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New Leaf Irwin to debut this week Add to ...

Brayden Irwin will break the family mould by becoming the first of three generations of pretty good hockey players to make the NHL.

The Toronto Maple Leafs signed the 23-year-old forward as a free agent from the University of Vermont this week. Leafs head coach Ron Wilson said after Tuesday's game-day skate, which was Irwin's first appearance with the team, that he will make his NHL debut either Thursday night against the Buffalo Sabres or on Saturday against the Boston Bruins.

This will take Irwin beyond anything accomplished by his father, Grant, who played for the University of Western Ontario, and his grandfather, who played for the University of Toronto, according to the youngest Irwin's biography on Vermont's web site.

"This is a dream come true," Irwin said after his first twirl around the ice with his hometown team. "I definitely had butterflies in my stomach today. As practice went on, I felt a bit more comfortable."

Irwin's anxiety was eased by the presence of an old teammate from Vermont. Leaf rookie Viktor Stalberg played with Irwin through his first three seasons at the Hockey East school.

"It's nice to know someone in the situation you're going into," Irwin said. "It makes it a little easier for the transition."

At 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, Irwin might be considered a prospect as a power forward. But Leafs general manager Brian Burke said he has potential as a top-six forward but more for his hockey skills than his size.

In 39 NCAA games this season, Irwin led the Vermont Catamounts in scoring with 15 goals and 34 points. He was also their penalty minutes leader with 72.

"I'll work on my game in practice and see what the coaches want me to do," Irwin said. "I think I like to keep it simple, be strong on the puck and get pucks to the net. I like to think I have a little bit of skill.

The plan is for Irwin to skate with the Leafs for what remains of the NHL season. If he gets to play in any games beyond this week, it will depend on how he does in his debut.

Once the NHL season is over in 10 days, Irwin said he plans to head back to Vermont to finish his degree in marketing.

Rookie goaltender Jonas Gustavsson will start for the Leafs against the Atlanta Thrashers on Tuesday night, looking for his eighth consecutive win. Defenceman Carl Gunnarsson was feeling ill on Tuesday morning and Wilson said his status will be a game-time decision.

If Gunnarsson can't play, Garnet Exelby, who is scheduled to sit in his rotation with Jeff Finger, will get to dress for the game.

Here are the Leafs' forward lines for the game:

Nikolai Kulemin - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel

Luca Caputi - Mikhail Grabovski - John Mitchell

Viktor Stalberg - Christian Hanson - Fredrik Sjostrom

Jamie Lundmark - Rickard Wallin - Colton Orr

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