Roman Polak is among the crop of players acquired by the Toronto Maple Leafs during their 2014 off-season retooling. The 28-year-old defender joins the Leafs after a decade spent in the St. Louis Blues organization, where he played 424 games before a trade brought him to Toronto in exchange for Carl Gunnarsson and a 4th round draft pick.
A physical, stay-at-home defenseman, Polak was added to bring stability and abrasiveness to a Leafs defense that had little of either in its most recent season.
“We envision him having a pretty significant impact on our back end,” said Leafs GM Dave Nonis shortly after Polak’s trade was announced, “He’s going to provide a little bit of edge. A tough guy to play against.” (Source: NHL.com)
Though his stocky frame (6-foot, 236 pounds) may suggest he isn’t the most mobile of players, Toronto President Brendan Shanahan doesn’t believe Polak’s skating will be an issue.
“People who don’t think he has skating ability really aren’t watching,” Shanahan said. (Source: NHL.com)
Polak’s transition to playing on a considerably weaker defense than that which he played on in St. Louis could be a concern. Nonis has stated that he expects Polak to slot into Toronto’s “(No.) 4-5 hole,” which is a little higher up than he was in St. Louis, where he was used on the bottom defensive pairing.
Considering Head Coach Randy Carlyle‘s zeal for line-matching and Polak’s status as Toronto’s only truly stay-at-home defenseman, Polak will likely face tougher competition and zone starts as a Toronto Maple Leaf. I think we can also expect to see him play a prominent role on Toronto’s new-look penalty killing unit, which is getting a makeover this season under newly hired assistant coach Peter Horachek after finishing 28th in 2013-14. (Source: MLHS)
Biggest question: Can Polak adjust to playing in a weaker defensive corps?