Doug Gilmour knows what it is like to be the center of attention in Toronto, since the former Leaf was one of the best players in the NHL and led the Leafs to consecutive Western Conference Finals in 1993 and 1994.
The Hockey Hall of Famer indicated at Smashfest charity ping-pong tournament on Wednesday that the free agent signing of John Tavares was a great move for the Leafs, that the 27-year-old former Islanders captain will take some pressure off youngsters Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner and that he has been aware of the qualities of the Mississauga, ON native since his days with the Oshawa Generals.
“(Tavares) made the decision to come here, it was the right decision and he will make (the Leafs) that much better.” Gilmour said. "I was on the Board of the OHL when he got let into the league (Tavares was given exceptional player status at age 15). I looked at the kid and was like 'He's pretty small’, but I forgot that I was 130 pounds when I came in, so he was pretty big actually and he deserved to (be there). He’s a first class player.”
Gilmour (who is head of hockey operations for the Kingston Frontenacs) also spoke about Leafs defensive prospect Eemeli Rasanen. The big 19-year-old blueliner was selected 59th overall by Toronto in the 2017 NHL Draft and played two years for the Frontenacs, but opted to sign with Jokerit of the KHL and not to return to the OHL club.
“(Rasanen)had a great year his first year (2016-17). Last year, he was kind of up and down and didn’t play as well.” Gilmour said. “I wish we had him another year. He’s big, he’s mean. He’s got to work on his footspeed a little bit, but he’s a good player (and) I wish we had him back.”
By the 6’7” 226 lb. defenseman deciding to play in the KHL extends the Leafs ability to retain his rights by an additional two seasons, whereas a return to Kingston would have forced GM Kyle Dubas to make a decision to sign Rasanen to an entry-level contract by June 2019 and re-enter the draft.
Working on his skating, playing against professionals with Jokerit and possibly being a member of Team Finland’s squad at the upcoming World Junior in Vancouver/Victoria are all aspects that could help Rasanen’s development and leave options open for the Leafs, while not taking up a professional contract spot.
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