Quick – gun to your head – pick which youngster will have a better 82-game season. Thankfully, despite the media and blogosphere’s attempts to make it seem so, Brian Burke’s decision won’t have to be so blunt. Still, there’s only so many roster spots (when everyone’s healthy), and the potential emergence of Matthew Lombardi will remove one of the few still up for grabs. In all reality, the only open spot up front is on the 3rd line wing, and as many, including Wilson and Burke, have indicated over the past week or so, if Lombardi’s healthy, he’s got the ability to play wing, and a Lombardi-Bozak-Armstrong 3rd line would be pretty damn good, and all this speculation is for naught.
All that aside, should Lombardi suffer another setback in his recovery, or they opt to put either him or Tyler Bozak at the 4th line center position, in all likelihood we will see one of the Leafs’ top prospects filling that wing. Nazem Kadri obviously brings the more high-profile offensive skillset. There’s no question he’s got some of the best hands in the organization, and watching him toy with the puck is a thing of beauty – when he doesn’t try and do too much and gets stripped, usually in the most inopportune areas of the ice. While he’s improved his defensive play, the biggest negative factor of his game is the existence of those turnovers. There’s no way to ever completely remove turnovers from your game – even the biggest superstar is going to lose the puck once in awhile – but he has to learn when and where the appropriate time for a fancy dangle is, and when it’s a better idea to just chip it in and go chase it down.
On the flip side, Matt Frattin doesn’t really play the same high-risk, high-octane offensive game as Kadri, but that’s not to say he’s not an offensive weapon. He’s got a heavy shot, more speed than he gets credit for, and – most importantly – he’s already built like an NHLer. Listed on the Maple Leafs website at 6’0, 200 pounds, he brings a more physical game than the diminutive Kadri, and demonstrated throughout his NCAA career that he was more than willing to throw the body around. He’s produced well through the preseason, and doesn’t present the same liability in his own end that Kadri can’t quite seem to get rid of.
So Leaf fans – who do you take? The 2009 first round pick or the 23-year old college grad?