2014 – 2015 Toronto Marlies Send Six To Orlando Solar Bears, Wild Speculation Ensues

The Toronto Marlies recently announced they had assigned six players to their ECHL affiliate the Orlando Solar Bears and immediately there were talks of demotion and failure which I think needs to be expanded upon given the circumstances the team currently finds themselves in. For more on the players reassigned, please see the link below:

http://blog.marlies.ca/the-roster-calls/

Before the beginning of the season I had written in part that Tyler Biggs and Brad Ross should start the season with the Orlando Solar Bears partially to build their confidence and in all honesty I think this turn of events is the best thing the Marlies could have done for both players; maximizing their affiliation agreement with the Bears is an astute use of resources. One does not have to look much further than Sam Carrick‘s progress, who was having difficulty making the jump from junior to the AHL level and the impact he is now having is nothing short of impressive and a true testament to how his development was handled. This move for Biggs and Ross is of the same mindset, getting both players more significant minutes in the ECHL as opposed to sticking them on the fourth line for 4-8 minutes a game in rotation, allows the club to fast track their development, especially given the sheer depth chart of the Marlies (they are not going to send Orr or McLaren down to the ECHL) this is better for both the players and the organization.

Ryan Rupert is in his first season as a pro and like the others is more a victim of circumstance than anything else. The Marlies have a number of veteran players on the club this year that are taking up third/fourth line spots. Easing a young player like Rupert into the pro game by sending him to Orlando can only but benefit both the team and the player. Allowing him to develop under the watchful eye of a trusted affiliate who utilizes similar systems and can guarantee more significant minutes just makes sense.

Eric Knodel and Blake Kessel being reassigned to the Solar Bears is also a sign of a backlog of defensemen the Marlies have in the system. With Viktor Loov staying in North America and the late signing of Brendan Mikkelson, there were already a limited number of spots available on the back end; this assures more significant playing time for both players as opposed to sitting in the press box while waiting for their chance to rotate in with the Marlies as well. Knodel has an absolute bomb of a shot from the point and here is hoping the Bears put it to good use and Kessel is already familiar with the club. This gives both more time to showcase their respective talents to Leafs management.

It was fairly obvious at the time that the Marlies were going to send one of their goalies down to Florida especially given that the Bears really only had one on the roster coming into training camp. Although Garret Sparks is heading down first it does seem to be more likely that this is just part of a planned rotation and his injury lead him to pick the proverbial short straw. You should expect to see him back up with the Marlies in a relatively short span of time. Getting all three young goalies significant playing time this year appears to be the focus and having them facing a tonne of shots in real game situations will only bring positive results.

Another relatively positive spin on the situation at least in terms of goalies could well be the play of Antoine Bibeau who greatly impressed not only during the rookie tournament but Maple Leafs camp as well and who has potentially usurped one of either Chris Gibson or the aforementioned Sparks with his recent play. Another positive could be the play of recent addition and former Montreal Canadians prospect Brady Vail who must have impressed the team early on given his remainder on the team. There are also newcomers Brett Findlay and Patrick Watling who are being given a look with the Marlies, which bodes well for the team further stocking the cupboards with legitimate prospects; the recent ECHL assignments are just a by-product of how stuffed the shelves have become.

So there you have it, not quite the doom and gloom demotions that you may have heard recently, more of a calculated shift of young assets that need as much playing time as you can find them. If the Marlies were truly shifting unsuccessful players at the AHL level you can imagine that there would be some veterans going the other way instead. As always, puck for thought.

2014 – 2015 Early Impressions of Marlies Attending Main Maple Leafs Camp

With the conclusion of the preseason, the Toronto Maple Leafs already had a number of difficult decisions they needed to make. The top two lines looked to be pretty much a lock however there were some surprise showings made by their prospects who gave a number of veteran players a run for their money. This further exemplified how far along the Leafs prospect development had come and the impact that having a full cupboard and retaining your draft picks was having on the organization. Below are just some of those prospects who stood out at this years camp.

David Broll went out in his first preseason tilt and made you notice him. A feisty scrap, a scoring chance and some timely grinding almost forced his name to be mentioned in consideration for the fourth line of the Maple Leafs. He is a big man that has some ability, hockey sense and potentially more to offer than some of the other veteran players vying for the same role. Although he was already sent down for the Marlies start to camp, Broll left a lasting impression and appears to be ready to make great strides this year.

Viktor Loov has been nothing short of impressive not looking the least out of place with timely hits, solid gap control combined with great skating and an astute awareness of all things defense during camp. He has continued this trend in the first couple of games in the AHL and is definitely someone to keep your eye on as the season continues.

Antoine Bibeau was not a very familiar name to Leafs faithful until the last few pre-season games and although he appeared to come back down to Earth in a game against the Ottawa Senators, he has shown great patience and poise in net that is quite removed from what you would expect from a raw prospect who just graduated from the QMJHL. Although unlikely to usurp Reimer anytime soon, he will definitely be pushing for minutes with the Marlies, complicating things in a good way for the farm club.

It is hard to believe that Josh Leivo is still only a year removed from the beginning of his first year of pro with the Toronto Marlies and at 21 years old is making quite the case to stay with the big club on a full time basis. With a recent foot injury to David Booth who blocked a shot with his skate, it is quite possible that Leivo may be the first on managements list of call-ups this season, incredibly impressed with just how far he has come as a prospect.

Brandon Kozun left it all out on the ice. His stature had always been a source of focus on why teams might have passed on him, whether it be in junior, the draft or as a prospect. It is about the last thing you notice however these days, Kozun has absolutely blistering speed and a hard wrist shot with an innate ability to be in the right place at the right time. Seeing him being used on the penalty kill also creates a unique dynamic of a PK member that poses a very real threat of creating shorthanded shot attempts that could dial back how aggressive some teams are on the PP when facing the Leafs this year.

What can you say about Stuart Percy that hasn’t already been said. He has surpassed all expectations so far this season and has beat out competition from Tallinder, Granberg, Holzer, Loov and to a certain extent Gardiner becoming a trusted element on the Leafs back end. Probably the most impactful seventh defenseman the Leafs have had in quite some time and another first round draft pick that is starting to express just how important it has been for the club to stick with and develop draft picks.

Last but certainly not least is Sam Carrick who reinforced his stock as a legitimate prospect for the Maple Leafs as a dependable two way center that I hope the organization will reward with increased ice time this year given his camp and considerable impact during the playoffs last year. Carrick responded well during training camp, keeping up with the play, creating a number of scoring chances and showing the oft mentioned grit and character that sometimes separates some prospects from the pack. Expect to see a bit more of Carrick this year for the Marlies as a dependable two way forward who is responsible in his own end and has a penchant for scoring big goals.

So there you have it, a couple of drafted and/or acquired prospects that have had an effect on the main training camp and have shown legitimate development at becoming impact NHL players in the coming years. This really continues to highlight just how far the Leafs prospect development focus has come and the fruit it is finally starting to bare. For those who did not make the team it will still be interesting to watch their continued development with the Marlies, perhaps I will see you at the Ricoh! As always, puck for thought.

2014 – 2015 Toronto Marlies Depth Chart Thus Far

The Toronto Marlies will have undergone significantly more change than their parent club this summer as they enter the upcoming season without their former coach, starting goaltender or leading defenseman in terms of points generated for the 2014 – 2015 season. Steve Spott was promoted the the Maple Leafs as an assistant coach, beloved goaltender Drew MacIntyre took a position with the Carolina Hurricanes organization while T.J. Brennan jumped at an opportunity with the New York Islanders for a legitimate chance of playing in the NHL this season. They all departed the organization with nothing but positive things to say and all took positions of growth in their profession so who can really fault them. With the success of those that have left comes opportunity for those who remain.

The Marlies have a considerable number of options going into main camp this year and that includes some of the invitee’s attending the prospect tournament coming up in September. Assistant GM Kyle Dubas may not even be done signing players to further bolster the roster in the coming weeks given the seemingly recent trend of signing longer shot prospects to AHL deals this summer. In no significant order other than my own personal bias, here is the depth chart for the Marlies as of August 19th, 2014 a la Capgeek.com style:

2014 2015 Marlies Depth Chart a la Capgeek.com

2014 2015 Marlies Depth Chart a la Capgeek.com

As you can have most likely deduced from the outline above, there have made some fairly bold predictions made as to who will make the Maple Leafs out of training camp this coming fall given the player breakdown in the depth chart.

I strongly believe that one of either Petter Granberg or Korbinian Holzer will join the squad as a 7th defenseman this season and actually leaning a little more towards Holzer; the reasoning essentially being two fold. Holzer is in the last year of his contract and will be a UFA at the end of the year; if he cannot make the Maple Leafs out of camp given that he is now 26 as much as I hate to admit it, it may serve the player and the club better if he is placed on waivers and given an opportunity to catch on with another club. The second is that although he did not perform as well as we would have hoped for in his NHL debut, fans tend to forget that the Leafs paired Holzer with Dion Phaneuf, as a rookie no less, playing against most of our oppositions top lines. Sheltered minutes on a third pairing would have given him a much better chance to acclimatize himself to the NHL game and here is hoping he is given that important second shot to prove some of his critics wrong. Who is also to say that another year of seasoning for Granberg wouldn’t hurt in the AHL as Holzer really is at a make it or break it crossroads in his career and you could always bring Granberg up if Holzer falters.

Peter Holland was another choice, even with the glut of serviceable centermen and the fact that he will require waivers to be sent down to the Marlies, he will ultimately make the Maple Leafs out of training camp this year in my opinion given his significant upside over some of the other available options. Unfortunately Trevor Smith, Carter Ashton and Colton Orr in the same breathe may be squeezed out of the roster because of the sheer number of serviceable third and fourth line players available to the team this year. Both Smith and Ashton hopefully will understand that they would very likely be the first call-up’s made if/when injuries occur and between the two of them provide great depth to the organization overall. You can imagine that Ashton would most likely be fairly frustrated if this occurs but hopefully he will come to understand that this is an opportunity in itself to express to management just how mature of a player he has become and embrace the significant leadership role with the Marlies that he will most certainly take on. He will very likely be counted upon significantly in all important situations this year and could further his stock by leading a young Marlies roster by example. At only 23 years old, he has plenty of time to play in the NHL and continuing to prove that he can be a consistent contributor and counted upon defensively could very well lead to being the first player called up and an even more difficult one to send down.

Make no mistake, I for one would also not be surprised if Colton Orr is claimed if the team places him on waivers for the purpose of removing his salary from the cap and sending him to the minors if indeed the team decides to go with Troy Bodie moving forward. Orr is still very much one of the most talented at his trade left in the NHL and at 6’3″ 222lbs could provide the security and confidence for a team lacking someone of his aforementioned skills. If he does go unclaimed, as a Marlies fan, he provides exactly the same thing to that team, a significant presence along with Fraser McLaren whom could create a fair amount of comfort for one of the youngest squads in the AHL with a solid one two punch ahhh sort of speak.

Either way the above works out, the Marlies defensive core has plenty of depth this year and a number of decisions to be made. It will be very interesting to see who makes the opening roster given that you have the likes of Matt Finn joining the group this year as a rookie and former captain of the Memorial Cup contending Guelph Storm who will have something to prove as one of the Leafs more highly touted defensive prospects. Tom Nilsson and Victor Loov are very likely going to make their North American debuts this year and Loov was highly praised during the prospect camp so it is quite plausible that he gets a fair shake at ice time. Last but not least you also have Zack Yuen whom had a silent but statistically solid year with the Orlando Solar Bears and may very well be contending for a spot with the Marlies.

Finally a developing tandem of Garret Sparks and Chris Gibson in net who will both now have a legitimate opportunity, after sheltered minutes behind MacIntyre last year, to claim the number one spot with the Marlies. Both have developed fairly well all things considered well in my opinion last year and having MacIntyre was an all important addition to give these young netminders more time to acclimatize to the AHL game. Lets not forget about 6’2, 210lbs, 20 year old Antoine Bibeau either who given the lack of a second goaltender signed to the Orlando Solar Bears squad as of yet may have an opportunity for some fairly significant ice time in Florida while Sparks and Gibson battle it out this year. If either falter, expect Bibeau to join the Marlies promptly.

With all the above being said, when you have an excessive number of bodies in the system it is always good to know that with the extended two year agreement the Marlies have with the Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL that players can be sent to Florida for ice team and to a quality organization that will continue to provide positive guidance to prospects. Garrett Sparks actually made some phenomenal comments about his time with the Solar Bears that summarize just how important this type of relationship can be:

“It was critical. I went from not being able to handle a league, to being a difference maker in the games that I was in. My time in Orlando was the reason why I was so much better later in the season than I was to start. Every opportunity that I had down in Orlando, I took advantage of it, and the results were instantaneous.” quote via Jeff Veillette @ TheLeafsNation.com

Image courtesy of the Toronto Star

It would also not surprise me in the least if Brad Ross, Tyler Biggs and Bibeau are sent to the Solar Bears to start the season, not so much due to performance as of late or won’t make the Marlies out of training camp but strictly from an overall confidence level standpoint. Specifically Biggs and to some extend Ross, could, in my opinion benefit from it. There has been so much talk about Biggs status as a legitimate prospect rapidly dwindling, as a rookie in the AHL, playing fourth line minutes of all things. Sure he didn’t produce to the lofty expectations place on him given his selection closer to the end of the first round of the draft but to be frank people really need to relax. Prospects, regardless of draft rank all develop at different rates and Leafs nation has been exceptionally harsh on Biggs this past year. He went from college to OHL hockey and then to the AHL; which is plenty of bouncing around and style/system adjustments for any player to endure, regardless of supposed talent level. Then in his rookie year the Marlies were a crowded AHL club with a number of veteran fourth line players with the likes of Staubitz, Smithson and to some extent McLaren all with NHL experience which left very little room, even on rotation that Spott attempted to enforce for Biggs (and other rookies like David Broll) to find a groove.

A pretty decent example of the potential for bounce back to reinforce the train of thought above would be Sam Carrick in his rookie season who spent the majority of his first professional year with the Idaho Steelhead of the ECHL. He was considered by many to be under performing after a fairly successful junior career yet in his sophomore year he became a dependable two way pivot with some scoring touch. Gaining confidence and some degree of stability this season could go a long way to re-energizing Biggs status as a legitimate prospect and here is hope they consider the same route that appears to have worked so well for Carrick and Sparks.

So there you have it, the Marlies and my thoughts for the upcoming season on where members of the squad will end up. They should continue to be a pretty exciting team to watch and hopefully if they can clear up the mess at Union Station in Toronto to make it easier to get to games I will see some of you there. As always, puck for thought.

Could An FA Cup Style Hockey Tournament Work In North America?

So it’s the dog days of a hockey summer with almost nothing coming out of the hockey world other than Gary Bettman dumping a bucket of ice water on his head (gawd something we have all been wishing he would have done eons ago! well it’s a good first step and hopefully he will come to his senses and let a legendary player who has won the cup hand over Lord Stanley at the end of the playoffs so I can stop booing my television set to the point my neighbors think I have finally gone completely and utterly bonkers!!).

With all this free time to just mull around and ‘think’ about hockey I have started to wonder given my background in soccer/football (hey it’s not my fault, I grew up overseas in a place where hockey is about the last sport people follow) if the Maple Leafs would be capable of starting a tournament much like The Football Association Challenge Cup in the U.K., known to many simply as the FA Cup here in Toronto every few years or perhaps at a varying host city. Not familiar with the tournament? well he is a breakdown to give you a little more insight as to where I am potentially coming from;

“The Football Association Challenge Cup, commonly known as the FA Cup, is an annual knockout cup competition in English football; it is the oldest association football competition in the world.[1] The FA Cup is organised by and named after the Football Association. Its current sponsored name is the FA Cup with Budweiser.[2] A concurrent women’s tournament is also held, known as the FA Women’s Cup.

The FA Cup was first held in 1871–72. Entry is open to all teams who compete in the Premier League, the Football League and in Steps 1 to 5 of the FA National League System, as well as selected teams in Step 6.[3] This means that clubs of all standards compete, from the largest clubs in England and Wales down to amateur village teams. The tournament has become known for the possibility for “minnows” from the lower divisions to become “giant-killers” by eliminating top clubs from the tournament and even theoretically winning the Cup, although lower division teams rarely progress beyond the early stages. The qualification rounds and a system of byes mean that the very smallest and very biggest teams almost never meet.” via Wikipedia.

Hockey really has started to establish a significant foothold in the United States and even smaller professional leagues such as the Central Hockey League (CHL), East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) and the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL) are starting to garner more attention and more structure to their teams and their games in the last couple of years. Gone are the days of wild west hockey and with it heightened competition and the attraction of better players. That being said if you also start looking at the number of NCAA teams along with Senior AAA and AA teams throughout both countries, one starts to wonder if an FA Cup type tournament might work here. Perhaps not every year mind you but you might be able to schedule it around the NHL lockouts which tend to occur every four years (I kid, I kid…well sort of).

Firstly, could the tournament work from a financial standpoint? Given the vast number of semi professional and professional teams out there, I believe it would from an entry fee standpoint alone. One could establish a sliding scale of fee’s depending on the level of hockey a team is coming from so that a semi-pro team is not footing the same bill as a professional team. Television revenue if garnered could also be used towards aggregating financial stability of the tournament along with ticket sales at the host city or cities. Given the audience numbers for the Spengler Cup alone in Canada, one could imagine that a local tournament might garner even more attention on television:

“The Spengler Cup, the oldest international event held annually in Davos, Switzerland, saw Canada repeat as gold medalists when they won this year’s event on Dec. 31 by beating the host team 7-4. Rogers Sportsnet carried all of Canada’s games from the Spengler Cup are received the following television ratings (all ratings are 2+):

Dec 26 Canada vs. Krefeld 215,000
Dec 28 Canada vs. Helsinki 124,000
Dec 29 Canada vs. Yaroslavl 142,000
Dec 30 Canada vs. Davos 133,000
Dec 31 Canada vs. Davos – gold medal game 207,000*** (This number includes Live and Repeats)”
via Hockey Canada

Given the more recent formation of the Champions Hockey League (CHL) in Europe this past summer, North American hockey appears to have fallen a little behind their European peers in terms of staying ahead of the curve as the more established and innovative hockey market in the world and it would be my hypothesis that an invitational tournament here in North America much like the Spengler Cup may help fill the void. Just the mission statement and core values of the CHL alone, if applied to North America, would lend a pretty strong supporting argument to the establishment of just such a tournament:

Mission
* Provide an international environment to club ice hockey for its teams and players to regularly compete on the highest level
* Assist in keeping best talents longer in European club ice hockey by offering a valuable alternative in sportive competition and thereby increasing the pool of capable players for the national teams.
* Raise interest in domestic leagues as teams are playing for CHL qualification.
* Deliver long-term financial benefits to participants and shareholders and thereby contribute to the growth and success of club ice hockey.
* Create additional value – sportive, financial and emotional – to clubs and leagues.
* Engage fans in following their team in a best-on-best international environment.

Core Values
* Competitive – The CHL is highly competitive with best-on-best ice hockey on an international level
* Accessible – The CHL is attractive to a broad demographic audience with emotion-evoking sport
* Respectful – The CHL is an inclusive competition based on respect vis à vis opponents, referees and opposing fans.”
via the Champions Hockey League.

Now imagine a team strictly made up of retired NHL veterans coming together for one last shot at glory at this yet unnamed tournament or perhaps an underdog SPHL team with a bunch of virtual unknowns beating the odds and making it to a point where they face an AHL or even NHL squad. The tournament could answer so many of those locker room statements you have heard over the years “I could have played with the best if only I had been given a shot”. Well then go out a form a team and prove it. The continued development of ‘our’ game as players and teams alike scramble to put together squads to compete in this tournament could very well have a positive impact on the game. Perhaps there would be a re-insurgence of the importance of game points and standings in the various leagues throughout both countries as the potential to receive a coveted invitation to this tournament could only but help to continue to grow the sport. While we are at it, perhaps the NHL gets involved and through their status as a socially responsibly entity sponsors a deserving team from another country to attend the tournament. Perhaps they invite HC Davos to the tournament every year as a way of saying thanks for having Canada attend the Spengler Cup for all those years. The opportunities to create goodwill while growing the game here in North America are almost endless.

Finally if the Maple Leafs were to take on the task of hosting this tournament as the largest (read: wealthiest) team in hockey or at minimum establishing the foundation, perhaps they could very well name it after one of the Leaf greats, like the Sittler Cup, the Gilmore Cup or even the Clarke Cup…something that would further immortalize for all time in the annals of history the most beloved hockey player and the most beloved club in hockey. As always, puck for thought.

2014 – 2015 Toronto Maple Leafs Rookie Tournament Invitees

Although I have not yet been able to locate any news releases or tangible outlines by either the Toronto Maple Leafs or another reputable source to substantiate the below in terms of the fixed roster for the upcoming Rookie Tournament in September, it was mentioned on HFboards.com that the club had extended invitations to the following players for the upcoming rookie camp in September:

Waltteri Hopponen, Parker Bowles, Ty Bilckie, Zach Bratina, Kayle Doetzel, Cory Donaghey, Jeremie Fraser, Zach Hall, Luke Philp

Some of the names were quite surprising given they had attending the prospect camp as invitee’s as well (Donaghey in particular) so you have to wonder if they made a positive impression but the remainder were no less intriguing and I thought we should expand on the players to get a better idea of whether they may be attending just for the experience or are the Maple Leafs hoping to get an extended look at their potential skill level.

Waltteri Hopponen
Left Wing
18 years old
6’2″, 192lbs
Sioux City Musketeers – USHL

Of course the first player would be one of the more difficult to find information on. Waltteri Hopponen a product of Espoo, Finland spent last season in North America in the USHL with the Sioux City Musketeers putting up 31 points in the first 54 games of his rookie campaign. Has represented Finland on the international stage a number of times, including more recently the Ivan Hlinka tournament. Not sure if I am missing something on Hopponen but stumbled across a 2013 ISS draft ranking for the 2014 draft that had him ranked #25 overall http://www.tsn.ca/draftcentre/feature/?id=9755 yet to my knowledge he went undrafted, obviously the Leafs must see something given the invitation that others may not have.

“Finnish winger who started his North American career with Everett in the Dub, but after one game moved on to the USHL Sioux City Musketeers he showed good tools and ability to play a two-way game. Makes a pest in the offensive zone. At this juncture he is more of a straight line quickness once he gets up steam. Has good balance and is very strong and physical along the wall. Is physically strong and uses his reach with his stick to get the puck back. Can stickhandle and cooly make plays without panic but tends to make him himself available in a passing lane as opposed to attempting to over handling his possessions. He does have strong wrister. A team that thinks he can continue to add physicality and develop a bit more attack skill will select him and let him grow. —Bill Placzek—” via Draftsite.com

Parker Bowles
Center
19 years old
6’0″, 181lbs
Tri-City Americans – WHL

In no way related to Camila, at least to my knowledge (see Prince Charles) Bowles who is a 19 year old center currently playing for the Tri-City Americans, put up 40 points in a limited 39 games due to various injuries (knee, shoulder) but appears to be a pretty savvy invitee, although chances are he may be snapped up in the draft next year if he can remain healthy.

“Though various injuries have limited him to just 11 games thus far, he has scored at nearly a two points-per-game clip when he’s made it into the lineup. We guarantee he’ll be worth the price of admission for scouts in Tri-City once he gets back to full health.” Kyle Woodlief, USA TODAY Sports

According to ExtraSkater.com Bowles has some solid statistics to back up comments like those made above, seeing plenty of power play time and leading the team in a number of measurable categories like contributing to a large number of points when on the ice.

Ty Bilckie
Right Wing
20 years old
6’2″, 217lbs
Windsor Spitfires – OHL

Bilchkie an Exeter, Ontario native appears to have made a junior career out of collecting a large number of penalty minutes, through no fault of his own I am sure. Although the role of pugilist is apparently coming to a noticeable end in the NHL, Bilckie has been mentioned as an energy player who may have more to offer the team than I am giving him credit for. With decent skating and solid forechecking, a large body that can grind down oppositions top lines is still an asset to be considered this day and age.

Image courtesy of the North Bay Nugget

Zach Bratina
Left Wing
18 years old
6’1″, 183lbs
North Bay Battalion – OHL

Zach Bratina is still viewed as a possible first round selection in the draft by some according to what has been written online about him. A tremendous skater who has a physical side to his game and deft hands has plenty of tools and 30 points in 58 games split between the Saginaw Spirit and the North Bay Battalion exudes promise. Bratina has shown an increase in production at the second portion of last season and here is hoping he can continue that throughout the next season. For more on Bratina see the video below:

Kayle Doetzel
Defense
19 years old
6’3″, 190lbs
Red Deer Rebels – WHL

For more information on Doetzel who attended the Maple Leafs prospect camp as an invitee please see my earlier post below. That being said something must have caught the Leafs eye with Doetzel given the second extended invitation he has received. “Doetzel is a shutdown defender for the Red Deer Rebels. He skates well, loves to play a physical game and blocks shots. I don’t necessarily see a ton of offensive ability but he takes no prisoners defensively. I see him as having good potential as a future bottom pairing NHL defenceman.” CJN from WHL from Above.

Cody Donaghey
Defense
18 years old
6’1″, 182lbs
Quebec Remparts – QMJHL

For more information on Donaghey who attended the Maple Leafs prospect camp as an invitee please see my earlier post below. That being said, pretty excited to see him return for another crack with the organization for a potential roster spot, of all the invitee’s attending, given what has been said about Donaghey in the past, I am personally really excited to see how he does.

Jérémie Fraser
Defense
19 years old
6’2″, 208lbs
Val d’Or Foreurs – QMJHL

A third defenseman invited who also attended the prospect camp and another potentially solid defensive defenseman, you have to wonder with Fraser and Donaghey if the Maple Leafs are considering adding another defenseman to their prospect group. My assumption based on my last article is they may extend an AHL contract to one of these players much like Zach Yuen whom I was really happy to see join the organization. For more information on Fraser, please see my earlier post below.

Image courtesy of Turning Point Sports Management

Zach Hall
Center
21 years old
5’11”, 185lbs
Barrie Colts – OHL

Throwing up a solid 70 points in 57 games for the Colts in his overage year, Hall is an intriguing prospect along the mold of Adam Hughesman who just recently signed with the Reading Royals of the ECHL (keep it up Adam!). Hall appears to be a prototypical late bloomer and although rated 158 in Central Scouting’s 2013 draft ranking, thehockeywriters.com indicated that Hall was “A good skater with excellent vision and playmaking ability…” and his high number of assists would definitely lend to that theory. Potentially another dark horse to watch out for.

Image courtesy of the Montreal Gazette

Luke Philp
Center
18 years old
5’10”, 177lbs
Kootenay Ice – WHL

Philp was the third highest scorer on the Kootenay Ice behind Sam Reinhart and Jaedon Descheneau putting up 77 points in 71 games and surpassing the 30 goal mark in only his second season with the team. Draft eligible in the 2014, Philp was ranked 80th amongst North American Skaters by Central Scouting (107 overall if I have these numbers figured out correctly). I couldn’t put much more information together that what was outlined about him on The Hockey Writers, so head over there at the link below to get a better read on Philp, its definitely worth it:

http://thehockeywriters.com/luke-philp-the-next-ones-2014-nhl-draft-prospect-profile/

So with all that being said, these are some pretty intriguing additions made to this years rookie tournament roster, especially if you look at the invitee’s in years past. Not knocking the collection of players who have attended in the past but the above definitely appears like management has made a concerned effort to have players attend this year that are legitimate prospects and possible assets for the club to consider in the future as opposed to just invitee’s to fill roster spots. Mixed in with the rest of the Maple Leafs prospects, I am personally really looking forward to seeing them hit the ice in September and hopefully they all make a positive impression before the end. As always, puck for thought.

2014 – 2015 Toronto Marlies Signing of Trio to AHL Contracts Potentially Signals Depth Perception Changes

The Toronto Marlies recently announced the signing of center Denver Manderson, left winger Brett Findlay and center Patrick Watling to one year American Hockey League (AHL) contracts for the upcoming 2014 – 2015 season. Given how closely together the signings occurred and the type of players signed, one could assume that this appears to signal the beginning of a more intense focus on depth related signings and longer shot prospect development for the club given their relative no risk nature…although it could simply be coincidence. However to lend to the argument, this trio of signings appear to coincide with the recent announcement of a two year extension of an affiliation agreement between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Orlando Solar Bears of the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) and with new assistant GM Kyle Dubas seemingly taking over the Marlies GM duties for recently departed Dave Poulin, there appears to be some evidence to support this theory.

The signings themselves appear to show a new willingness on the Marlies part to take on longer shot prospects by signing them to minor league only deals that (from what I understand) would not count against the 50 player contract cap, a definite change in their mindset. This would essentially allow the club to increase the size of their prospect pool while, if necessary, send a variety of players down to the Solar Bears if they cannot find space for them on the roster (I really would have to look at the league rules more closely but at first glance it seems like they really could sign a higher than average number of young players to minor league only deals).

If the Marlies were indeed doing this on purpose I would whole heart-idly applaud them for the forward thinking; by exploring all available options to the organization such as further increasing the size of their prospect pool or at minimum having players they are interested in much closer to the organization allowing them to evaluate their progress/potential up close, management are showing a shift in their approach to prospects that a lot of people felt was becoming somewhat necessary. Are these prospect further away from making an impact in terms of their skill? potentially yes, however if you have the funds necessary to take on larger risk prospects as the Maple Leafs most certainly do, then this change in thought is a good one given the old adage ‘you just never know’ when it comes to a young players development curve who could still very well develop into an impact player down the road.

These announcements also appear to coincide with the possible adjustment and realignment of the AHL that will see a number of new teams appear in the league on the West coast next season, signalling that things could become a lot more interesting on the prospect development front. If you have not yet already heard, a number of NHL clubs are having more and more difficulties with their prospects playing in markets that are significant distances away from the parent club. With travel and general lack of availability e.g. to place emergency callup’s, teams like the Edmonton Oilers for example who’s AHL affiliate team is located in Oklahoma, are pushing the AHL to establish ‘farm’ teams on the West coast and it appears the minor league is listening. What the AHL has proposed is to have a number of teams from the western portion of the ECHL join the AHL, like the Bakersfield Condors (who funnily enough were already purchased by the Oilers; forward thinking or perhaps a strategic acquisition). The vacuum of departed teams in the ECHL would then be filled by teams absorbed from the Central Hockey League (CHL) which is rumored to be struggling financially. This CHL shift could also further benefit the Maple Leafs as the nearby Brampton Beast, a current CHL team, would then become an ECHL team and the location couldn’t be more convenient; it will be interesting to see what happens when the Solar Bears agreement comes up for renewal in two years time if the above actually takes place.

Well, with all that being said and the possible impact it will have on the pool of Maple Leafs prospects what do Mr. Manderson, Mr. Findlay and Mr. Watling potentially bring to the Marlies other than depth? well I asked myself the same question in all honesty not being overly familiar with the players and here is what I found out.

Image courtesy of The Intelligencer

Denver Manderson is a 25 year old center hailing from Fergus, Ontario who last season spent time with the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers (where he was better than a point per game player) ending the season with the Wilkes-Barres Scranton Penguins of the AHL where he put up a modest 11 points in 36 games. Possibly a little behind his peers of the same age in terms of development, the 5’10” 175lbs Manderson was forced to sit out the entire previous season after suffering a substantial shoulder injury.

“A goal-scoring machine for the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League, a Tier-II Junior A League in Canada, Manderson has turned himself into a player capable of playing in all situations during his time in the United States. He’ll be the quarterback of the power play this season for the Nailers, will center the No. 1 line, be the team’s top penalty killer, and is in charge of shutting down the opponent’s top unit.” The Intelligencer Wheeling News-Register.

Manderson is known to be more of a defensive and faceoff specialist but any guy with a history as a pretty solid goal scorer once he becomes more comfortable with the AHL game could potentially provide some timely goals.

Image courtesy of The Peterborough Examiner

Brett Findlay is a 21 year old left winger who split time in his first full professional season between the San Francisco Bulls (who unfortunately folded) and the Alaska Aces of the ECHL where before winning the Kelly Cup, he managed a combined 54 points in 69 games, of which 22 were goals ending the season a +8 (in some cases surpassing his junior stats). The Echo Bay, Ontario native stands at a modest 6’0″ and 189lbs but what I find most intriguing is his age, at 21 he is only recently removed from junior playing for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and the Peterborough Pete’s (hey wait, didn’t Kyle Dubas work with the Greyhounds?) and the stats from his Overage (OA) year with the Pete’s although somewhat underwhelming did not properly reflect the player given the Pete’s year and the fact that Findlay was their leading scorer. More information on his season with Peterborough can be found in the below:

http://www.thepeterboroughexaminer.com/2013/07/19/former-pete-brett-findlay-signs-deal-with-echls-san-francisco-bulls-will-attend-training-camp-of-ahls-worcester-sharks

So what does Findlay potentially bring the Marlies? a versatile winger who can also play center who has already shown a penchant for scoring and general point production at the professional level. A deft skater in large part due to family influence (his mother Sandra Findlay is a power skating coach with the Greyhounds), it is noted that he has high end level vision but needed at the junior level to work on his consistency. As with any prospect Findlay will need guidance at the AHL level but with his apparent ability to learn quickly (just looking at his rookie production in the ECHL) and high end skating/vision he provides the Marlies with another upside prospect with little to no risk.

Patrick Watling is a 21 year old center and another Sault Ste. Marie Greyhound product with more obvious ties to the new Maple Leafs assistant GM Kyle Dubas and just recently wrapped up his junior career putting up 54 points in 65 games this past season. Watling went undrafted in the 2012 draft, with a final ranking of 155 but had one of his most productive seasons with the Greyhounds a year later. At 6’0″ the Soo native has been working hard this summer to be in a better position to play against men, managing to pack on almost 20 pounds according to reports, bringing him much closer to 195lbs, which is an impressive feat in itself and if anything further demonstrates the determination of the player to make an impact at the next level.

From comments made online it sounds like Watling is being penciled in as a potential two way player with upside. Some useful statistics from ExtraSkater.com had Watling as 2nd on the team in terms of even strength assists and third on the team in even strength points overall. He did not appear to receive much power play time but according to the stats was counted upon immensely to bolster the Soo’s plenty kill. Sounds like he most likely be groomed as a two way third or fourth line center adding depth down the middle.

Well perhaps next time I blow by Mr. Dubas in Union Station in his snazzy grey suit I’ll finally work up the courage to stop him and ask some questions about his new direction on depth signings for the Marlies and overall prospect focus. However until then I can only but continue to speculate, as always puck for thought.

2014 – 2015 Toronto Marlies Sign Mickey Lang To A One Year AHL Agreement

The Marlies relationship with the Orlando Solar Bears of the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) appears to have had an additional benefit arise recently. The Bears are not just an affiliate team to send players to for assignment either more playing time or conditioning stints before being recalled to the AHL but also as a potential pool from which to draw players as the necessity arises. Last season we saw Kory Nagy and Bryce Aneloski join the Marlies from the Solar Bears and I for one was glad to see the organization experimenting a little more with their ECHL relationship. It seems there was also one further benefit that arose recently, scouting, as the Marlies recently announced they had signed ECHL league MVP and goal scoring leader, Mickey Lang, a member of last years Orlando Solar Bears squad to a one year AHL deal.

The 27 year old product of Reno, NV started his pro career in 2011 after leading the Manhattanville Valiants, NCAA Division III in terms of both goals and points for two consecutive years landing him some well deserve accolades in 2010 including Player of the Year and 1st Team All American. The 5’10”, 174lbs right shooting centerman put up 44 goals and 33 assists for 77 points in 61 games played and has shown progress in almost every consecutive professional year he has had since leaving Manhattanville. Although going undrafted, Lang has continued to rise through the ranks of professional hockey, doing it the hard way but continuing to grow with each step taken.

With the Marlies losing TJ Brennan to the New York Islanders, Jerry D’Amigo to the Columbus Blue Jackets (when they brought back Matt Frattin) and potentially the likes of Petter Granberg, Carter Ashton and Peter Holland to the Maple Leafs this year, there was significant need to find scoring and that is something Lang should be able to provide. At worst, my assumption is that Lang could be loaned/sent back to the Solar Bears for the remainder of the year, something the Bears would benefit from and Marlies coming out of the agreement without much more than a little lost equity for what they risked.

The scouting reports on Lang are thin but what is out there has a consensus that Lang possesses “big league speed” and has quality vision and passing abilities. A little more about Lang and his transition to profession hockey can be found in the link below, courtsey of the Quad-City Times:

http://qctimes.com/sports/hockey/professional/minor/lang-makes-good-on-giosa-s-assist/article_2c658ec4-06f0-11e1-bb3c-001cc4c002e0.html

Looking forward to attending some Marlies games this year to see what Lang can lend to the team. There is going to be a significant shift in the opportunities available for the younger players on the team given the openings that are potentially available so I am sure many are looking forward to the start of the season as much as we are. As always, puck for thought.