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What role can Mason Raymond fill with the Leafs?

The Toronto Maple Leafs signed former Vancouver Canuck Mason Raymond to a professional tryout contract yesterday. The 27-year-old left-winger will come to training camp when it opens in two days and compete for a spot on the team. If he plays well enough, I guess Dave Nonis will have to figure out how to sign him to a contract under the cap, because he can’t even get Nazem Kadri and Cody Franson signed to new deals right now.

Raymond’s offense has fallen off quite a bit since his career season in 2009-10 when he had 25 goals and 53 points in 82 games. He fell back to earth the next season, posting 15 goals and 39 points. His totals dropped again in 2011-12, when he managed only 10 goals and 20 points in 55 games. He didn’t improve much last year, scoring 10 goals and 22 points, albeit in only 46 games. The Canucks apparently had enough of Raymond’s scoring struggles, and decided to let him hit the free agent market when his one-year deal worth $2.275-million expired.

I was continually surprised during the offseason when day after day went by, and still Raymond remained unsigned. I understand most teams have had cap struggles, but surely some team looking to fill out their forward depth could take a flier on him. I thought it was a great move by Nonis to bring Raymond in for the tryout. Nonis knows Raymond well (he drafted him in the second round in 2005 when he was in charge of the Canucks), and surely believes he has a chance to make the Leafs’ forward ranks. But what role could Raymond fill on a team that’s pretty much set in the top six?

I exchanged emails with Allen Tung, the editor of The Canuck Way, and asked him for his thoughts on Raymond. He had this to say:

Mason Raymond was let go by the Vancouver Canucks because he couldn’t score enough to hold onto a top-six forward position. After putting up 25 goals in 2009-10, his offensive production dipped and has spent the last three seasons relegated to the third line with hopes he would regain his scoring touch and move back into the top-six. He was pretty good at it (being a third line winger), but he didn’t fit the mould of what the Canucks were looking for on the third line and the Canucks have given up hope that he will be able to rediscover his scoring touch.

He will be an excellent third line, two-way, penalty-killing winger with the Maple Leafs. He was cast as top-six forward with the Canucks and fans expected him to be one. Even though he performed admirably in a third line role, it was never enough for the Canucks fans. Raymond was underrated defensively and excelled on the penalty kill since he was able to utilize speed to corral loose pucks and apply pressure to the point men. Raymond will give the Leafs somebody that can play on the third line and move into the top-six on a part-time basis if there is an injury. He can play both wings and even spent some time at centre during his time as a Canuck.

Sounds a bit like what Mikhail Grabovski went through last year with the Leafs. He was a player who didn’t score as much as expected and was put in a role where he couldn’t necessarily flourish offensively, and was let go when he didn’t meet expectations. Unlike Grabovski, Raymond wasn’t given a $3-million deal in free agency, but instead will have to fight in training camp to prove he’s worth a contract.

From what Allen says, it seems like there could be a fit for Raymond on the third line alongside Dave Bolland and Nikolai Kulemin. That line will probably face a lot of tough competition, so it’s debatable whether Raymond can excel in that kind of role. However, with Jay McClement and Joe Colborne the only other obvious replacements on that line, it would seem like Raymond’s skating ability would give him a leg up.

It’s doubtful Raymond can recreate his success from 2009-10, but then again, he doesn’t have to. Ten goals is decent production from a third-liner, and if Raymond can hold his own defensively and chip in on the penalty kill, he could end up being a very low-risk, high-reward asset. The question is how he would get signed under the cap if he wins a spot out of training camp, but that’s not the worst problem for Nonis to have.

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