NEWARK, N.J. – The Toronto Maple Leafs picked up some present and future help at centre on Sunday.
The future belongs to Rimouski centre Frederik Gauthier, taken 21st overall in the first round of the NHL draft. But the right-here right-now boost comes from Dave Bolland via trade with Chicago.
The Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup-winning goal-scorer cost Toronto its second-round (51st overall) and fourth-round (117th) picks Sunday and a fourth-round pick in 2014.
“I’m excited,” said Bolland. “Sad to leave Chicago but I’m excited to come to Toronto … To put on a Maple Leaf jersey and play at the ACC (Air Canada Centre) in front of Toronto fans, where I grew up.”
With first-line centre Tyler Bozak eligible for unrestricted free agency, Bolland joins Nazem Kadri, Mikhail Grabovski, Jay McClement and Joe Colborne as options down the Leafs middle.
Bolland, 27, returns home to Toronto with a bonus. He’s bringing the Stanley Cup with him—at least for the one day he gets with the trophy.
Where Bolland fits in will be up to coach Randy Carlyle, GM Dave Nonis said.
“But I think he’s Randy’s type of player,” he added. “He can play up and down the lineup. He’s got enough skill that he can play with really good players. He’s got grit and can play against really good players. I think he’s going to be given a pretty significant role with us.”
Bolland, 27, had seven goals and seven assists in 35 games for the Hawks in a season somewhat disrupted by injury. But he was healthy when it counted, with his biggest goal coming late in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final, the decider in a 3-2 comeback win in Boston.
Bolland, who played for the GTHL’s Toronto Red Wings before joining the OHL London Knights, has one year and US$3.375 on his existing deal. Nonis called it a “fairly cap-friendly number.”
“We still have some flexibility with other things that we can do to move pieces around.”
The money freed up by the trade was quickly used by Chicago to help sign Bryan Bickell for four more years. And, as Nonis noted, the Hawks are good at finding replacement players when cap relief is needed.
“(GM) Stan Bowman has done a fantastic job in keeping that cupboard stocked,” said Nonis.
Bolland has been with the Hawks since they drafted him in the second round in 2004. He called the trade “part of the game.”
But he said he looked forward to join a Leafs team on the upswing.
Nonis, meanwhile, said he hasn’t ruled out signing Bozak.
“We have things we can do to make (salary cap) room and Bozie was an important part of our team last year. If we can find a way of getting him signed, then we will. Nothing’s changed in that regard from our standpoint.”
Nonis, who earlier in the week traded for goaltender Jonathan Bernier, said he had more moves in the works, although they might not all come off.
Leafs fans will likely have to wait for their 21st overall pick to make his presence felt in the NHL.
“He’s big,” Nonis said when asked about his first-round pick. “He’s a big man.”
Gauthier is one for the future and, at six foot four and 215 pounds, the 18-year-old from Laval, Que., is a load.
He’s billed as a strong two-way player who led first-year Quebec Major Junior Hockey League players in faceoff percentage. He ranked eighth among North American skaters, according to NHL Central Scouting.
“I’ve never seen a kid get back and play defence like he does in 20 years,” said Chris Bordeleau of NHL Central Scouting. “In his own end, he’s always around the puck. A kid that can play defence like he does at his age, with that kind of maturity, is very rare.”
Gauthier had 22 goals and 28 assists in his first season with the Oceanic, to rank fourth among rookies.
He also helped Canada earn a gold medal at the 2013 under-18 World Championship in Russia with a goal and three assists in seven games.
Nonis said the Leafs had four or five players in mind with their first pick and had looked into moving up. But they abandoned the effort after deducing that Gauthier would still be there when their turn came around.
“He fills a need long-term for us,” said Nonis. “I don’t expect that we’ll see him shortly but he’s come a long way in a short amount of time. He was playing midget hockey not too long ago.”
Gauthier will come to rookie camp with the Leafs.
“Someone asked me earlier how long is it going to take for him. It’s going to take as long as it takes,” said Nonis. “There’s not going to be any rushing of any of these players. We want to do a better job of being as deep as we can be so we can keep the players where they should be playing until they’re developed and ready to come and play for us.”
Gauthier, who says he models his game after Jordan Staal, said he was surprised and excited to be taken by Toronto. He had spoken to the team at the recent NHL Combine.
“I’ll try and make the NHL next year for sure,” he said. “And if I don’t, I’ll go back to Rimouski and play junior and continue at school.”
Toronto chose another centre, Niagara’s Carter Verhaege, in the third round. Swiss winger Fabrice Herzog came in the fourth round and goalie Antoine Bibeau of the P.E.I. Rockets, now known as the Charlottetown Islanders, was chosen in the sixth round.
The Leafs wrapped up the draft in the seventh round with Sweden’s Andreas Johnson.
Nonis said he looked at moving higher in the draft but the price was too steep. “The assets to move up didn’t make any sense.”