To be sure, the logjam on the Toronto blueline with last year’s incumbents fighting it out for seven spots with this season’s new additions is going to be no easy task for those players involved. But if you think that’s bad, just take a look at the Baby Buds where it pales by comparison. As it stands right now Petr Svoboda, D.J. Smith, Tyler Harlton, Maxim Galanov , Dimitri Yakushin, Nathan Dempsey, Allan Rourke, David Cooper, Chad Allen, Francois Bouchard, and Christian Chartier will all be trying to earn a spot on that roster while trying to stave off whoever happens not to make the cut at the ACC. Suffice to say that one of Cory Cross, Wade Belak, or Karel Pilar will be added to this cauldron come September and one of the six spots will be held open for whoever it is. So who will make the grade and who will be packing a suitcase? For the answers to that, the field needs to be broken down some.
In the veteran powerplay quarterback category three candidates stick out. Nathan Dempsey and David Cooper were the two blueliners who kept that end of things on an even keel last season but Francois Bouchard, fresh from Djurgartens in the SEL, also figures into the mix here. It is highly unlikely that more than one of these three will be kept on the team. This will be due not so much because they have disappointed, but more because of the fact that St. John’s has a number of young defenders that need to develop their offensive skills and powerplay icetime is a precious commodity in that regard. The pick here is Francois Bouchard.
Among ‘The Young and the Get This Guy on the Powerplay’ candidates are Allan Rourke, Christian Chartier, Petr Svoboda and possibly Karel Pilar. Rourke continued to get better and better as the season went on last year and is a good candidate to be a quasi-veteran presence for Lou Crawford. After all, out of those four he is the most experienced in the ways of the AHL. That said, it is a given that Chartier, Svoboda and Pilar, if he doesn’t make the big club will stick with the Baby Buds.
That leaves two positions open on the blueline for D.J. Smith, Tyler Harlton, Maxim Galanov , Dimitri Yakushin, and Chad Allen. Galanov has a good chance of sticking because he is another veteran of the AHL and one who, at least at that level, doesn’t have a discernible weakness. Which brings us to the #6 spot in the rotation.
D.J. Smith has had three seasons to show the ACC brass that he is someone worth investing in for the future. Despite a couple cups of coffee on the NHL level though, he has never been able to stick. Furthermore, he has also never been able to overtake Nathan Dempsey as the call-up of choice even though many see the Leaf blueline as being weak physically. True, he has picked up his game somewhat offensively, but he is still a tough sell to make the top 6. Tyler Harlton, who came over from St. Louis for Derek King is in much the same boat in that he hasn’t shown himself to be anything more than a journeyman blueliner in his time in pro hockey with even less offence than Smith. Chad Allen, yet another 1976 birthdate, arrived from the Vancouver system last season and can be lumped in with the aforementioned pair as being solid, but not remarkable AHL veterans. Which brings us to Dimitri Yakushin. At 23 years old, he is the youngest of this group and easily the one with the most upside. The question remains though as to whether he wants it. At his best, he looks like a younger version of Dmitry Yushkevich, but as of late he hasn’t shown his best. Still, it is too early to pigeonhole him just yet. It is possible that once he sees players like Rourke, Chartier, and Svoboda all logging serious minutes in front of him he will wake up and see that he has to do more than simply show up if he wants to play in the NHL. To that end, Lou Crawford will probably carry a couple of extra defenders to make sure the young Ukranian knows that there are other options available to the coach if he simply mails it in.