Five highlights from Eakins’ interview:
1. Despite playing the entire 2011-12 campaign with the big club, Eakins says defenceman Jake Gardiner has wholly embraced his AHL role and is one of the club’s hardest workers.
2. The coach has a strong relationship with Nazem Kadri, a prospect he criticized in camp but who has picked up his pace and won the AHL’s Player of the Week honours. “He’s a special kid when he’s going,” Eakins said. “I think Naz is going to find a way to become a very, very good NHL player. He’s just too competitive not to succeed.”
3. Leafs draft pick Leo Komarov, who has been loaned back to the KHL’s Moscow Dynamo from the Marlies, surprised Eakins with how quickly he adapted to a smaller rink. “I wasn’t sure how he would do in the North American game,” Eakins said, “but he’s played very well for us. He’s well-suited to the North American game.”
4. More affected by the lockout than the Gardiners and Kadris of the world are the lesser-known hopefuls who made big strides last season and were eager to fight for a spot with the Leafs in training camp. If a shortened NHL season is played, an abbreviated camp with fewer invitees is expected.
5. Paul Ranger, who has been out of the game for three years, is “absolutely” good enough to get back into the NHL and be a regular blue-liner, his coach believes. “On most nights he’s probably our best overall defenceman,” Eakins said. “I see him playing very well, and it’s not up to his standards yet.”