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Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Dion Phaneuf hammers a slap shot during game day morning skate in Toronto on Tuesday. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)
Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Dion Phaneuf hammers a slap shot during game day morning skate in Toronto on Tuesday. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Change the theme in Leafland Add to ...

Change is the theme of the week for the Toronto Maple Leafs, as one of the less-heralded new arrivals discovered.

But first, Christian Hanson did a double take when he walked to the rink at the Air Canada Centre for the Leafs' game-day skate on Tuesday and heard the high-pitched din of about 8,000 school children plus the national anthem.

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"I thought I missed the morning skate and it was game time," the 23-year-old rookie said.

It was the Leafs' annual open practice, as thousands of elementary-school students got to watch them prepare for Tuesday night's game against the New Jersey Devils. The atmosphere was a little more highly-charged than usual, of course, because of the enormous shakeup of the Leaf roster.

All of the new heroes were on hand - defenceman Dion Phaneuf, who said once again he was excited to be here, goaltender J.S. Gigeure, who will miss hooking up with an old adversary from Stanley Cup battles past, Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur because backup Yann Danis will get the start, and winger Fredrik Sjostrom, who came with Phaneuf in the trade with the Calgary Flames.

And then there was Hanson, called up from the Leafs' Toronto Marlies farm team for the second time this season. His arrival attracted far less attention from the larger-than-usual media mob but somewhere down the road it may become significant.

The difference in Hanson's second stint with the Leafs (he had one point in six NHL games the first time) is that he has been moved to centre. He will play between John Mitchell, who was moved to the left wing from centre, and Lee Stempniak. The experiment is part of the Leafs' search to find more offence and beef themselves up down the middle, as centre became a rather thin position with the departure of Matt Stajan in the Phaneuf trade.

What is interesting about this is that centre is Hanson's natural position, one he played at Notre Dame in U.S. college hockey. The Leafs considered his 6-foot-4, 228-pound frame and moved him to the wing in the hopes of converting him into a power forward.

Head coach Ron Wilson did not say of the switch was because the experiment was considered a failure (Hanson does have 29 points in 30 games with the Marlies) or because the need at centre is now greater.

"We've been playing Christian Hanson at centre for about three weeks [with the Marlies]" the coach said. "For about three weeks, we've been thinking we don't have a real big centre man. Maybe he'll fit the bill for us."

Hanson doesn't mind the switch. He's willing to do just about anything to stay in the NHL.

"They told me to play my game," he said. "When you come up here, especially with a lot of new people, you try to keep it simple.

"I still think there is quite a bit of pressure on me. This is my second time up here. I want to make an impact and stick around."

Considering the Leafs are desperate for offence in the wake of trading away Stajan, Niklas Hagman and Jason Blake, if Hanson can manufacture some in this go-round he will never darken the door of the Marlies dressing room again.

Following are the line combinations and defence pairs for the game against the Devils:

Alexei Ponikarovsky-Tyler Bozak-Phil Kessel

John Mitchell-Christian Hanson-Lee Stempniak

Nikolai Kulemin-Rickard Wallin-Fredrik Sjostrom

Jay Rosehill-Wayne Primeau-Colton Orr

Francois Beachemin-Dion Phaneuf

Tomas Kaberle-Carl Gunnarsson

Garney Exelby-Luke Schenn

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