The NHL lockout has already taken its toll on each and every team and player around the league as well as various other leagues around the planet. However, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t had a positive effect on certain players at the same time.
For the Toronto Maple leafs, four players immediately come to mind when considering who may actually benefit from the NHL’s most recent work stoppage. For their own unique yet sometimes similar reasons, those listed below are being given the chance to take advantage of the lack of opportunity to play in the big leagues this season.
No. 1 – Nikolai Kulemin
Nikolai Kuelmin’s struggles last season were well-documented. After managing 30 goals and 57 points in 2010-2011, the 26-year-old followed up that career season with just seven goals and 28 points. Along with these diminished statistics came some good news and some bad news for Kulemin.
We will start with the good news, which is that Kulemin never really fell below the second line for an extended period of time. Although he struggled offensively, Kulemin managed to maintain a relatively high level of defensive play. Now the goal for Kulemin is to get back to where he was once at offensively, which a season of training and development overseas and time away from the media rigours of the Toronto market just may do.
No. 2 – Nazem Kadri
Up, down, up, down, up, down, up, down…
That’s something like what Nazem Kadri’s first three years as a professional hockey player have been like as he continuously splits time between the Maple Leafs and their AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies.
One might initially think that Kadri made this list because a year away from the AHL will help him improve his fitness, but who knows about that? The real reason he made the list is because Kadri now has the opportunity to spend what seems as though will be an entire season at one level of hockey, something he hasn’t done since the 2008-2009 season when he played for the OHL’s London Knights.
Although it’s unlikely Kadri will score at a pace of 1.39 points per game like he did that season, a season of AHL hockey certainly won’t hurt.
No. 3 – Jake Gardiner
It was a very impressive rookie season in 2011-2012 for Jake Gardiner, who stole the spotlight in Leafs training camp just over a year ago before making the roster and putting on a performance that landed him a spot on the NHL All-Rookie Team.
Albeit under different circumstances, Gardiner may take advantage of the NHL lockout in a similar manner as Kadri. Both now have the opportunity to spend an entire season developing into more well-rounded players as both look to become more improved defensively.
Just imagine if Gardiner can improve upon last season when the NHL starts up again and continued to do so as his NHL career progressed. It seems very likely, meaning the Leafs have a bright future on the back-end.
No. 4 – James van Riemsdyk
No one is entirely sure what to expect from James van Riemsdyk when he steps into the Leafs’ lineup once the NHL begins play. Everyone knows he has potential both offensively and defensively, but the two largest questions surround his health and whether or not he will actually be able to apply that potential.
It’s still unknown what the man some call “JvR” will do during the lockout but he currently has the opportunity to settle into Toronto a little more before making any big decision on what to do while waiting out the work stoppage. That can only be good news for a player who was recently traded to the largest hockey market in the world.
Now all the Leafs can hope for is that van Riemsdyk takes advantage of such an opportunity and that it will help him become an offensive force for the blue and white.
It’s clear that the lockout isn’t all bad, especially for the players. As far as fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs are concerned, they can look forward to the above four returning to the Leafs in top form, resulting in a season where the Leafs will challenge for and possibly take one of the final playoff berths.
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Lukas, a student at the University of Ottawa, covers the Toronto Maple Leafs on a part-time basis for The Hockey Writers. Contact Lukas at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter, @LukasHardonk.