Roman Polak is in his first season with the blue and white and with his marker on Thursday he has shown he is doing much more than the Toronto Maple Leafs had anticipated.
The team went winless during their trip through California. However, the rugged defenceman prevented the trip from being even more embarrassing. The 28-year-old scored the Leafs’ lone goal in their 3-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks Thursday, preventing the Buds from being shutout in three straight games.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) January 16, 2015
The Trade Impact This Season
The Maple Leafs acquired the 28-year-old during the off-season in exchange for veteran blueliner Carl Gunnarsson and a fourth-round pick. The Leafs brought in the Czech Republic native with the hopes of adding more size and grit to their back end. While the deal would also allow for the team to dress a defence core with a left-handed and right-handed shot on each pairing.
Over the half-way mark of the season the 6-foot defender has also chipped in offensively. The blue-collar defender has also added five goals for the Leafs blueline this season. His five goals are second amongst all Maple Leafs d-men just one behind Cody Franson for the team lead. Those five goals are also the highest total of Polak’s career. During his eight years in the league prior to this season, Polak had totalled just 13 goals in 423 games. His previous season-high was four which he has tallied twice.
This season Polak is on pace for 10 goals which would nearly equal his entire career’s total. Of course he has also done a great job of doing exactly what he was brought in to do, and that’s play physical. The right-hander is third amongst all NHL defenceman in hits with 132. That total is also the most amongst all his Maple Leafs teammates, this comes despite Polak missing 10 games with an injury this season.
Gunnarsson Contributing in St. Louis
Carl Gunnarsson hasn’t been a complete wash for St. Louis either. The Swedish defender is currently third on the team’s blueline with a +9 rating. Last year Gunnarsson led the Maple Leafs with a +12. Meanwhile the 28-year-old has one goal and six points on the season, though he has only played 22 games this season due to an upper-body injury. However, Gunnarsson, like Polak, has never tallied more than four goals in a season. Though he shouldn’t be expected to contribute much offence anyway.
Polak is Tough
Despite contributing offence to the team, Polak probably resonates most with Maple Leafs fans with being tough. And there was no bigger example of this than last week in the team’s 6-2 loss to the Washington Capitals. During the game, Polak took a point shot off his face. The shot kept him down on the ice for a moment, leaving a pool of blood on the ice. The defender was taken to the Leafs dressing room where he had the outside and inside of his mouth stitched up. And then to the surprise of many, he returned to play the rest of the game, continuing to play without a visor or any covering to protect his gash.
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) January 16, 2015
Polak and Gunnarsson will each play against their old teams Saturday night, the same teams that drafted them. Both have continued to play this season the way they were expected to following the trade. However, early on it looks as though the Leafs are getting that extra something from a defender who was expected to merely throw the body around.
Craig is an intern at The Hockey News where he has written for both the website and the magazine. He is also a featured-blogger at http://www.hockeyforums.net/index.php/blog/46-its-a-canadian-game/. Craig has an Honours in Journalism from Wilfird Laurier University and is currently completing the Sports Journalism Program at Centennial College. Follow him on Twitter @Craig_Hagerman.