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THN.com Blog: Phaneuf's challenge as Maple Leafs captain

Dion Phaneuf was named as the 17th captain in Maple Leafs history Monday. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Dion Phaneuf was named as the 17th captain in Maple Leafs history Monday. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

Dion Phaneuf is a loud man at a position often best served by subtlety.

The newest captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs was awarded that distinction based partially on a generally brash approach to life, whether it’s his frequent attempts to tattoo his shoulder crest on opponents’ foreheads or just having the internal jam to play DJ Dion in the dressing room immediately upon landing in Leafland.

Put simply, there’s no doubt Phaneuf has the big things taken care of; it’s sorting out the small stuff that will determine whether he rounds out into a great all-around defenseman or remains a more one-dimensional threat known mostly for making a large racket here and there.

Everybody who’s watched Phaneuf closely knows he needs to clean up his game defensively and, really, that’s not a tremendous indictment of a 25-year-old’s game. Leaf fans will lose their mind every time Phaneuf flattens somebody next season, but the more legitimate cause for celebration will be harder to spot.

It will be when he backs off at the offensive blueline instead of putting himself out of position by charging after the winger who just chipped the puck past him on the boards. It will be when he takes a little off that booming shot to make sure it gets through or finds a teammate’s tip-ready stick instead of dropping his head and trying to shoot a hole through the net.

Phaneuf knows how to let it all hang out; now he’s got to work on reeling it in a bit.

And make no mistake, that’s a much more preferable scenario to the inverse of that sentence. Every coach and GM in the league will tell you they’d rather be trying to tuck in an abundance of aggression than feeling like a stranded camper, always trying to light a fire under something.

Toronto boss Brian Burke knew what he was getting in Phaneuf and, I suspect, understands in general that you don’t go to a Bob Dylan concert and expect to see him strut around on stage like Mick Jagger; you know what kind of performance you’re getting when you buy the ticket.

The ability to learn and adjust is crucial to success in any field, but that said, people come hard-wired a certain way and Phaneuf’s got a major “go for it” gene driving the bus in that imposing frame.

There’s nothing wrong – and a lot right – with that fact. But if the Leafs’ new captain wants a tenure similar to that of the 10-year run of Mats Sundin, he needs to learn even the toughest players recognize the right time for a soft touch.

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VIDEO: PHANEUF LOOKS FOR CUP GLORY AS CAPTAIN
When GM Brian Burke acquired Dion Phaneuf, many fans thought the defenseman would be a great choice as the next captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs. And Monday in downtown Toronto that speculation came true.

The Maple Leafs haven’t had a captain since Mats Sundin left the team in the summer of 2008. Phaneuf is the 18th captain in team history and hopes to be first since George Armstrong to hoist the Stanley Cup over his head. Ryan Dixon takes a closer look at the new Leafs captain. PRODUCER: Ted Cooper

REPORTER: Ryan Dixon | PRODUCER: Ted Cooper

Watch more THN.com video features on TheHockeyNews.TV.

Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. 

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