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Toronto Maple Leafs Jake Gardiner is congratulated by teammates after scoring on the Edmonton Oilers during first period NHL action in Toronto on Monday February 6, 2012 (The Canadian Press)

Toronto Maple Leafs Jake Gardiner is congratulated by teammates after scoring on the Edmonton Oilers during first period NHL action in Toronto on Monday February 6, 2012

(The Canadian Press)

Dallas Eakins on the Marlies stepping into the spotlight Add to ...

“But after that, all the guys are trying to get their foot in the door. For me, the only NHL player that we’re able to receive right now is Jake. The rest of the guys are trying to establish themselves. And even Jake, he’s only got one year under his belt. He still needs more time to blossom.”

Can you talk about some of the team’s new additions and what you’re looking for there?

Eakins: “Some of them, like a Mike Kostka, we played against him a couple years ago in Rochester and we really liked him. But we couldn’t get him and he signed with Norfolk. We’ve been able to get him now, and he’s a guy that’s just been getting better every year.

“Keith Aucoin is a top, top point getter in this league and played a bunch of games in Washington last year and is looking for opportunity. Those two right away are guys that are new faces.

“And Leo Komarov, we’ve kept an eye on him over the years. He’s a real agitator, pain-in-the-butt to play against and a guy that’s seen some success over in Europe. A real interesting kid. Really intelligent. We’re hoping all those guys help our group immediately.”

One of the effects of a lockout that doesn’t get talked about that often is the trickle down. Young NHL players are sent to the AHL and then young AHL players have to go to the ECHL. How competitive is your camp going to be as a result of all the players on the low end being squeezed for a spot?

Eakins: “These kids, I feel for them. They’re trying to crack a lineup of guys who had great seasons last year or were part of a team that went to a league final. That’s hard to unseat players in that situation. They’re in for a challenge.

“The difference with no NHL is that these guys won’t play a lot of games. In the NHL, there’s a whole bunch of exhibition games and they hold onto players for a while longer. We have only two scheduled... Now we’re looking at 34 players at camp and only two exhibition games. Then we’ll start the season.

“We’ll have some scrimmages coming up. I’ll split this group into two teams of three lines and five defence and we’ll play a couple scrimmages and we’ll have to make our decisions through those scrimmages, their practice play and the exhibition games.”

The final product should be interesting then.

Eakins: “That’s one thing I’ve been thinking about already – the matchups in this league, I don’t think there are going to be No. 1 and No. 2 lines [on most teams]. I think you’re going to have three good lines and a fourth line that will go and check the crap out of the other team. I think we can put together four lines that can play however we want.”

How do you manage what happens in goal with a lockout on? Ben Scrivens was a guy that may not have otherwise been available to the Marlies so can you carry three goalies and hope the NHL comes back for a while or does someone else have to go down?

Eakins: “I've thought about that but haven’t approached my bosses with anything yet. For me, Scrivens is in the No. 1 spot. That being said, if you come in and have a terrible camp or you’re not playing well early, that changes quickly. That’s the thing about pro sports that I love. You’re always trying to get established, you’re always trying to keep improving, but there’s also always somebody coming trying to unseat you, too. If you have a number of off nights, well you lose your status.

“Listen, Ben had the No. 1 goals against in our league last year, was part of a team that went to the final. He played a ton of hockey through those playoffs. For me, he’s earned the right for me to say he’s the No. 1 guy. And then after that, there’s a battle going on with Jussi [Rynnas] and Mark Owuya for who’s going to get the backup job. I hope one of those guys pushes Scrivens for his ice time.

“We’ll have to see how this falls out. Rynnas has more experience at this level, but Owuya came in and played a handful of games and had great numbers. So we’ll have to see. It’s like every training camp: Everybody thinks that the management and the coaches make the decisions. Well they don’t. The players make the decisions, every time.”

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