Jake Gardiner played a total of 79 games last season, between the AHL and NHL clubs in Toronto. He also played in 17 games of the Calder Cup Finals and as the youngest player on the roster, still has two years remaining in his entry-level contract with the Maple Leafs.
The 22-year-old Minnetonka native joined the Leafs for the first time this season, after initially joining the Marlies toward the end of the 2010-2011 season. Prior to the AHL, Gardiner played for the University of Wisconsin for three years.
During that time, the defenseman had 19 goals and 56 assists. He also represented Team USA at the World Juniors in 2010, winning a gold medal.
After playing ten games with the Marlies, he earned a roster spot on the Leafs’ blueline for the start of this season.
Throughout the year, he played 75 games and had 7 goals and 23 assists in his rookie season. He also saw AHL time, although it was limited – just four games.
Gardiner, a 2008 draft pick by the Anaheim Ducks, came to the Leafs organization on February 9, 2011 in the trade that also brought Joffrey Lupul to town and sent Francois Beauchemin on his way out.
Just over a month later, he signed a three-year entry-level contract, then joined the Leafs this season. Gardiner also scored his first NHL goal this year, against the New York Islanders.
He may be the youngest player on the Leafs’ team now – many of his same-aged comrades are on the Marlies squad instead – but Gardiner has some fire that will definitely prove useful to the Leafs’ blueline this coming season. With free agency pulling the strings, his defensive partners may be mixed up, but either way: Gardiner has a bright NHL future ahead.