Leafs New Minutes Man
Ron Wilson must have figured, "Why wait?"
He obviously intends to play the heck out of defenceman Francois Beauchemin this season, and that process started in the first exhibition game last night against Boston when Beauchemin received 26 minutes of ice time.
Even though the Leafs didn't dress Mike Komisarek, Tomas Kaberle or Luke Schenn, it's a trend likely to continue, with Beauchemin likely to become the club's new No. 1 defenceman in terms of ice time and responsibility.
Kaberle may have more flash, and Komisarek's an imposing figure. But Beauchemin, Leaf fans will learn, is probably the best two-way defencemen the Leafs have had on their roster since Dave Ellett. Just guessing at this point, but Beauchemin and Schenn seem destined to become the first lockdown Leaf defensive pair in a long, long time, a tandem that can be put out in the final minutes of a period or a game to protect a one-goal lead.
Kaberle and Bryan McCabe could attack. But defend when it mattered? Never a strength.
Beauchemin, 29, can also handle power play duties, one of the reasons Hockey Canada saw fit to invite him to the Olympic team's training camp last month in Calgary.
Over the past three seasons in Anaheim, with Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger hogging all the ice time. Beauchemin still averaged more than 25 minutes per game. When the Ducks won the Cup in '07, Beauchemin actually led all Anaheim players in ice time, averaging 30:33 per game in the playoffs while playing an extraordinary 632 shifts in 20 games.
He's not particularly big, but he's tough. He plays with his head up and is obviously fit after being criticized for carrying extra pounds earlier in his career, one of the reasons Columbus let him go to Anaheim in a trade.
There's a little bit of Wendel Clark in Beauchemin, a little bit of the farmer mentality. His father-in-law, incidentally, does run a farm near Sorel, Quebec, and when Beauchemin played in Hamilton several years ago for the AHL Bulldogs, he preferred to live way out in Jerseyville, Ont. in a farming atmosphere.
Others may get more ink on this Leaf team. But if its going to be successful, the quiet, no-nonsense Beauchemin will be the linchpin on the blueline, sucking up all kinds of important minutes.