The Battle For The Fourth Line
Monday, 09.19.2011 / 8:24 AM ET / News
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By: Clayton Hansler
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
You may refer to them as the checking line, the enforcers, or - as Darryl Boyce proclaims - the "gold line," but regardless of the title, it's an NHL roster spot up for grabs. The Leafs vacancy for a trio of hard nosed grinders has currently accepted applications from seven different bodies.
Sunday's scrimmages at MCC indicate that all of Colton Orr, Jay Rosehill, Darryl Boyce, Philippe Dupuis, Mike Zigomanis, Luca Caputi and Mike Brown could rightfully be considered for three open positions on the final Leafs line. With the gritty nature that all seven possess, this battle may turn out looking a little more like a war.
With shoulders down and knuckles white, Orr and Rosehill are just shy of the 1000 penalty minute mark in the NHL and AHL respectively. After an extended late season rest that kept Orr's games played to 46, his ability to fully return into precisely the same hard-hitting, glove-dropping roll won't be known until opening night.
The opportunity ahead of Rosehill to showcase his abilities at the NHL level, both with and without the puck, has never been greater.
"I think I've gotten better each year I played hockey in pro," admitted Rosehill modestly. "Each year you take that step and I think confidence is a big thing with it. You can take a little step all the time and you try to make as big of a leap each year."
Much credit to the leap the Leafs' enforcer made last season to the NHL lays in the chemistry and offensive output he found with Boyce while playing on a line together with the Toronto Marlies. A chemistry that was again evident during camp scrimmages where they were once again paired together.
"We like playing together. We found that last year on the Marlies and then brought it up to the Leafs. Even in practice - just playing around out here - it seems that we have the same mindset, which is nice when you're trying to find someone out there."
Contending with Boyce, who has been with the Leafs organization since he made the leap to the pro game during the 2007-08 season, is Dupuis and Stanely Cup champion, Zigomanis. After an eight game stint in the NHL to start the season past, Zigomanis was then assigned to the Marlies where he finished as the team's point leader with 14 goals and 33 assists in 64 games.
A role with the Leafs this season however would likely mean a different focus for the centre's talents.
"Checking, winning face-offs, getting up there and doing the job killing penalties," is head coach Ron Wilson's job description of the fourth line's pivot. "We expect our fourth line centre to be physically involved."
"It's knowing what to do in the right situation, decision making. Honestly, I know my roles (with the Leafs) and I know my roles (with the Marlies)," said Zigomanis, a native of Toronto and long time Leaf fan. "I enjoy the challenge."
When considering fourth line efforts one can't omit Brown's previous contribution to the Leafs, the tenacious forward being nicknamed "the Honey Badger" by fans for his unwavering hunt for the puck and whomever may be carrying it on the opposing team. But with the memory of Caputi's impressive showing at last Maple Leafs' camp still fresh in mind, along with a recent clean bill of health, the former Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick is eager to keep himself in the mix.
With eight preseason games on deck, seven of which coming before September closes out, fans can be sure that Captuti along with the other six applicants will be given every opportunity to push for a spot.
"Brian (Burke) will clear a spot if you clearly win a job up here," were among the closing words Wilson had for the media Sunday. A motto he ensures is well known by the players.
Call them enforcers, call them grinders, or label them as a fourth line; but NHL jobs are available to those who are ready.