The Maple Leafs have gone back to Finland for a free-agent centre.
Reports indicate the Leafs have signed 29-year-old Petri Kontiola, who had 13 goals and 22 assists for a team-high 37 points in 53 games for Traktor Chelyabinsk of the KHL last season.
Drafted 196th overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2004, Kontiola never was able to make an impact with the future two-time Stanley Cup champions, recording five assists in 12 games for Chicago during the 2007-08 season.
The six-foot, 190-pound Kontiola has spent the past five seasons in the KHL. At the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Kontiola had one goal and four assists in six games, helping Finland win the bronze medal.
Leafs general manager Dave Nonis was in Finland earlier this week and convinced forward Leo Komarov to return to Toronto.
The Leafs also have interest in free-agent centre David Legwand, but it’s not clear whether the signing of Kontiola will have an impact in the Leafs’ pursuit of the 33-year-old centre.
Defenceman Tim Gleason, meanwhile, signed a one-year, $1.2-million US contract with the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday. The Leafs bought out Gleason, acquired from Carolina for defenceman John-Michael Liles in January, this week.
The Maple Leafs have gone back to Finland for a free-agent centre.
The Maple Leafs won’t pressure first-round pick William Nylander to play in the Ontario Hockey League next season.
Nylander, selected eighth overall by Toronto in the National Hockey League draft last week in Philadelphia, had his name called again on Wednesday, this time by the Mississauga Steelheads in the Canadian Hockey League import draft.
The Leafs and the Steelheads didn’t have an agreement worked out beforehand, Leafs vice-president of hockey operations Dave Poulin said.
“There were (Canadian Hockey League) teams who reached out to us to see if we did have a preference on where he plays next year,” Poulin said. “That will all be up to the player and how things progress from here. There were teams with high picks that reached out to see if we could be a factor in the decision, and we will not be a factor in the decision.
“This player has options available. By not being under contract, he could essentially play anywhere next year. He could go back and play in the Swedish Hockey League, he is eligible to play in the American Hockey League, he could come in and make a strong impression right at the top (with the Leafs).”
The Leafs don’t have to say it, but they would love to see the 18-year-old forward blow their socks off in camp and make the club. It’s possible that happens, given Nylander’s potential and the fact it’s not exactly unheard of for players who aren’t picked first, second or third to crack an NHL roster the following fall.
The Maple Leafs announced on Wednesday the 29-player roster for the club’s prospects camp, July 7-11 at the MasterCard Centre.
Antoine Bibeau, Val-d’Or (QMJHL)
Jack Flinn, Owen Sound (OHL)
Matthew Mancina, Guelph (OHL)
Kayle Doetzel, Red Deer (WHL)
Cody Donaghey, Quebec (QMJHL)
Matt Finn, Guelph (OHL)
Jeremie Fraser, Val-d’Or (QMJHL)
Viktor Loov, Modo (Sweden)
Tom Nilsson, Frolunda (Sweden)
Dorian Saeftel, Mannheim Under-18 (Germany)
Rinat Valiev, Kootenay (WHL)
Connor Brown, Erie (OHL)
Tony Cameranesi, U. Minnesota (NCAA)
Robert Carpenter, Sioux City (USHL)
Pierre Engvall, Frolunda (Sweden)
Frederik Gauthier, Rimouski (QMJHL)
Fabrice Herzog, Quebec (QMJHL)
Andreas Johnson, Frolunda (Sweden)
Dakota Joshua, Sioux Falls (USHL)
William Nylander, Modo (Sweden)
J.J. Piccinich, Youngstown (USHL)
Zachary Pryzbek, Brown University (NCAA)
Matt Rupert, London (OHL)
Ryan Rupert, London (OHL)
Sven Senteler, Zurich (Switzerland)
Dominic Toninato, U. Minnesota-Duluth (NCAA)
Carter Verhaeghe, Niagara (OHL)
Nolan Vesey, South Shore (USPHL)
Samuel Vigneault, Andre-Laurendeau (QCHL)
James van Riemsdyk is given an opportunity to convince Josh Gorges to accept a trade to the Maple Leafs.
What would van Riemsdyk say to the (now former) Montreal Canadiens defenceman?
“I think they have shown here they are willing to do whatever it takes to try to build a winning team, whether it be different things off the ice as far as making it very comfortable for a player to be here, making sure we have everything we possibly need to be the best team, the best players we can be,” van Riemsdyk said during a brief scrum with reporters on Tuesday morning at the MasterCard Centre. “I think they have shown that and once you are here, you really get a great feel for that. But on the other side as a player, he has the no-trade clause, so it is something he has earned over his career and he has the right to use it.”
In other words, about the same things other teams do to make the work environment the proper one for players. Gorges, it has been reported, nixed a trade to the Leafs. And not long after free agency opened, Gorges was traded. But not to the Leafs.
Gorges accepted a trade to the Buffalo Sabres, with a second-round pick in 2016 heading to Montreal.
Participating on Canada Day in the Leafs’ hockey school as a guest coach, van Riemsdyk was asked if he agreed with coach Randy Carlyle’s recent assessment that the Leafs lacked a compete level, and that it was a character flaw.
“Umm, you know what, last year is last year,” van Riemsdyk said. “When you don’t accomplish your goals and you don’t make the playoffs, there are going to be a lot of different things that are going to be said about your team and obviously, we did not perform the way we needed to. So that is pretty much that all that matters at the end of the day.
“You can come up with whatever reasons you want to come up with for it, but we did not get the job done and that is not good enough.”
Experience — and with it, maturity — has been missing from the Leafs. If there’s more of both in the room in the past three seasons, are there the monumental collapses the club endured? The chances of those falls would have been diminished.
The Leafs on the weekend made a trade on the blue line, sending Carl Gunnarsson to the St. Louis Blues for defenceman Roman Polak. More moves are coming, whether through trade or free agency. Names linked to the Leafs include defenceman Dan Boyle and goaltender Martin Brodeur, whose voices in the dressing room would be welcomed.
“Experience is never a bad thing,” van Riemsdyk said. “You look at the (Los Angeles) Kings and what they just did and they have a lot of experienced guys, they have won before. But that being said, they had a little bit older of a team and guys who had been through the battles before. You have to have the right mix of youth and veterans. I don’t think there is a set in stone formula for it.
“We didn’t make the playoffs last year so we did not do a good enough job and when that happens, there is always going to be changes that come, so we have to be prepared for that.”
Entering his third season with the Leafs, the 25-year-old van Riemsdyk already is looking ahead to Sept. 18, the day training camps across the NHL will open.
“It’s never a fun feeling to not make the playoffs and you have that bitter taste in your mouth pretty much the whole summer,” van Riemsdyk said. “It’s good to refresh and recharge, it was a long year with the Olympics. I’m looking forward to coming back and being fully healthy and ready to go.
“Everyone is pretty banged up by the end of the year, so it is always good to have a little time to do what you need to do in the summer to be ready to go when September comes around.”
Until he scores his first NHL goal, William Nylander will be the topic of debate for months, even years, for those in Leafs Nation.
Hey, it’s Toronto. That’s what hockey fans do here. It’s part of living in such a hockey fishbowl like The Big Smoke.
And so, the questions will linger: Did the Leafs make the right choice in taking William Nylander, the son of former NHLer Michael Nylander, with the eighth overall pick Friday night?
Whichever way you are leaning on the subject, we do know this: the kid has raw skill. Lots of it. In fact, the knock on him from some scouts is that he can be too individualistic out on the ice at times.
Maybe. But here’s the bottom line:
You can teach a guy to be more of a team player.
But you can’t teach talent.
And young William has plenty of it.
Click on the following link to see Nylander’s highlight package and you’ll see for yourself just how dominant he can be out on the ice.