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Five Leafs with something to prove in training camp

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All of them have things to prove, of course, but these five need to make a statement quickly and emphatically if they want to be on the roster in October.

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

As camp gets going, sometime today according to press reports, some of the Leafs' players in camp have more to prove than others.

The tricky part for everyone is that Mike Babcock is not there to see them be awesome until after he's done winning the World Cup of Hockey. But he has been paying attention to his players on other World Cup teams, and he will be dialled in to training camp one way or another.

There is a log jam on the Leafs roster with many more players available than are needed or wanted. A big trade or even a few small ones might solve that, but assuming everyone lasts beyond the first day this year, there will be a lot of internal contests for spots on the roster.

Brandon Prust

Obviously, a man on a professional try-out has lots to prove. But beyond just making the case for making the team, he wants to prove he is still a viable NHL player and that this invite wasn't just Mark Hunter doing him a solid because of the good old days when he was on the London Knights.

He isn't so much auditioning for the Leafs, as auditioning for every team in the NHL. So expect to see Prust emphasizing his talents in every game he plays in.

As far as the Leafs go, the question is why do you need Prust if you have a much more upmarket version in Matt Martin? And if Martin is not enough, tossing a pen to Rich Clune and getting him to sign an NHL deal would give you the same skill set as Prust in a much more disciplined package.

Mitch Marner

Another London Knights player who wants to firmly affix the word former to that label, Marner knows he's good, but he knows he still needs to prove it.

Marner needs to do more than tip the scale in a comforting way at his medical; he needs to put down some serious hockey on the ice. Forget the highlight reel stuff, he needs to play the minutes in between like an NHL player.

He got a very good start at the rookie tournament. But he needs to do the same thing as Prust—emphasize his skill set while proving he's capable of playing at the NHL level. Marner has a much better chance to succeed. He will need to blow it big time and be a total washout before he will be sent back to London.

Peter Holland

The Leafs breezed through the off season, locking up the players they wanted to term and signing most of their RFAs quickly. Holland was the exception.

He nearly went to arbitration, and the Leafs used the biggest weapon in their arsenal beforehand when they put him on waivers. It's a harsh lesson that no other team thought he was worth taking and paying the compensation for. It seemed at the time that the Leafs didn't want to pay him much in salary or term and wanted him on a two-way deal. What they settled on, $1.3 million for one year on a one-way deal, is a contract that costs $350,000 in cap hit if the Leafs bury Holland in the AHL.

Holland has played two fairly distinct roles on the Leafs. He's been an effective depth centre, and he's been an effective winger playing a little higher in the order. The problem for him is that the Leafs are well supplied with centres, even at the depth level, and they are very over-supplied with wingers who can score goals.

Holland needs to prove in camp that his solid, rather boring, low event, but decently offensive game is of value on a team that is full of more exciting options.

As a centre he has to compete with Brooks Laich for the fourth line, and Babcock has shown that he likes Laich for his ability to teach the rookies important things—how to win a faceoff even if you lose it was the example William Nylander gave last year.

As a winger on one of what is likely to be three scoring lines, Holland has to overcome the appeal of younger players like Zach Hyman, Connor Brown and Nikita Soshnikov.

His contract might actually make him hard to trade because better teams than the Leafs with more meaningful salary cap issues don't want a marginal player they can't stuff in the AHL at no cost. The Leafs are almost certainly going to be burying salaries to get the roster they want, so Holland needs to prove in camp that he is better enough than any other option, that he's worth keeping on the team—not in place of Laich or Milan Michalek, but in place of the cheaper Hyman or Brown. He needs a very good camp to do that.

C & C

Frank Corrado and Connor Carrick. They have been joined together in everyone's mind as the surplus right-shooting defenders. Many fans might think they should draw in ahead of Roman Polak, and one of them might at least some of the time, but they both need to make a big statement in camp that they are the one who should stay.

The smart money is on Carrick right now, but there is very little to separate the pair of them in past performance. Carrick's first NHL year was a mistaken early promotion, Corrado played on a bad team with bad systems, and both of them were given an easy ride last year paired with Jake Gardiner. The main difference seems to be the regard the team holds for them.

In camp, with Morgan Rielly missing for a few days, they need to come out hot and stay hot. Because there is one thing the Marlies are short of and that is right-shooting defenders. The decision on who gets the seventh spot on the roster—assuming the Leafs don't go with eight—might come down to who will more likely clear waivers.

Just the fact that the Leafs have two high-quality prospects fighting for one roster spot makes this camp very unusual. This is one of the best problems to have.

Honourable Mentions

Colin Greening needs to wow everyone to avoid a trip to the AHL. His next best option is likely a trade.

Josh Leivo is in the same boat. He has never proven to be good enough to be a sure fire loss on waivers, but his low salary makes him more likely to be taken than Greening. He needs to make the Leafs care about that enough to not try to pass him through.

The rookies that make the jump to the main camp, whoever they are, all will want to show their best sides. Rinat Valiev, who looked like he should have graduated from rookie camp already, might be one to watch.