Leafs' Hanson given big role for NHL debut

Newly signed forward Christian Hanson will make his NHL debut Friday night for the Maple Leafs against the Philadelphia Flyers, who fell 3-2 to Toronto on Wednesday.

U.S. college star to skate alongside Blake, Mitchell in Philadelphia

Over the years, visits to Philadelphia's Spectrum and later the Wachovia Center have demanded added muscle in anticipation of a physical confrontation.

So perhaps it's only fitting Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson will ice a lineup Friday night that includes forward Christian Hanson, son of Dave Hanson who starred in the brawl-filled 1970s film Slap Shot.

But don't get the wrong idea about the six-foot-four-inch, 228-pound Notre Dame product.

The younger Hanson brings as much brain to the ice as brawn. He had 16 goals and 31 points in 37 games for the Fighting Irish this season, and will skate alongside centre John Mitchell and Jason Blake in his NHL debut.

"They're two phenomenal players so hopefully they will make me look good," the 23-year-old Hanson told reporters after Thursday's practice. "I'm ecstatic. To get on the ice and play in the game is going to be another level."

Normally a centre, Hanson will play on the right wing for the 7 p.m. ET matchup against the Flyers, who are looking to avenge a 3-2 loss to Toronto on Wednesday in the opening leg of this week's home-and-home set.

Philadelphia is fifth in the Eastern Conference with a 41-25-10 record but has won just four of its last 16 meetings against the Leafs, who will miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.

Hanson, who is a native of Venetia, Pa., will become the 10th player to make his NHL debut for the Maple Leafs this season.

Aim to disrupt playoff positioning

"We view him as a potential top six forward," said Wilson. "Blake has been our best player all season and we have to get John Mitchell playing better than he has been recently."

Hanson and company will aim to disrupt the Flyers' playoff positioning. With a win against Toronto, Philadelphia could regain fourth spot in the conference over the idle Carolina Hurricanes, who have won seven straight.

The Maple Leafs are 5-3-0 in their past eight starts with all but one contest coming against a team that has either clinched or is attempting to make the post-season.

"I don't know about being a spoiler, but there's a lot of pride in this room," veteran goaltender Curtis Joseph said after making 32 saves on Wednesday. "We've built a lot of chemistry over the year and I think it's showing here at the end of the year."

Joseph, who will turn 42 on April 29, could return to the bench Friday after Martin Gerber served the last of his three-game suspension for abusing an official.

The Flyers have six games left in the regular season, which ends with them hosting the New York Rangers on April 12.

They could use some scoring punch out of centre Jeff Carter, who is tied with Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk for third in the NHL with 41 goals. Carter has managed only three goals in the past 11 games and held off the scoresheet in three straight.

"Let's be honest, the next six games, it's playoff time for us," said Philadelphia blue-liner Kimmo Timonen. "It's time to wake up and really, really bear down. It's hard to say what the reason is [for lacklustre play] but whatever it is, it has to change."

With files from the Associated Press