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Alexander Suglobov hopes his sweet moves keep him with the Maple Leafs

He's got more flair with the puck than any bartender with a bottle and the 24-year-old has finally been given a chance to show it on the game's biggest stage.

Suglobov has earned a spot on an NHL roster for the first time out of training camp and his teammates in Toronto aren't the least bit surprised.

"There's nobody in the minors with his skill and his shot and his speed," said forward John Pohl, who also cracked the Leafs lineup after three years in the American Hockey League. "He can turn nothing into something very quickly."

Players with that ability are as exciting as they are rare.

Suglobov plays the right wing and scored three pretty goals during the pre-season, earning him a spot on coach Paul Maurice's team.

If he's going to keep it, Suglobov knows he'll have to show a commitment to defence as well.

"The main thing that I have to do is just to eliminate any mistakes," he said Wednesday morning. "I need to just play a simple game and after that, if I get a chance, go for a goal."

The Maple Leafs acquired Suglobov from the New Jersey Devils at last season's trade deadline for defenceman Ken Klee.

He arrived in the city with a reputation. The Devils believed that Suglobov had the natural ability to play in the NHL, but lacked the mental discipline to become a two-way player and hold down a permanent spot.

It's the kind of label that has permanently kept many promising prospects in the minors. Suglobov saw that first-hand during his three seasons in the AHL and is eager to show that he can be more than just another tempting talent.

"I always wanted to play in the NHL," he said. "It took me three years to get into the lineup but it's not guaranteed.

"I have to keep going every day and work hard every day."

The hard work started the moment he arrived in Toronto last March to play for Maurice's Marlies in the AHL.

It continued into the off-season when he returned home to Russia and skated with players in Yaroslavl under the guidance of former national team coach Vladimir Yurzinov.

Suglobov's sole focus was on making the Leafs, knowing that his US$550,000, one-way contract likely meant that a spot on the team was his to lose.

He was so determined to earn an NHL job that he avoided doing anything that might be a distraction. Suglobov is still living in a hotel as a result because he didn't want to be worried about finding somewhere to live.

That's now priority No. 1 as his wife decided to stay in Russia until he got them a place in Toronto.

"I've got a couple options," he said of his search for real estate.

Suglobov will wear No. 9 for the Leafs and probably won't see much ice time early in the season. He's currently pencilled into a role on the fourth line and will need to make the most of his limited opportunity.

One thing that should work to his benefit is that Suglobov played well for Maurice in the AHL last season and a few of the players from that team are now with him with on the big club.

Defenceman Jay Harrison is one of those guys and says he thinks "Sugar" could shine in the NHL.

"He's pretty shifty out there," said Harrison. "He's real talented and is a lot of fun to watch."

The Devils have been watching Suglobov since selecting him in the third round of the 2000 draft. New Jersey had just won the Stanley Cup and an 18-year-old Suglobov posed for photos with the trophy after hearing his name called that day in Calgary.

He was part of the Russian team that beat Canada in the gold-medal final of the world junior championship in 2002 and looked headed for an NHL career.

But things got derailed after he moved to North America the next year as he missed half of his first AHL season because of a serious wrist injury.

Then came the lost lockout season and by the time he failed to make the Devils out of training camp last September, Suglobov's stock had dropped.

"There's a lot of different reasons it didn't work out there," he said.

The move to Toronto has provided him another chance.

Like the other young players starting the year in the Maple Leafs lineup, it's time to prove he belongs.

"I feel very excited," he said. "Hopefully, things work here for me."



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