On Beyond Cujo
As with the last three years, Curtis Joseph will be the main man between the pipes for the Maple Leafs but after that, the picture gets a bit fuzzy. Granted, with a new contract in his pocket, SEL All-Star Mikael Tellqvist is the odds on favourite to be the back-up, and barring a serious injury or a horrendous camp will probably get the job. However, how will the rest of the organization’s goaltending shake out? With Jimmy Waite now in Europe it looks like Mike Minard is pencilled in as the starter with an outside chance of swapping places with Tellqvist on the big team. But behind him, there are a few different choices.
Sebastien Centomo, an undrafted backstop signed with Toronto a couple of years ago after impressing them in rookie camp. While he has made steady progress playing for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in the QMJHL, at this stage in his career he is still more of a suspect than a prospect having yet to post a save percentage above .900.
Jamie Hodson, 21 and three years removed from his selection in the third round by the Buds has had a difficult junior career. After a promising start he ran into major knee problems and really hasn’t been the same since. At this point it’s not so much a medical concern as it is a psychological one. Hodson’s confidence fell so low last season that he ended up splitting time with Robert McVicar and Geoff McIntosh.
Vladimir Kulkov, came, saw, and conquered in rookie camp after Toronto took a flyer on him in the eighth round of the 1999 Entry Draft, and then disappeared into obscurity. A short stint in the ECHL did nothing to convince him to stay in North America and he returned to his native Russia. Whether he has a legitimate shot at the back-up’s job or whether he’ll even come back over is up in the air.
Jean-Francois Racine and Jan Chovan are both long term solutions at best. Both still have a couple years of junior eligibility left and both took over their respective clubs starting goaltending chores only last year. Racine is the taller of the two, but the view here is that Chovan might prove to be the better of the pair down the road. In any case, neither will be expected to challenge for a spot on ‘The Rock’ for another couple of years.
Tick, Tick, Tick
Every season is important to every player, but this one will stand out for two members of the Baby Buds because it’s make or break time for both of them. Dimitri Yakushin has been in the Leaf pipeline for three years. Now 23, he has had his ups and downs with the organization and last year was definitely a down. At his best Yakushin reminds many of Dmitry Yushkevich, but thanks to injuries and a slowness to adapt to Lou Crawford’s system in 2000/2001, the Ukrainian defender looked like anything but during the last campaign. Even after he returned to the line-up he frequently found himself either down in the rotation or a healthy scratch. With the amount of depth Toronto has on defence now, Yakushin might find that his chances of success lie in another organization unless he puts together a monster season. Donald MacLean, on the other hand, only arrived on ‘The Rock’ at the trade deadline of the 1999/2000 schedule from the Kings farm club in Lowell. He wowed everyone during the exhibition season last year by scoring 7 goals in the abbreviated set of matches and earned a three game call-up for his efforts. However, his positional play without the puck cost him his promotion and he ended up back in the AHL. While he had a nifty bunch of numbers there (60 points in 61 games), the fact remains that MacLean is 24 going on career minor league status. A player of his ilk might challenge for a spot on one of the expansion teams, but with Toronto already fairly loaded up front and youth both in front of him (Jeff Farkas, Alexei Ponikarovsky) and behind him (Brad Boyes, Luca Cereda), it looks like the forward could be going nowhere fast in St. John’s.