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(Joel Auerbach/2010 Getty Images)
(Joel Auerbach/2010 Getty Images)

Leafs prepare for the ghosts of drafts past Add to ...

The next five games come with a tour of the recent history of the NHL entry draft for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

On Tuesday, they'll face the Tampa Bay Lightning's Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, the first and second overall picks in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

Two days later, it's the Edmonton Oilers and Taylor Hall in town, with the top pick in 2010 set to make his Toronto debut in his 25th NHL game.

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On Saturday, the Boston Bruins bring in Tyler Seguin, last June's No. 2 selection that the Leafs dealt away for the rights to Phil Kessel.

After that? Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals next Monday and Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday.

In all, it'll be a little like running the gauntlet of lottery drafts past the next nine days, with Toronto facing seven of the 14 players taken first or second overall since 2004.

It's a formidable lineup of present and future all-stars, one that will showcase the type of top-end talent the Leafs have missed out on by either trading away picks or not being quite bad enough to draft that high.

It should be a fascinating stretch of hockey for a few reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Leafs rookie Nazem Kadri will shift to centre and be matched up against some of the best and brightest players in the league.

With Tyler Bozak struggling mightily under the pressure to produce while centring Phil Kessel this season, Kadri will take over in what will be only his ninth NHL game on Tuesday night.

"They kind of eased me in which is nice," said Kadri, who has averaged 19 minutes of ice time a game. "I've got a few games under my belt here. I still have a lot to learn, I know that, but this a step forward, for sure."

Kadri's four points in seven games actually constitutes an improvement over many of Toronto's snake-bitten forwards, as he already has more helpers than all but five Leafs forwards.

Included in the group with fewer than Kadri's four assists is Bozak, who was bumped to the third line at Monday's practice by coach Ron Wilson after recording only three points - all goals - in his past 18 games.

"We're just trying to shake things up to see if something positive can come of it," Wilson said.

The line juggling is nothing new for a team that has struggled to score ever since a 4-0-0 start to the season, averaging only 1.78 goals a game in the 18 games since.

The Leafs are 4-11-3 and have been shut out five times in that span, a stretch that will spark more speculation that Wilson's job will be in jeopardy if the losing continues.

Few NHL coaches, after all, survive three playoff-less seasons in a row. Now in Year 3 in Toronto and with his team 13th in the Eastern Conference, Wilson's biggest challenge will be to coax enough goals out of this group to re-enter the playoff race.

The Leafs' offensive woes are so dire that Kadri is essentially their No. 1 centre after 22 games, despite the fact he didn't make the team out of training camp and was deemed "not ready" up until only a few weeks ago.

As confident as they come, Kadri said Monday that he feels ready for the role - and the pressure that will come along with facing off against top stars like Stamkos, who leads the NHL with 21 goals in 24 games.

"To be honest, the minute I was drafted here I learned pretty quickly not to pay attention to anything outside the dressing room," Kadri said. "The guys who I want to impress are in this room. That's the only reason I want to win is for the guys and the management and everyone that's involved with this organization.

"We've just got to get back on schedule here."

 

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