred­erik An­der­sen, a tall Dane with a Co­nan O’Brien coif, re­turns as the No. 1 goalie but this time he is healthy from the get-go as op­posed to last sea­son when he had a shaky start af­ter suf­fer­ing an in­jury play­ing for Den­mark prior to the World Cup of Hockey.

CP PHOTO

Toronto Maple Leafs cen­tre Tyler Bozak steps off the ice on the first day of train­ing camp in Toronto on Thurs­day.

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