As Leafs head to camp, big ques­tions re­main

From first-line cen­tre to Pha­neuf’s new part­ner, key po­si­tions up for grabs

Toronto Star - - SPORTS - MARK ZWOLIN­SKI SPORTS RE­PORTER

The Leafs open their train­ing camp Thurs­day with a whole new look in the front of­fice, and as much un­cer­tainty with the makeup of the ros­ter as there’s been in re­cent mem­ory.

Here is a look at five ques­tions sur­round­ing the club as it opens camp with phys­i­cals be­fore a three-day trip to Hal­i­fax.

Who will be on the top line?

The Leafs will open camp with two strong can­di­dates for the first-line cen­tre job — Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak — and could end up with 1A, 1B setup in which the top two lines will dic­tate the ice time by their play. Kadri will likely start with Jof­frey Lupul, and Bozak with James van Riems­dyk. Those pair­ings had chem­istry and suc­cess over the past three sea­sons.

What are Wil­liam Nylander’s chances?

It should be dif­fi­cult for Nylander to make the ros­ter, un­less, as coach Mike Bab­cock says, he “wins” a job out of camp. But the Leafs will be des­per­ate for of­fence and Nylander cer­tainly has po­ten­tial for points. He pro­gressed slowly but steadily in the AHL last year, and could be a player who sim­ply de­vel­ops bet­ter at the NHL level than the mi­nors.

Who will be the top goalie?

Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer re­main solid as friends and team- mates, but the bat­tle for min­utes could, and should, be more in­tense than at any other time dur­ing their re­spec­tive tenures in Toronto. Both are play­ing for new con­tracts, and while Bernier still has a grip on the No. 1role, he will al­ways have Reimer right in his rear-view mir­ror.

What will the de­fen­sive pair­ings be?

Team cap­tain Dion Pha­neuf is look­ing for a new part­ner — so do you break up Mor­gan Rielly and Jake Gar­diner, and send one of them to play with Pha­neuf? Stephane Ro­bidas and Ro­man Po­lak should make a solid sec­ond or third pair­ing, but there def­i­nitely ap­pears to be at least one open­ing in the top six. In­ter­est­ingly, Mark Fraser, who was solid for the club two sea­sons ago, is in camp on a try­out.

What will the Bab­cock ef­fect be?

Ev­ery player has long since known new coach Mike Bab­cock ex­pects the team to be the “fittest” in the league, to work hard, and to com­pete at all times. But Bab­cock’s struc­ture- and pos­ses­sion-based sys­tems will be to­tally new to most play­ers, in­clud­ing vet­er­ans of the past two to three sea­sons. The learn­ing curve will need to be short and quick if Toronto wants to open the sea­son strongly and keep things sane for their goalies.

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