It doesnt happen very often, but the Toronto Maple Leafs faced a team in even worse shape then them tonight at the ACC. Jeremy Williams and Jason Blake-yes, Jason Blake-carried the Leafs to a 4-2 victory over the New York Islanders. Williams, who was called up from the minors as a result of the injury to Niklas Hagman, tallied a goal and an assist for the night. This impressive showing may have caught the attention of the coaching staff and it will be interesting to see if he will get his shot at a permanent roster position on the Leafs. After watching him tonight, I would personally love to see this guy up in the NHL on a more permanent basis. Offensively, he seems to be the total package.
At only 24 years old, Jeremy Williams is a perfect fit for the state of the team right now. He is young enough to develop with the Leafs as they work through their rebuilding process. Over the next couple of games I would like to see Wilson give some quality ice time to Jeremy Williams. There is of course, one key benefit to doing so-if Williams can prove himself a capable goal scorer on a more regular basis than he makes one of the Leafs current top 6 forwards expendable in a trade. Im thinking Alex Ponikarovsky or even Matt Stajan could then be placed on the trade block without sacrificing depth up front.
If one of them is packaged in a deal with one of the Leafs veteran defensemen (Kaberle or Kubina) they could fetch a decent return. Im thinking a solid goaltending prospect (Jaroslav Halak or Cory Schneider?) and a couple of high draft picks. So I will be watching the next few games with a close eye on Jeremy Williams-provided of course Ron Wilson does the right thing and gives him the chance to play. I think 2 points in his first game is certainly worthy enough for the Leafs to take a closer look at this kid.
(Jeremy Williams-called up from the Toronto Marlies-shined in his chance with the Leafs)
Jason Blake also deserves an honourable mention. He scored a goal and added two assists to round out a 3 point night, and was the game's first star. He is on hot streak right now, as he also had a 3 point night in last Thursday's game against the Phoenix Coyotes. 6 points in 3 games is impressive indeed. Im beginning to think it wont be as hard to trade him away as once thought. If he keeps up his current level of play, Jason Blake could have some real value by the summer which would help the Leafs avoid a costly buyout of his contract. Regardless of what happens to Blake though, it is good to see him finally start to find his game again. The Toronto Maple Leafs put forth a good effort tonight-albeit it against one of the league's worst teams.
In other news, the Atlanta Thrashers may officially begin the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes sooner than expected. While the Maple Leafs probably dont have the assets Atlanta would ask for in a potential trade, I would still like to see them make a play for Kovalchuk. He is one of those rare players that can get your team 50 goals in a single season, and lets be honest, players of his calibre dont come around in every draft. And dont forget, he is only 25. He is young enough to produce at a high level for at least 10 more years. Even if the Leafs had to include a 1st round draft pick in a package for the Russian sniper, they likely wouldnt find a better player with that pick. In terms of sheer talent, he is right up there with Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. People tend to forget he exists though because he plays for some team down in Atlanta that nobody watches.
I personally think Kovalchuk would love to come to a big market team like the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs lack a superstar player, and they may not get the chance to land one like Kovalchuk for a long time. I would be disappointed if Brian Burke didn't at least try to acquire him. It would truly be an incredible sight to see Ilya in a Leafs uniform. The one advantage the Leafs would have over any other team if they were to enter the Kovalchuk sweepstakes is cap space. They will be one of the few teams capable of actually paying him the money he is worth. So I say lets give it a try. If some other more talented team outbids us, then so be it. At least the Toronto Maple Leafs will have made the effort to show they are serious about acquiring a franchise player.