TORONTO- Jesse Blacker has been developing for four years since being drafted by the Maple Leafs.
And now with two seasons of grooming with the Marlies on his resume, the 58th pick from 2009 feels he could finally make the jump to the NHL.
“I definitely feel ready,” said the 22-year-old. (But) it’s when (the organization) feels I’m ready and then I have to make the best of the chance I’m given.
“It’s just a matter of being patient and waiting for my time.”
The 6-foot-0, 200 pound defenceman had to overcome various injuries in his rookie season with the Marlies, which caused him to miss the 2012 Calder Cup final. And then last season he had to start the year alongside 10 other defencemen due to the NHL lockout.
Admitting his sophomore season got off to a slow start, Blacker accelerated his game after the roster opened up in January and became one of the most reliable blue liners the team had.
He was physical, played both sides of special teams and became depended on in his own zone. His ice time continued to increase and he was finally getting the experience he missed early in his pro career.
“Experience is huge,” said Blacker. “The more you have the better it is for you. You feel more comfortable on the ice and in the dressing room.”
In March, he was averaging the second most amount of time on the ice on a top pairing with Jake Gardiner, who was benefitting from Blacker’s ability to play both ends of the rink.
“It’s nice having a guy that can skate really well with you on the blue line,” Gardiner said at the time. “If I get caught I know he’s there and he moves the puck really well. He’s steady, which also gives me more leeway.”
Showing he had made great strides in his all-round game, the Toronto native was awarded his first call-up to the Leafs in early May. Although he didn’t play, it showed the organization was still committed to their four-year project.
Blacker has spent his off-season training at the MasterCard Centre for camp in the fall. While his confidence is at an all-time high, he still understands the reality of making the Leafs would include stealing a spot. But, the righty is up for the challenge.
“Competition is always good,” he said. “You’re not going to get better if you want to go play against house leaguers. You need to play against guys with good skill.”
Starting the 2013 season with the Marlies is the likely scenario for Blacker despite the progress he’s made in recent months. Regardless of his age, he would be a veteran on the team as only Jerry D’Amigo and Korbinian Holzer have been there longer.
“If I’m with the Marlies, it’s full commitment, that’s where I’ll excel and do my best to do my best.”
In 125 games with the Marlies Blacker has five goals and 28 points.