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Matt Stajan, mentioned as a possible successor to the captaincy late last season, is struggling just to crack the Toronto lineup under Ron Wilson. ((Dave Sandford/Getty Images))

Toronto Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson has issued the challenge. Now, Matt Stajan must answer the call.

Stajan will get a chance to prove himself to his coach when the Leafs visit the New York Rangers Friday night.

Toronto is coming off a 5-4 shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues on home ice on Thanksgiving, a game that Stajan watched from the press box, a healthy scratch for the first time since March 2006.

Stajan has looked far from impressive for Toronto since the season began, failing to record a point in the two games he's played, and sporting a minus-2 rating.

"Matt's just got to play better than he's been playing, period," Wilson said.

Wilson said that the veteran forward has had a hard time adapting to the up-tempo pace he has introduced since taking over as Leafs coach at the beginning of the season.

"Other guys have adjusted," Wilson said. "[Stajan] hasn't, so he's probably just finding out what the parameters of the job are."

Tonight, Stajan will play against the Rangers in place of Ryan Hollweg, who begins a three-game suspension Friday.  

"I'll keep working and, hopefully, things start going better than they have," Stajan said. "Right now, things aren't bouncing my way.

"I've been battling the puck. It's too bad I haven't shown anything earlier. It's hard to sit out. I'll keep my head up and go out and play hard and do whatever I can do to help the team win. Obviously, I've got something to prove to [Wilson] now."

Stajan's poor play has coincided with the emergence of Russian rookie Nikolai Kulemin. Taken 44th overall by Toronto in the draft two years ago, the 22-year-old Russian has two goals in two games for the Leafs, and has impressed Wilson with his speed and work ethic.

Wilson likes what he's seen from the Russian thus far, and plans to give him and the team's other youngsters plenty of ice time

"We're going to give our young people opportunity to play," Wilson said. "They've got tremendous offensive potential and the only way we're going to develop it is by playing them."

The Leafs visit Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7:30 p.m. ET).

With files from the Canadian Press