TORONTO - Six months of recovery from knee surgery was nearing its end for Matt Frattin as he geared up for a long-awaited season debut with the Marlies. It was early November and the 24-year-old was just two weeks away from his first game-action since May when he tore the meniscus in his left knee during the final moments of a Marlies victory in the Western Conference Final. With the NHL lockout extending into its second month, extra eyes would be focused on the exploits of the American Hockey League and its new wave of talent. Returning from a significant knee injury, Frattin wanted to be sure he was prepared physically to prove himself with the added layer of scrutiny. "Before I started playing games I told [the team], I was like I want to be 100 per cent because as soon as you play in that game you know people are going to be watching so you want to be showing your best at every game," Frattin said, noting the value of increased intensity training during the lead-up to his November 16 debut in Hamilton. He scored twice that night against the Bulldogs and now has five goals in five games upon his return. The Edmonton native has swiftly picked up where he left off in the postseason late last spring, precisely the start required of a player expected to make a permanent jump to the NHL (lockout notwithstanding) this season. Frattin offered flashes of his potential in Leafs duty a year ago - scoring eight goals with a versatile skillset - before exploding for 10 goals and 13 points in 13 playoff games with the Marlies. While hed surely prefer to be lining up in the NHL at the moment, the 2007 fourth round pick can certainly see some degree of upside in his current AHL stead. "I feel like I get a lot more playing time down here," he said, noting full strength in his left knee. "Last year I was getting maybe 12 minutes, 11 minutes on average [with the Leafs]. Obviously you want more, but thats where youve got to earn your stripes and earn your role. You look at a guy like Jake Gardiner and he definitely made an impact on the organization and thats why he was playing 25 minutes a game. And I think thats what I was going into training camp this year [thinking]. I wanted for sure have my knee 100 per cent but as soon as I could start playing I wanted to make that impact and earn my spot. "Prove that I could play and stick and make an impact with the Leafs this year." At six feet even and a sturdy 200 pounds - boosted by a low centre of gravity - Frattin has the frame to make a difference physically, a facet of his game hes looked to impart with greater consistency this winter. "Its interesting, a guy like that that can shoot the puck and get into open areas I think a lot of people say Well he just has to score," Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins opined. "Well when hes finishing his checks hes getting a ton of chances, when hes not hes getting none. So its not that he has to score, its he has to drive his legs and be physical and the other stuff looks after itself." Eakins has been pleased with the early results. But like other NHL hopefuls currently earning their stripes in the American League, Frattin has a bar of expectation that he must ascend. With brass from management milling around ubiquitously at Ricoh Coliseum and the presence of Randy Carlyle and his Leafs coaching staff a constant, Frattin can ill afford to take a step back in his performance. Cognizant of that reality, hes laid out a simple and yet honest goal for himself. "For myself, I think the odd time Ill start off good but maybe Ill take a couple shifts off where Im kind of invisible and just going with the flow, going with the motions," he explained. "Ive got to make an impact every shift. Thats what I want to do personally and I think thats what they want me to do too." Elite Randall Cobb Jersey
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. Finally, hes getting back on the field. The extra-large rookie defensive tackle from Baylor has signed a contract with the Cleveland Browns, the team announced Tuesday night to end a four-day holdout that was beginning to become worrisome.With the Western Conference playoff race showing no signs of loosening up and a postseason dogfight in the East, you could say it was a surprise to see just 16 trades on Monday leading up to the NHLs deadline - just over half the number from last year. And were those deals enough for any team to make a splash in the stretch run? GM Dean Lombardi made the biggest deal of the day, paying perhaps a kings ransom (pardon the pun) to snag forward Dustin Penner from the Edmonton Oilers. But after that, most of the deals were about adding depth forwards, puck-moving defencemen and character players. Supporting cast members like Maxim Lapierre, Radek Dvorak and Bryan Allen saw more than their fair share of the spotlight in the hours leading up to 3pm et, while more prominent names like Ales Hemsky, Tomas Vokoun and of course, Brad Richards remained in the shadows - at least where actual trades were concerned. So here was Daves question to you: "Did Mondays deadline deals alter the playoff landscape, and if so, how?" And here are the answers that Dave liked best: "Only if you count Jimmy Howards contract extension. He and the Red Wings have settled things for the next two years and thats a good thing." - Angelo, Concord, ON "Not the playoffs, but yes an altered landscape that could affect Landeskog. Floridda can join Ottawa and Edmonton in the race to the bottom.dddddddddddd" - Eric, St. Catharines, ON "Max Lapierre will add some grit that Vancouver has missed since Rick Rypien left. Lapierre can be great for the Canucks as he was for the Habs in last years playoffs." - Alistair, Halifax "The playoff landscape changed like a drive from Regina to Saskatoon." - Chris, Ottawa "I altered my views on daytime drinking. How else did you want me to put up with 10 hours of your coverage?" - Marko, Vaughan, ON And Daves reply to all: In other years, when there were more trades and bigger trades, we wanted to think that the Stanley Cup might be won or lost on "deadline day." but almost always, the playoffs brought us to the conclusion that "deadline day" was vastly over-rated. This time, it is easy to say that yesterday changed nothing. Most of the Stanley Cup contenders did nothing, or next to nothing. I guess its possible that well get surprised again, the opposite way, and at least one of the 16 deadline deals will become significant, but I cant tell you which one. The leading candidates are: Penner to L.A.; Dennis Wideman to Washington; Jason Arnott to Washington. Put "none of the above" on the ballot and I could vote easily, and quickly. ' ' '