TORONTO– A lot can change for a hockey player in just one year; think Luca Caputi.
Last year coming out of training camp, Caputi looked strong and pushed hard for a spot on the Toronto Maple Leafs opening night roster.
This year coming out of training camp, he finds himself on the fourth line of the Toronto Marlies.
“It is what it is and you have to work your way out of it,” said Caputi when asked about his new line. “I just look forward to the next shift and proving that I can play. Hopefully chip in some offence and drift up the line up.”
There are a couple reasons why the former Penguin draft pick has dropped on the depth chart.
Injuries forced a shortened season last year and added depth to this year’s Leafs organization makes the left side a much stronger position than it was when Caputi first joined the organization.
“I think he just has to play,” said head coach Dallas Eakins. “He’s missed a ton of hockey over the last year. I think he’s frustrated with his game and we would like him to be at a different point with his game right now.”
It’s been a tough year for the 23 year old left winger.
Last season he did receive a call up to the Leafs but, after going scoreless in seven games, he was reassigned to the Marlies. Injuries plagued him upon his return, limiting him to just 13 games with the Marlies before having two separate surgeries.
“One sports hernia and one hip labarum issue,” said Caputi when disclosing last year’s setbacks. “It’s a lot of rehab early on. It takes about three months of twice a day, every day (training). Something I had to focus on all summer was just getting healthy and being 100 percent.”
Now that he’s back in the line up, so are an emerging Marcel Mueller, Captain Ryan Hamilton, veteran Joey Crabb, enforcer Kelsey Wilson and prospect Jerry D’Amigo; all guys who can play the left wing.
And depending on what GM Brian Burke decides with the big club, Nazem Kadri could see a Marlies jersey for some conditioning; also playing the left wing.
“With the depth we have right now it’s hard for us to wait for him. There’s other guys pushing,” said Eakins when looking at how clustered the left side of the ice is for Toronto.
Eakins was happy with Caputi’s off season training but it wasn’t enough to earn him the top six role all players of his ability prefer.
“Right now he just needs to play and get a feel for the game,” said Eakins. “It’s one thing to be great and in shape off the ice but it’s another thing to be in shape and ready for game situations.”
If Caputi wants to move up the line up, he says it will be by doing what he was asked to do.
“Do the things that I did when they traded for me. Get some pucks to the net and chip in with some offence.”
This past Saturday in a 5-3 victory over the Lake Erie Monsters, Caputi chipped in his first goal in exactly one full calendar year.
“It’s nice to get one early in the season,” he said. “I feel a lot better than I did last year. Now it’s about timing and confidence and every day I feel better so hopefully it’s a step in the right direction for me.”
At this point in time, it seems Caputi has a much more difficult battle playing for the Leafs than he did at this time last season. Doesn’t mean that you won’t see him get a call up, but it will be decided on if he earns it; not if Toronto is short on left wingers.
Regardless, Caputi knows what he has to do to move back up the depth chart and Saturday’s goal against Lake Erie was a good start.
“For me it’s a day to day, shift by shift basis and being confident in my ability. The goal helped a lot and I hope I can build off it.”