Think of it as a short cut to rebuilding success. In signing free agent 23-year-old centre Christian Hanson of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Leafs GM Brian Burke essentially brought in another future asset who will be ready to go sooner than later.
A late bloomer who came to Notre Dame as a checker but evolved into an all-around player, Hanson is a whole lot of havoc in front of an opponent's net. At 6-foot-4, 228 pounds, he certainly has NHL size and his ability to create offence from in tight is something the Leafs don’t have a lot of right now.
Of course, Hanson isn’t the only older prospect the Leafs are coveting. Boston University defenceman Matt Gilroy is no longer a secret to those who follow hockey and with Burke’s New England roots, the GM is well aware of the youngster.
Coming into school as a forward, Gilroy didn’t impress. But with his move to the blueline, he became one of those smart, puck-moving defencemen teams are always trying to uncover. High-scoring University of Denver centre Tyler Bozak is also on the radar.
Bozak was just 5-foot-9 in his NHL draft year, so nobody paid attention to him. A couple years later he’s 6-foot-1 and still scoring.
What all three players have in common is that they weren’t NHL prospects as teenagers, but grew into promise after age 22. Based on the NHL’s CBA, they can sign with any team they want.
For some teams, this is a high risk/reward scenario; a kid drafted at age 18 can be honed by the organization and developed under their watchful eye, while an older free agent must make an impact almost immediately in order to be worth the contract he signed.
In Toronto, Burke has a little more leeway. Since the Leafs are rebuilding, Hanson will get a great crack at a roster spot next year and if he doesn't work out, it’s not like the team was banking on being a contender anyway.