TORONTO (CP) – Matt Stajan knows deep in his heart that his future lies with the AHL’s St. John’s Maple Leafs but he doesn’t want to leave Toronto without making a statement.
The 19-year-old prospect scored a goal and added an assist in Toronto’s 3-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens in a sleepy pre-season affair Monday night, adding to what has already been an excellent training camp. “I’m getting more and more confident and I’m getting more comfortable out there,” said Stajan, who won silver with Canada’s world junior team last January.
“Hopefully I’ll make the decision tougher on management.”
The junior star with the OHL’s Belleville Bulls last season wasn’t given much of a shot of making the NHL club when camp opened earlier this month but his impressive play has delayed his demotion to the farm club. He wasn’t among the 16 players left behind in Newfoundland by head coach Pat Quinn over the weekend.
“We keep playing him to get him more experience and you keep thinking his level of play will drop off but it really hasn’t,” said Quinn.
“I don’t know if there’s a spot for this young man with all the contracts we have here already. But he’s done very well.”
Stajan didn’t need to be reminded that the Leafs have very little wiggle room on their roster at the forward position, especially for a player on a two-way contract.
“They have 13 returning forwards coming back so I just wanted to come to camp and open some eyes,” said Stajan, Toronto’s second choice, 57th overall, in the 2002 entry draft.
“Realistically, looking at the numbers, I could see myself starting in St. John’s.”
Judging from the thin frame exposed to reporters in the Leafs’ dressing room after the game, the 6-1, 185-pound Stajan can probably use a full season in the AHL to add some bulk while further developing his skills.
“I weigh 185 pounds and I’m a 19-year-old kid playing against 220-pound men on defence right now,” Stajan said of what it’s been like in NHL pre-season. “But I’ll get bigger with age.”
Joe Nieuwendyk and Tie Domi also scored Monday while defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo added two assists, helping in his bid to make the big club.
Colaiacovo is in a dog fight to earn a spot on Toronto’s thin blue-line but that got tougher with the weekend signing of veteran Ken Klee.
“It’s too early to predict what’s going to happen,” said Colaiacovo. “I just want to keep playing well.”
Prospect Tomas Plekanec replied Monday for a Montreal lineup devoid of its biggest names.
As is custom for road teams in pre-season play, the Habs looked more like the Hamilton Bulldogs, their AHL affiliate, than the NHL side that will face the Leafs in Toronto’s season opener Oct. 11.
Among those not dressed Monday night was star goalie Jose Theodore, last season’s leading goal-scorer Richard Zednik, captain Saku Koivu (knee), as well as top defencemen Andrei Markov, Craig Rivet, Sheldon Souray and Stephane Quintal.
One regular who did play was defenceman Patrice Brisebois, whose latest booing incident at the Bell Centre on Saturday night drew the ire of Bob Gainey. The new Habs GM lashed out at the fans who once again booed Brisebois, calling them “yellow” among other things and saying the team didn’t need them at the rink.
The easiest solution for all would seem to be a trade but Brisebois’s $4-million US a year salary isn’t very attractive to other NHL clubs, not to mention that fact he holds a no-trade clause and may not want to leave despite the abuse he’s taking from some fans. Stay tuned.
Captain Mats Sundin and winger Alex Mogilny were among the Toronto veterans who got the night off.
Colaiacovo picked up his first assist when his point shot on a Leafs power play midway through the first period was tipped in by Nieuwendyk.
Domi made it 2-0 with just over five minutes left in the second period, diving into the crease and shoving a loose puck across the goal-line after Habs goalie Mathieu Garon lost sight of it following a stop on Stajan.
Stajan then completed the scoring 10:41 into the third period, banging home a rebound on Colaiacovo’s point shot.
Leafs starting goalie Ed Belfour stopped 24 shots to earn his first win of the pre-season while Garon looked solid in making 32 saves.
THE FANS DECIDE: Who says Leaf fans don’t have a say in their team’s operation?
The Leafs announced Monday that about 3,000 fans attending three pre-season games at the Air Canada Centre this week would get to decide which safety netting the Leafs will use this season.
The fans in question attending Monday’s game got a glimpse of a black netting similar to the one used last season. Wednesday’s game against Ottawa will use a white netting while Sunday’s pre-season finale against Detroit will feature the “monofilament” netting used by the Philadelphia Flyers (diamond-shaped and clear).
“It’s a great opportunity for them,” Bob Hunter, the ACC’s senior vice-president and general manager, said during the first-period intermission. “The fans will decide.”