Brian Burke and the Toronto Maple Leafs moved one step closer to being... one step closer to rebuilding their tattered franchise by signing collegiate player Christian Hanson to a 3-year entry level contract. This might not sound like big news if you leave out the last name "Hanson", but some are likely familiar with his father, Dave, of Slap Shot hockey movie fame. The film reflects the "rough 'em up" nature of hockey in the 70's through a minor-league squad called the Charlestown Chiefs, led by a trio of mitt-throwing misfits: The Hanson Brothers. Christian's father earned himself his own nickname for his demeanour on the ice; the name "Killer" might suggest something fierce about the way he played. But if you think that you are going to see the young Hanson taping up his glasses and putting on the foil, coach, you are sorely mistaken (see YouTube video- Hanson Brothers- Various). He has spent the last three seasons playing for the University of Notre Dame in the CCHA, part of the NCAA, a league that doesn't allow fighting. Therefore, the part of the game that was highlighted in the play of the Dave Hanson and the movie he starred in, is something not passed down to his namesake. Head coach Ron Wilson and GM Burke are well aware of this fact, saying that they don't care whether he drops the gloves or not during the upcoming season. Hanson, although not lacking in toughness, is best described as a big skilled forward who can put the puck in the net. He also boasts some impressive leadership qualities, the proof being a 2009 CCHA championship victory for the Fighting Irish, and a season in which Hanson was one of three assistant captains of the squad. For many Leaf fans, the presence of a young, skilled leader is a refreshing sight.
Although the 6'4" Andreychukian forward might not have a large impact on the big club this season (Toronto just sent him down to the AHL affiliate Marlies), he gets to test and hone his skills on the farm. If he emerges as a leader, don't be surprised if the Leafs eye him for duty, regardless of whether they run into injury troubles or not. Hanson already posesses the ability to be a leader -- case in point, assistant captain of the CCHA Champions -- and appears to have the skill to run with the bulls at the elite level.
With the addition of fellow collegian Tyler Bozak -- a free agent from the University of Denver whom the Leafs signed in the summer -- and University of Vermont's big swede Viktor Stalberg, the leafs youth movement seems to be in order. Other key additions, to name a few, are the acquisitions of big bruising defencemen Mike Komisarek from the Canadiens, and Garnet Exelby from Atlanta. Another "monster" signing was that of 21 year-old, highly touted Swedish goalie Jonas Gustavsson. There was a void left this summer in the form of a young goaltending prospect, due to Justin Pogge's departure to Anaheim. Jonas "The Monster" fills that void, and then some. He will push veteran goaltender Vesa Toskala for the starting spot in training camp. Oh, I didn't even mention... Phil Kessel.
With an average age of 26.9, these aren't your daddy's Maple Leafs. But the energy of youth holds more ground than ever in the new NHL, with no disrespect to the long-served veterans. However, how many 20-something captains have we seen emerge in the past few years? Exactly. The future for many teams is now, and Burke recognizes this. Whether or not he put it together or knows it, the line of Hanson-Bozak-and first-round draft pick Nazem Kadri produced flashes of magic in the preseason, leaving the Leafs' faithful salivating in anticipation at what's to come for this franchise. The wheels of redemption are slowly starting to turn, but as a Toronto fan I can say it's finally looking bright again in Leafland.