Maple Leafs’ Brendan Shanahan talks prospects progress

Brendan Shanahan sat down with Daren Millard to talk about the Maple Leafs' upcoming outdoor game, the Centennial Classic against the Red Wings.

Class is in session with the rebuilding Toronto Maple Leafs, and with so many fresh faces currently populating the bench since the club’s big call-up on Feb. 29, there’s plenty to learn.

Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan joined Sportsnet’s Daren Millard in studio prior to Wednesday’s game against the New York Islanders, and shared some insight into the education of the budding prospects.

“We wanted to get some guys up here and give them some experience,” Shanahan told Millard. “Some may stay the rest of the year and some may go back as they already have, up and down, back to the Marlies.”

Included in the post-trade deadline call-ups were William Nylander, Nikita Soshnikov, Zach Hyman, Kasperi Kapanen and Ben Smith.

Kapanen has since been returned to the Marlies. The Leafs have also had glimpses of Josh Leivo and Brendan Leipsic.

“The Marlies have had a really good year, and it’s important for us that the team is winning down there and have an opportunity to take a run at a Calder Cup,” said Shanahan.

The league-leading Marlies have been on an entirely different trajectory than the Maple Leafs this season — something Shanahan says is an integral part of the prospects’ development in its own right.

In other words, they’re learning how to win.

“I think it’s a great learning experience for young players, to learn how to win, because it’s something that we have to do obviously with the Toronto Maple Leafs,” he said.

“We’ve got a lot of work to go and we’re a team that does not know how to win. We have not won enough in recent years,” he said. “I really think that winning is also a learned skill.”

As for the young group’s homework over the off-season, there will be plenty to work on.

“We’ve got a lot of work to go,” said Shanahan. “It’s really important that these guys get that look up here in the NHL so at least they can go home in the summertime or back to the Marlies and over the summer when they’re training, they know just how hard it is and how tough the competition is, night in night out.”

Shanahan also talked about the just-announced 2017 Centennial Classic, which will see the Maple Leafs host the Detroit Red Wings at BMO Field on Jan. 1.

Here are a few excerpts from the conversation:

On bringing an outdoor game to Toronto:
To be able to bring one to Toronto, and have one in this environment — and then also to play against the Detroit Red Wings — it’s going to be special.

On what the experience will be like at BMO Field:
It’s certainly a lot more intimate … I have no doubt that there’s going to be a great atmosphere. It’s going on around the world junior tournament, so Toronto’s going to be hockey central.

I know it’s going to be a great environment. I’m not worried about that at all. The type of renovations they’ve done at BMO Field over the last couple of years allows them to do big events like this.

On which side the former Red Wing will suit up for at a possible alumni game:
Well I never played for the Leafs, so … I’ll probably have to go against the Leafs that day if we have an alumni game.

[Note: Though it is typically part of the outdoor game tradition, it has not yet been confirmed that there will be an alumni game in Toronto during the Centennial Classic. “It’s something that we’d like to have … we’ll get to that soon.”]

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