The defensive pairing of captain Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson is probably the closest thing to a lock that coach Randy Carlyle has as he begins to make the tough decisions on his 23-player roster.
“We have good chemistry but Dion is more offensively minded than I am,” Gunnarsson, 25, said this week at the MasterCard Centre. “I let him do whatever he’s good at and then back him up as best as I can.”
Gunnarsson suffered a season-ending separated shoulder in Toronto’s final home game last season against the Buffalo Sabres when he was leveled by Marcus Foligno. He wouldn’t have been able to play had the Leafs made the playoffs.
But his shoulder is now 100 per cent. He was medically cleared by mid-summer and would have been ready to start the season had training camp began as scheduled on Sept. 15.
Junior star Morgan Rielly has impressed Carlyle but veterans Mike Komisarek and John Michael-Liles likely will play important early-season roles. Marlies Mike Kostka, Korbinian Holzer and Mark Fraser each brings a different set of skills to the blueline. Newly-signed former Boston Bruin Mike Mottau is also in the mix.
Only Phaneuf logged more ice time per game last season than Gunnarsson, who missed. He averaged nearly 22 minutes.
“The most important thing is for us to get off to a good start,” Gunnarsson said. “One good thing is that we don’t have too many changes from last year. We all know each other. We need to get into game focus right away.
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