Sunday, December 21, 2008

Pogge's Time to Shine

It appears Vesa Toskala has been complaining of a sore groin for some time, and during the Leafs' 7-3 win over the Pens last night, the soreness had reached a limit. TSN is reporting that Toskala will be out of the lineup when the Leafs face the Thrashers on Monday.

For goaltending prospect Justin Pogge, this is the best news of the season (but he won't tell you that).

Toskala's performances have been better of late. He's been slowly regaining form, but hasn't yet found the game that made him critically acclaimed in Toronto last season. Perhaps this groin injury had a part to play, especially considering the style of the Finnish goaltender, which revolves heavily around agility, speed and acrobatics.

In any case, this could be a win-win for the Leafs. If the injury really was holding Toskala back, then some time to rehabilitate could mean the emergence of the goaltender we all knew and praised last season.

More importantly, Pogge can finally play in his 1st career NHL game. And at 22, it's about time.

If Pogge can prove to Brian Burke that he belongs in a Maple Leafs jersey, the chances of him playing for the 2009-10 Leafs squad will be elevated. Not only that, but he can potentially stand as the Leafs' starting goaltender next season.

It's a feasible scenario considering the success he generated in his junior career. I won't go on driveling about it, just take a look:

* 2006 - World Junior Hockey Championship gold medal
* 2006 - World Junior Hockey Championship Team Canada MVP
* 2006 - Four Broncos Memorial Trophy - Player of the Year in the WHL
* 2006 - Del Wilson Trophy - Top goaltender in the WHL
* 2006 - CHL Goaltender of the Year

In the AHL, however, Pogge hasn't matched that kind of success. In 89 career games, he's accumulated a 45-34 record, a 2.70 GAA, a .901 SV% and 7 SO. Not bad, but nowhere near good enough to rank his as a top goaltending prospect.

In his defense, it could be argued that poor management has held him back. Considering this is Pogge's first season in the AHL as a starting goaltender, I would say it's a likely scenario. Look no further than last year's playoffs, when head coach Greg Gilbert opted to use journeyman Scott Clemmenson as the starting goaltender over Justin Pogge, who recorded better stats than his 30-year old AHL teammate.

And now, the Marlies are in the midst of a terrible season, struggling in all facets of the game. No offense to the Marlies management, but Pogge's departure, even temporarily, will help develop his game.

Which brings me to my point. If Pogge does play well enough to earn him a roster spot, don't expect it to come until next season. The Leafs are essentially handcuffed with Joseph, and don't expect them to send him to the pressbox. Joseph has earned his respect, and the Leafs will not embarrass the 40-year old by benching him.

Pogge will have to showcase his talent, and bide his time until next season. If he does make a strong case to become starting goaltender for the Leafs, expect Burke to trade Toskala in the off-season or at the NHL Trade Deadline (which would mean Pogge finishing the season).

Prediction: Pogge plays solid between the pipes and is appointed starting goaltender by the end of next year's training camp.

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