Leafs gearing up early to impress coach Carlyle Staff

1/10/2013 10:08:10 PM

The Toronto Maple Leafs took to the ice one day after the surprise firing of president and general manager Brian Burke eager to learn a new style of play under head coach Randy Carlyle.

Carlyle, who was hired by Burke with just 18 games remaining in the 2011-12 season, is still new to many of the Leafs' returning players.

A one-time Leafs player, Carlyle preaches a physical style.

For those who played briefly under him last season, the players know that they must buy into his system early if the team hopes to break a seven-season playoff drought.

"I think you're going to see a couple of changes," forward David Steckel said Thursday. "Obviously you started to see them last year when Randy came in."

Steckel, a grinding, physical winger, was acquired at the beginning of last season from New Jersey and could stand to benefit greatly under Carlyle's guidance. However, he admits that the team must get off the ground quickly to achieve success this year.

"As far as implementing his new system, he's going to expect the best from us right from the get-go, so I think there'll be a little more accountability from the start," he added. "Especially with a 48-game season, you don't have any room for errors."

While Steckel had a brief window last year to get accustomed to Carlyle, the newly-acquired James van Riemsdyk is one player who is coming into camp blind to his new coach.

The biggest addition to the Leafs and the last trade made by Burke as Leafs GM, van Riemsdyk was acquired from Philadelphia in June in exchange for Luke Schenn. He is looking for a fresh start in Toronto but isn't taking anything for granted.

"With the lockout obviously going into effect there, I really didn't get a chance to talk to the coaches that much, but I'm sure it's the same as anywhere else," van Riemsdyk said. "You come into camp and you've got to earn a spot and earn a position and you kinda go from there."

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Joffrey Lupul, who notched a career-best 67 points in just 66 games in 2011-12. He is now in his second stint under Carlyle, having played under him in Anaheim in 2005-06.

"I haven't had a chance to speak to Randy yet but I'm sure that's going to be his main goal at camp is probably going to be conditioning and getting the team to play a little more solid in the defensive and neutral zones," he told TSN on Thursday. "I think everyone knows what to expect."

For Lupul, that means building on the success of last season and continuing to find success with linemate Phil Kessel. The pair was one of the NHL's top duos last season, particularly in the first half of the season.

But Lupul isn't assuming that he and Kessel will automatically be together if they can't recapture their chemistry.

"Any player will tell you what's set in stone on the first day of camp isn't necessarily set in stone halfway through the year," Lupul said. "Phil and I are going to have to perform and play well together and hopefully we'll play together the whole year."

The two spent much of last season flanking Tyler Bozak on the team's top line. Now entering his fourth NHL campaign, Bozak hopes to play his way back between the duo but knows to do so he'll have to be better on both ends of the ice.

"If we are together, that would be the main thing we have to focus on, being better in our own end," Bozak said. "For me, personally, I need to be better in my own end as well. I worked out hard and tried to get strong and I know with Randy here, he's going to instill in our minds and teach us how to play good defence, so that will help us as well."

The team may try to move van Riemsdyk into the middle off his familiar position on the wing. Should that be the case, Bozak may find himself in a dogfight for playing time with the team's other centres, including Mikhail Grabovski, Steckel and off-season free agent addition Jay McClement.

Wherever Bozak should wind up, however, he's ready to give it the best he's got.

"Lines are going to change throughout the season no matter where you are for the most part," he said. "So, I think you've gotta just make the most of where you're playing at that time."