John-Michael Liles arrived in Toronto this week for his first real taste of life as a Maple Leaf, and he spent his second day in the city at SickKids Hospital signing autographs and meeting with the media yesterday.
He made a pretty strong first impression, too, as it was clear after only a few minutes that fitting into the dressing room won't be an issue.
Liles is remarkably down to earth and showed some Midwest charm - he's the only NHLer born and raised in Indiana, which explains why his Twitter handle has "hoosier" in it - in chatting with sick children in wheelchairs and posing for pictures.
"It's fantastic," Liles said. "I tried to be part of the community there [in Denver]as much as possible, different charities ... To come here and this be my first appearance, it's definitely a special feeling. Something I'll remember for sure."
Now the oldest member of the Leafs, with his 31st birthday this fall, Liles will also be able to take on a bit of a leadership role in Toronto, something that Adrian Dater from the Denver Post felt he had been moving towards with the Avs in recent years.
Dater wrote after the trade deadline in February, when Liles was rumoured to be going to Toronto and the deal wasn't made, that he should be the team's next captain.
"He's a tremendous guy, just a class guy all around, and I've really come to respect him a lot," Dater said at the time.
So put that in the "plus" column in terms of what he'll bring to the Leafs.
The other thing you can't help notice in person is that Liles is, as advertised, not all that big - especially for a defenceman - as at 5-foot-10 and about 180 pounds, he'll again be one of the smallest 10 or 15 blueliners in the league.
Put that in the "minus" side of things, as his defensive game is only average given he can have trouble handling bigger forwards in front of the net.
It's easy to see where Liles should help on the Leafs blueline, however, as Tomas Kaberle's spot alongside Luke Schenn on the second pairing is a natural fit and there's a gaping opening for a left-handed shot on the first power play unit.
Statistically, he compares well to Kaberle, too, although Liles shoots a little more often and tends to draw penalties a bit better. Liles is 17th among all defencemen in point production since the lockout with 241, well shy of Kaberle's 305, but he's nearly three years younger and has a little bit of upside.
Kaberle seemed to be trending the other way, especially in the past two seasons.
The other thing to keep in mind with Liles is that he's in a contract year and can become an unrestricted free agent next July 1. If things don't work out early on in Toronto, it could be a short stay, as he could be a rental player headed to a top team should the Leafs fall out of the playoff race.
Liles said yesterday that "winning" was his top priority in terms of what he was looking for in a team, and it could be a while yet before Toronto's there.
"I'm coming in looking to help the team win," he said. "Whatever way that is, I'm going to go out there and do it, each and every night. That's how I approach the game.
"As far as contract year goes, it's not really a different approach for me. It's more about preparing myself for the season and making sure I'm ready to go from Day 1. Contracts are going to take care of themselves, if you're out there playing the right way each and every night."
A few other things he had to say yesterday:
On what Burke has said he's looking for from him: "I've been in the league for eight years; I think they kind of know my game. They told me why they acquired me and they're expecting me to just continue to do that. I don't think that they're looking for me to reinvent the wheel or anything."
On joining one of the younger teams in the league: "I'm excited to be a part of it. When you have that youthful energy on a team and you see that progress that they made toward the end of the year last year, the record that they put together, a heckuva run toward the playoffs. I was talking with Burkie yesterday and was saying we played them toward the end during that run and caught them at a pretty good time I think. [The Leafs won that game in Denver in late March 4-3.]They were an impressive team to play against and now joining them, I'm excited and really looking forward to getting the season underway."
On who he knows from the team: "I know Tyler Bozak, with him being in Denver [during college] He's pretty good friends with Paul Stastny and Paul and I are really good friends. It was funny because we were talking earlier in the summer before I got traded and [Bozak]was saying 'I thought you were going to come to the Leafs' and the first text I got after I got traded was from him.
"I talked to Dion the night that I got traded. He was very welcoming. It was a great talk with him about the future of the hockey club and where he thinks the team's going. And I know Komisarek having played against him in college."
And on the other new additions, who Liles went through one by one in giving a little insight:
[Tim Connolly]/b> "I've known Tim for quite a while. We played world junior together and played against each other for a number of years. I think he's a great player. I think he's got an enormous amount of talent and is going to add a lot."
[Cody Franson]/b> "I've played him a few times over the past few years. An impressive defenceman - big guy, big shot and a young kid that has got a bright future."
[Matt Lombardi]/b> "Once he works past his concussion issues he had last year, he's a tremendous player. Very fast, tough to play against. A guy that gave our team fits when he was playing in Calgary."Report Typo/Error