Many Maple Leaf defencemen put in long hours in summer skates at the club’s practice rink — Travis Dermott and Andrew Nielsen to start, and Andreas Borgman, Calle Rosen and Timothy Liljegren near the end.

But it might be the latest of the blue-line latecomers who gets the most attention in the leadup to the regular season. While he has not yet appeared in an exhibition game, Roman Polak, who arrived last week on a PTO contract, could end up being in Toronto's plans, claiming a spot ahead of those the Leafs had hoped would step into the No. 6 or No. 7 defencemen roles.

That's based on Martin Marincin not feeling the love from coach Mike Babcock, going back to the end of last season and continuing Tuesday, with Marincin having an uneven game in the club's second-straight pre-season loss to the Ottawa Senators.

If Marincin doesn't reclaim a spot, there’s the challenging process of picking the right youngster to fill his spot and the constant question of whether to hold on to a kid like top prospect Liljegren, who could get lots of ice time elsewhere.

Dermott and Nielsen were OK in the rookie tournament two weeks ago, but the NHL window will be smaller now with six exhibition games to go and Babcock deciding to keep 17 Leaf and Marlie defencemen around until the end. The Leafs could keep experimenting into October, though they’ve talked about hitting the ground running for a playoff spot rather than endure more rebuilding “pain.”

The defensive upgrade that most see inevitable via trade could come sooner than later by cashing in one of their forwards for a veteran.