The Toronto Maple Leafs have won four of their last six games, improving their record to 12-14-4 to tie the Buffalo Sabres with 28 points and trail the Ottawa Senators by just one point.
The return of Captain Dion Phaneuf along with gritty, pesky forward Colby Armstrong could be credited as a key factor in their recent success, but the enhanced play of Kris Versteeg, Mikhail Grabovski and Luke Schenn is surely a major benefactor for the Maple Leafs future – the aforementioned three are guys who I believe the Leafs are getting their money’s worth from.
After Versteeg was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks over the summer, the 24-year-old Stanley Cup Champion was off to a rather slow start to the season as a Leaf. Lately, however, Versteeg has been doing exactly what was expected of him by chipping in with some secondary scoring (9 G, 10 A).
Adding to Grabovski’s propelled offense and Kessel’s 12 goals, comes Versteeg’s secondary contributions as he too has climbed the rankings as of late. Versteeg has notched nine of his 10 goals of the season ranging from Nov. 3 to Dec. 14, while his only other goal came in the beginning of the season during an Oct. 9 victory over Ottawa.
With Grabovski being the go-to guy during their recent win streak, having recorded four goals in the last five games and nine on the season (while adding 12 assists), Versteeg has been noticeably more comfortable and involved while his line-mates are achieving success as well.
Toronto has been in desperate need of names like Versteeg, Bozak and Kessel to step up their play and begin to produce offensively. And coupled with the return of two of the Leafs most-prized leaders in Phaneuf and Armstrong, they seem to finally be headed in the right direction.
Let’s not forget the solid play from the back-end from Luke Schenn, who after having what some say was a mediocre sophomore season last year, has returned to the player we saw in his rookie season. Schenn has not only added a goal and six assists this season, but he has maintained a team-high plus-two rating (tied with Tomas Kaberle) and has been hands-down one of the Leafs most-accountable defenseman over the course of this season.
For the critics who have shunned Brian Burke and alleged that he has not made any forward progression in rebuilding the team, aside from what could turn out to be a lopsided trade in the Kessel deal, the young Leafs squad has improved immensely since last season.
Now that the team is relatively healthy and getting improved effort from some of the bigger previously mentioned names, Burke’s next move has to be looking for a No. 1 center to feed Kessel and improve the Leafs’ cycle game. But for now, look for Versteeg, Grabovski and god-willing, Kessel to continue contributing and working towards making the Leafs a .500 team.
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Journalism grad from St. Catharines, ON, Canada. Newfoundland heritage. Passionate about hockey whether it’s junior or pro. News junkie and literature fanatic. Sun Media Reporter, The Hockey News intern, former Media Relations with the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Niagara IceDogs, contribute to an OHL radio show called In the O Radio (www.intheoradio.com), and write prospect features for Andy Strickland’s TrueHockey.com. Follow @JeffBlay on Twitter.