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Leafs searching for Kessel’s centreman

It took Matt Stajan all of about one second to answer the question.

It took Matt Stajan all of about one second to answer the question.

The question? Would you like to centre a line with Phil Kessel once the newest Leaf and 36-goal scorer from a year ago returns from rehabbing his shoulder surgery (about mid-November)?

“Well, sure ... anytime you have a guy who scores 36 goals, yeah, that’s the guy you’d want to play with,” Stajan said.

Since Kessel landed with the Leafs after a Friday trade with Boston, there’s been a whirlwind of speculation about who the 21-year-old sniper might be paired with.

When Kessel donned the Leafs jersey for the first time Saturday, posing for the cameras, he couldn’t wipe the smile off his face.

Leafs GM Brian Burke said, “put on a mean face or something,” to which Kessel replied, “I’m trying, but I can’t.”

Eventually, the thoughts returned to who would centre a line with Kessel.

The easy answer was Stajan, who had a career high in assists last season and also led the Leafs in that department.

The Leafs have not had a 36-goal scorer since Mat Sundin netted 37 in 2002-03. But Sundin was himself a centre — which raises the question — is it possible for Kessel to make the switch?

There had been talk in Boston that Kessel could be entertaining that thought himself.

Kessel played centre almost exclusively throughout his development. He speaks highly of his early career, playing with the Madison Capitols in his Wisconsin hometown, where he was a scoring phenom, mirroring the scoring totals Wayne Gretzky posted as a young boy in Brantford.

The Capitols were coached by Bob Suter, a member of the 1980 U.S. Miracle on Ice team that won the Olympic gold medal at Lake Placid.

Though it is early yet, the Leafs have been mum as to who they see centring Kessel or whether they see the forward as a centre himself.

It’s believed Stajan and John Mitchell — who are both having excellent camps — have the strongest chance.

By this time next season, the leading candidate for the Kessel pivot job could be Nazem Kadri. The 18-year-old is expected to be returned to junior later this week, but his strong showing so far in camp has led to talk that he could one day fit nicely into the Kessel puzzle.

 
 
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