We're getting close to zero-hour. Tomas Kaberle will be traded and I will have something to write about. Until then, I'll kill more time speculating.
I think that at this point, with free agency winding down and most of our RFAs signed, it's safe to start looking at possible line combinations for the Toronto Maple Leafs. I'm going to start by putting together a list of what I think the lines will be at the beginning of the season and then move on to what I think they'll look like closer to the end of the year. Here's what I came up with.
Line 1: Kessel - Bozak - Kulemin
This line developed some impressive chemistry last season and I expect that they'll start the year together. Kessel is a known commodity; a fast skating winger that loves to shoot. Kessel's style meshed well with Bozak's playmaking ability, particularly as Bozak has been able to make these plays at high speed and in transition. Kulemin primarily played the role of grinder on this line and his defensive prowess covered some of the defensive shortcomings of the other two.
Line 2: Versteeg - Grabovski - ???
This line is assembled purely based on talent. I haven't got a clue how Versteeg and Grabovski will play together but both are worth a look on the 2nd unit. As far as the '???' goes, I can only assume that whoever Burke acquires for Kaberle will fill this role to begin the year. I doubt this player will supplant any top line guys but I also think that from a perception standpoint, if not a talent one, the player will be all but assured to start the year getting top-six minutes.
Line 3: Armstrong - Kadri - Sjostrom
Here's where things get interesting. I think Kadri plays his way onto the team in camp. If he put on the weight the Leafs asked him to gain, it's going to be tough to keep this kid out of the lineup given the numbers he put up last year. Armstrong and Sjostrom will be good players to insulate Kadri as both are strong defensive players and Armstrong will play the role of protector if Kadri gets pushed around.
Line 4: Caputi - Hanson - Orr
Not a bad looking fourth line. These guys can bang, they're big, and if Caputi decides to use his size they could be a fantastic energy line when we need a momentum swing. Both Hanson and Caputi have some offensive skill that needs refining so it wouldn't surprise me to see this line be the difference-maker on any given night. Can't ask for much more from a fourth line.
Lots of players that are still developing in the lineup here -- and more players still in the minors. A lot can change when you have this much youth in the lineup. Here's my prediction for late in the season.
Line 1: Kessel - Bozak - Kulemin
I like what this line does. Each piece compliments the other and so, for reasons listed above, I don't see much changing except for a game or two here and there to shake things up.
Line 2: Versteeg - Kadri - ???
Versteeg is probably a lock on the second unit. He's a well-rounded, versatile player that can probably play with just about anyone. Kadri's development and the team's desire to give him the kinds of minutes that will help this development along will push him onto the second-line. I'm guessing that whoever Burke gets back in the Kaberle deal will be a talented enough player that they'll be able to stick on the second unit.
Line 3: Mueller - Grabovski - Armstrong
Awesome. Mueller reminds me of Kulemin as far as what he does and the way he plays and a little time in the minors to acclimatize himself to the North American rink will serve him well. Grabovski could really thrive on a line that has two solid defensive wingers that will grind it out in the corners and provide him the freedom to use some of his more dynamic / high-risk offensive skills. This line can be physical, will be a threat to score and will probably take some stupid penalties. Overall, I love the look of this unit.
Line 4: Caputi - Sjostrom - Orr
Sjostrom gets pushed back a bit by Mueller's strong play but is a lock to stay in the lineup for his penalty killing prowess. Caputi and Hanson will likely have to fight tooth-and-nail with each other for the final winger spot. This is the kind of competition that Burke was hoping for when he started assembling this roster. He felt the team was too entitled and that there wasn't any feeling that players were being pushed from below.
Wildcards: D'Amigo, Brown
D'Amigo isn't likely to play any minutes with the big club this year but as he leaves the NCAA for the professional ranks he may continue to surprise. His ascent has been steep since being drafted and I wouldn't enitrely rule out some time in the NHL. Brown will probably only play when Colton Orr has sore knuckles.