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.

2014 -2015 Toronto Maple Leafs Prospect Camp Roster Invitees

The Toronto Maple Leafs had recently announced the upcoming roster for their Prospect Camp that took place on July 7th to July 11th and had 29 attendee’s from drafted prospect to invitee’s come together at the Mastercard Center. For those who have not seen the announcement, please see the link below that goes into a little bit more detail.

http://mapleleafs.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=725185&navid=DL

Every year there are invitee’s mixed in with the Maple Leafs prospects, some of which are a little intriguing from a potential prospect point of view. I have always surmised that if teams don’t already do it on a larger scale, they should be using these prospect camps as an extra opportunity to further examine prospects that may not have been selected at the most recent draft that still may be on their scouts radar. They usually come from a pretty diverse hockey background and this years crop is no different. Hopefully there are one or two in the lineup who are indeed potential prospects but for some this is just an opportunity to evaluate their game in comparison to their peers and garner the experience of what a professional camp may indeed one day be like. So without further ado, here are the invitee’s in order of appearance on the Leafs roster breakdown:

Robert ‘Bobo’ Carpenter
Forward
Austin Prep (USHS)/Sioux City (USHL)
5’10”, 183lbs
2014 Draft Eligible (not selected) Central Scouting Final Ranking:119

An interesting article was written about Carpenter, a Boston University commit and son of former NHLer Bobby Carpenter over at SB Nation which can be found here and really covers the vast majority of what you need to know about the player:

http://www.sbncollegehockey.com/2014/6/27/5846192/2014-nhl-draft-prospect-robert-bobo-carpenter-austin-prep-boston-university-recruit

The Hockey News recent included in one of their articles “One NHL scout who saw Carpenter this week had this report: “Tremendous release and he competes hard. Needs to work on his skating, but I love his energy and he has a good scoring touch – he can really snap it off. Tough kid.””

Kayle Doetzel
Defense
Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
19 years old, 6’3″, 190lbs
2014 Draft Eligible (not selected) Central Scouting Final Ranking:178

Doetzel comes across as a big, mean stay at home defenseman and his high PIMs certainly add to that assumption. Represented Canada at the under 18 Ivan Hlinka tournament last year but a broken jaw last season had him sit out for a significant number of games. A first round selection in the bantum draft, Doetzel appears to be projecting as a project with upside. Was recently invited to the Nashville Predators camp.

From DraftSite.com “Developing stay-at-home defenseman with aggressive physical style and defense first mentality. Long term project who needs more time to improve skating mobility, puck skills, and decision-making. Until this happens the NHL may pass on calling his name, as there is little up-ice abilities emerging so far….Bill Placzek”

Cody Donaghey
Defense
Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)
18 years old, 6’1″, 182lbs
2014 Draft Eligible (not selected) Central Scouting Final Ranking:150

Although Donaghey was not selected at the most recent draft, which was a little surprising given he had the highest point totals in the ‘Q’ for a defenseman, there was a fair amount of interest when it came to camp invites where he received almost a half dozen. Donaghey settled on the Maple Leafs, a team he grew up cheering for and there was a great article in his hometown St. Johns, NFLD paper the Telegraph found here about his journey:

http://www.thetelegram.com/Sports/Hockey/2014-07-04/article-3785869/Undrafted-but-not-unwanted/1

There seems to be a fair amount of chatter online and in social channels with respect to Donaghey and the fact that he wasn’t drafted. Many feel he should be snapped up quickly, a potential free pick or at minimum an organizational asset. Mckeen’s hockey scout Rick Springhetti had this to say about Donaghey “Solid passing ability with a fluid skating stride, Donaghey has a lot of tools to work with but will need to find a standout quality for the next level.”

Jack Flinn
Goalie
Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
18 years old, 6’7″, 205lbs
2014 Draft Eligible (not selected) Central Scouting Final Ranking: 25th amongst North American goaltenders

As the old mantra goes “you cannot teach size” and that is exactly what comes to mind when looking at Jack Flinn in net. Not everyday you stumble across a kid with that kind of height which automatically makes him somewhat unique and although his stats are not as solid as you would almost expect from a goalie with that kind of sheer size one must remember that Flinn was a backup on a really average Owen Sound team that ended the year barely above .500 and were second last in their division.

The Hockey Writers Anatoliy Metter had this to say about Flinn “Standing tall at 6′ 7.25″, it’s safe to say that Jack Flinn caught the eye of scouts during the second half of the OHL season. Even though Flinn didn’t have the best statistics (21 GP, 4.01 GAA, .894 Save Percentage) in his first OHL campaign, he still showed signs of improvement from his first stint in the CHL with Sherbrooke Phoenix of the QMJHL. Flinn might need to fill out his frame a bit more, but that will undoubtedly happen as a natural progression in the goalie’s development. While Flinn will need to round out his game a bit more, he certainly seemed to settle in quite nicely as the OHL season progressed. Since Flinn possesses the height and size that NHL teams covet for prospect goaltenders, a lot will hinge on Flinn’s upcoming season as the goalie will probably see an increased workload in his second year of OHL play.”

Jérémie Fraser
Defense
Val d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL)
19 years old, 6’2″, 208lbs
2014 Draft Eligible (not selected) Central Scouting Final Ranking:193* (midterm)

Fraser made the news earlier this year with a pretty wicked head shot to a player that landed him a suspension from the QMJHL for 5 games given that it was not his first offense. It will be split debate for sure on the intent but after watching the video you have to admit that it is one thing to hit a guy admiring his pass but quite another when your elbow comes up to make contact. That being said, you be the judge:

Regardless, what does Fraser actually bring potential suitors? I think gritty would be an understatement looking at his PIMs but there is an element of point production there as well. Fraser was a highly touted prospect when drafted into the QMJHL and appeared to have caught some attention at the recent Memorial Coup. Roughing After the Whistle’s Gertz said “Jeremie Fraser was a guy who really impressed me watching the Memorial Cup. Very physical player who seemed a lot more mobile than his scouting report.” although some do question if he has all the tools to progress past the AHL.

Matthew Mancina
Goalie
Guelph Storm (OHL)
18 years old, 6’1″, 172lbs
2014 Draft Eligible (not selected) Central Scouting Final Ranking: 12th amongst North American goaltenders

Mancina put up some pretty solid numbers playing behind Nicols for the Guelph Storm this year putting up a GAA of 2.43 and Save Percentage of 0.919 in his first year in the OHL in 28 games. Now Guelph was a pretty strong team this year making it all the way to the Memorial Cup finals but regardless those are respectable stats for a league rookie.

Zachary Pryzbek
Forward
Brown University (ECAC)
20 years old, 6’4″, 205lbs
2012 Draft Eligible (not selected) Central Scouting Final Ranking:180

You have to wonder if the Maple Leafs scouts have been keeping tabs on Pryzbek given his recent invitation. It seems a little odd given his age and stats from last year at Brown that do not necessarily speak of a high point producer so one must really surmise that he must be a pretty aggressive forechecker and/or apt defensive specialist.

Bill Placzek over at DraftSite had this to say about Pryzbek “Large grinder who is fearless and has considerable upside in his offensive game. Is used much on the wing to take advantage of his size, but is a decent face-off man.”

Dorian Saeftel
Defense
Mannheim Eagles (DEL) / Heilbronn Falcons (DEL-2)
19 years old, 6’3″, 213lbs
Undrafted

Saeftel most recently played for Germany at the 2014 World Junior Hockey Championships (WJHC) and my assumption is that he has attended the Leafs prospect camp at the invitation of the club based on their long standing agreement with the German club team to share experiences, coaching approaches etc.

“Saeftel is a 6-foot-3 teenager from Mannheim who hopes to break into the country’s top league next year and garner some North American interest.” via the Toronto Sun.

Sven Senteler
Forward
Zurich ZSC Lions (Swiss-A)/Kusnacht GCK Lions (Swiss-B)
21 years old, 6’1″, 187lbs
Undrafted

Senteler is the third player from the ZSC Lions to attend the Maple Leafs prospect camp behind Reto Schäppi (2012) and Mike Künzle (2013) given the cooperative agreement that remains in place between the two clubs. The 21 year old center is under contract with the ZSC Lions for another year and although there is not much out there is cyberspace about the young forward, here is hoping the prospect camp was an eye opener, would be curious to hear what he had to say about it.

Samuel Vigneault
Forward
Andre-Laurendeau (QCHL)
18 years old, 6’4″, 176lbs
Undrafted

Last but certainly not least, Vigneault is an 18 year old Clarkson University (NCAA) commit who threw up a pretty sizable 60 points in 37 games for the André-Laurendeau Boomerang of the QCHL (Division 1 college Quebec League). You have to give the Leaf scouts props just for knowing about Vigneault, let along inviting him to camp as he must have some decent upside given his size and scoring acumen at that level. (via La Presse) Drafted in the 12th round of the 2012 QMJHL draft to the Shawinigan Cataractes, Vigneault was hampered by a wrist injury that kept him from attending the Cataractes training camp but continued on with the Boomerang and ultimately committed to the Clarkson Unviversity Golden Knights (who’s alumni include Erik Cole and Willie Mitchell) where he will attend next year; potentially one to watch as his NCAA career progresses.

Well appreciate you making it this far down the list, guessing you are just as interested in the potential prospects as I am, definitely believe there are a couple outlined in the above that maybe worthy of continued tracking and/or consideration. I wonder if the Maple Leafs will silently start directing long term projects to the Brampton Beast so they can keep a close eye on them without necessarily having to sign the players? Oh, don’t forget to check out the link below of the top 10 undrafted players from this year as well for interests sake. As always, puck for thought.

http://www.thehockeynews.com/blog/the-top-10-undrafted-players-at-nhl-development-camps/

2014 – 2015 Toronto Marlies AHL Free Agents for Consideration and Depth

Still hard to believe the Marlies playoffs are over but as soon as one season ends there really still quite a bit to look forward to over the summer with respect to hockey. The upcoming draft is quite literally two weeks away, you have the summer buyout period which starts pretty soon if memory serves me correctly and with rumors swirling that the New York Rangers may be cutting Brad Richards loose, it will interesting to see what takes place and who ends up where along with the whole RFA and UFA signing process. Would the Maple Leafs still be willing to take a gamble on the older center who’s production appears to have diminished or is the Tim Connolly experiment still haunting them (which it rightly should) and fans should count themselves lucky we ‘lost’ the Richard’s bidding war years back?

Regardless, plenty to mull over but what doesn’t appear to get covered a whole by the main stream media is the depth signings, something in my opinion the Maple Leafs have done a fairly good job at. With the absence of older rookies who could make an impact with a call up to the NHL on the first two lines for the Maple Leafs, not knocking the likes of D’Amigo or Ashton who have impressed admirably in their roles, the Leafs have managed to sign in recent years good available veteran players to fill gaps in their roster during times of injury. Most of these signings will be players who are not well known or are late bloomers who have yet to make a full time jump to the NHL but are no less valuable to a team looking to bolster their depth charts for the coming year(s). Calling up a player with some NHL experience during long stretch drives while maintaining your cap levels has become more of a challenge in recent years and something that has forced GM’s and management alike to take harder looks at the development of their rookies and where additional and potential call-up skill may be required.

Trevor Smith was the most recent signing that comes to mind and performed to an admirable level to a point that one should not be surprised if another NHL team signs him this summer as a cap friendly addition to their roster. The Ottawa native was efficient at his role at the NHL level, surprising some with his goals scoring (but not those who have followed his career) putting up 9 points in 28 games with the Leafs and although some considered his skating a hindrance, the rest of his skill set more than made up for it. T.J. Brennan was another name who was fairly unknown to Leafs faithful, including myself but the current Eddie Shore award winner for best defenseman in the AHL made a strong case for an NHL team to consider him for an offensive defenseman role with someone given that he is a pending UFA this year (and in my opinion a valuable piece to resign if the Leafs can clear up their log jam at that position over the summer). Troy Bodie was another such signing that fans didn’t give much hope for making an impact at the higher level but proved a lot of naysayers wrong, a refreshing change after recent years. He can skate quickly for a large man and can grind in the dirty areas with the best of them. A solid addition to the Leafs fourth line and here is hoping that paired with D’Amigo and/or possibly Komarov will make life just miserable for opposing teams (as the fourth line should). Names like Kostka, Ranger and Fraser also come to mind.

So with all the names outlined above, the Maple Leafs do appear to be doing a bit better job of identifying talent at the AHL level that could potentially be considered as a more experienced ‘depth’ signings to mentor younger rookies within the Marlies organization but acting as call-up’s that can still have a positive impact on the parent squad. Having said all that the mantra for depth signing one should assume is the same as the draft, get the best player available regardless of position. Keeping that in mind here are two forwards and two defensemen that are UFA’s that may be quality depth signings that are still young-ish enough that their games could continue to progress.

Spencer Machacek definitely fits under the guidelines set above. The 25 year old Lethbridge, Alberta native who tips the scales at 6’1” and 195lbs has all the makings of a power forward with an all-round skill-set. Putting up 20 goals this past year in the AHL splitting time between the Springfield Falcons and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins the two way winger was described by Hockey’s Future as:

“Machacek is the prototypical, two-way winger with the size and strength to cause opponents problems in their own end. At the same time, he plays a responsible game in his own end of the ice. He described himself to HF as a “gritty guy, two-way player. A grinder who goes to the net and gets some greasy goals.”

“Machacek was dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets by the Winnipeg Jets in March of 2013. Long-term, Machacek projects to being a solid second or third line forward, capable of providing a timely goal and playing solid defense in his own end of the ice.”

Jerome Samson is another right winger who fits into the mold of possible depth for the Marlies. The 26 year old Greenfield Park, Quebec native has seen limited NHL action with the Carolina Hurricanes but recently tore up the AHL with 27 goals and 56 points in 68 games for the St. John’s Ice Caps (putting up another 6 points during the playoffs). Samson has NHL size at 6’0”, 195lbs and according to Hockey’s Future has some upside:

“Samson is not as big as some of the other forwards in the Hurricanes system but he has been the most productive player in their minor league system the past two seasons. His strength is his energy level and tenacity in the offensive end along with significant offensive instincts. Sometimes lacks consistency in his defensive play but has improved since his first season in the Hurricanes organization. May be a bit of a tweener in that his skill level may not be that of a consistent scorer at the NHL level while he does not have the size and strength of traditional “energy” line forwards.”

Although quite stacked on defensemen in the development stage with the likes of MacWilliam, Granberg, Percy, Yuen, Marshall and Knodel, if the Marlies do end up trading away any assets before the start of the season they will definitely need some experienced depth at that position to be on the safe side potentially making room for the following UFA’s.

Zac Redmond most recently played for the Winnipeg Jets organization after getting a call up on from the St. John’s Ice Caps. A potentially late bloomer, his combination of size and skating ability make for an interesting acquisition as I have stated in the past, I still believe defenseman take longer to mature and graduate into the NHL that their more forward counterparts.

According to Hockey’s Future “Redmond is a mobile offensive defenseman. He is an excellent skater with very fluid strides and ice edge control. His transitioning is very good, and he moves well laterally. Redmond is poised and patent with the puck and often jumps up into plays. He’ll shoot when the opportunity presents itself and has little trouble getting pucks to the net. Redmond possesses an accurate and heavy slap shot, especially from the blueline. He distributes the puck intelligently and makes crisp, accurate outlet passes. Puck-handling ability and on-ice vision allow him to quarterback the power play competently. His defensive zone play is simple yet effective. As Redmond must continue to develop strength, to effectively contain attackers and play the body.”

Although I don’t particularly like using the terminology to describe a player as it expresses them in a negative light, Steven Kampfer might be the ‘reclamation project’ that the Leafs may want to consider taking a flyer on. Still young at 25, the slightly undersized Kampfer (5’11”, 196lbs) was the second highest scoring defenseman (and top six in points) on an Iowa Stars club that struggled through the regular season (not to be confused with the Texas Stars who won the Calder Cup).

Hockey’s Future has this to say about him “Kampfer is a sturdy, mobile defenseman who can also play at the forward position. A standout quality about Kampfer is that his lack of size doesn’t hinder his effectiveness to play his position. One reason is his skating ability. Kampfer has good speed, fluidness in his stride and can skate with many collegiate forwards. He also brings some intensity to his game and is not one to shy away from delivering hard checks. He possesses great poise with the puck and has a strong shot with a quick release. As Kampfer and his game continue to grow and mature, he has the potential to blossom into a rock-solid two-way player.”

Recovering from a significant neck injury while still playing at Michigan, Kampfer may play a little out of his size range and has had the odd minor injury as a result. However, that being said, anyone who reads anything about Kampfer will know he has significant strength of character and continues to have upside that would be of value to teams looking to bolster their rosters this summer.

Although the above was written before the Qualifying Offers were extended I still believe the above would be significant upgrades to the Marlies and useful pieces to the Maple Leafs to plug potential injury holes. As always puck for thought.

2013 – 2014 Marlies Playoff Performances and Performers

Although the Marlies playoff hopes were dashed recently in a lengthy series again the Texas Stars, AHL affiliate of the Dallas Stars, it all came down to a seventh game in a series that either team could have easily come away with. The Marlies took a number of teams by surprise and any fan would be remiss if they told you they had such lengthy expectations for the club this year. Both the players and the organization should be extremely proud of their results, even if they did fall a little short of the ultimate goal of the Calder Cup.

As one looks back at all the series the Marlies passed through this year in the playoffs, there always seem to be those players who raise their game when the heat is turned up and the playoffs end up bringing the absolute best out of them (Steve Thomas anyone?). Well that is not just an NHL phenomenon and anyone who has been watching the Toronto Marlies Calder Cup bid this year in all likelihood has a couple of names to add to the list of potential Maple Leafs with proverbial playoff horseshoes lodged in their behinds.

The mantra in all of mainstream hockey starts something like this ‘If you don’t have good goaltending…’ and that is exactly what the Marlies received from Drew MacIntyre this year, fondly referred to as Uncle Drew by a team he is most likely the eldest player on. MacIntyre made highlight save after highlight save and ended the playoff’s facing on average 33 shots per game while still posting a Goals Against Average (GAA) of 2.08 and a Save Percentage (SV%) of 0.941. To put that in context, Ben Scrivens posted a GAA of 1.92 and a SV% of 0.935 during the 2012 Calder Cup run with the Marlies that year which raised some eyebrows. It would not surprise me to see NHL interest in Uncle Drew this off-season and at minimum some camp invites. That being said let’s hope if the Leafs do decide against retaining James Reimer this summer that they consider MacIntyre a capable (if not incredibly cap friendly) backup in his place.

Photo courtesy of the Toronto Star.

Fear the Beard indeed. Any time Jerry D’Amigo starts to grow facial hair and his game almost instantly raises to another level. Maple Leaf fans saw glimpses of D’Amigo’s effortless speed and relentless fore-checking during his 22 game stay with the Maple Leafs, a welcome addition to their fourth line (in my opinion of course) and here is hoping that he can solidify a spot next season in training camp. Putting up 14 points in 14 games during the off-season I would also say quite accurately that D’Amigo falls into the category of clutch playoff performer.

“Jerry D’Amigo has really come alive in the Calder Cup playoffs, and currently has 12 points through seven games. The 2009 sixth-rounder is in his fourth professional season and has been fairly consistent, though not a prolific scorer. D’Amigo has transitioned into a player who plays a dependable supporting checking role and has the skating ability to fill that role at a higher level given the chance. Although his scoring is not going to be his calling card, D’Amigo seems to thrive in the higher intensity environment of the playoffs and uses his on-ice intelligence and speed to kick up his productivity a notch when it really counts. While others in the Leafs system may have superior north-south speed, D’Amigo is showing that results matter most when they hand out the hardware.” via Peter Prohaska @ Hockey’s Future.

When the Maple Leafs announced they had decided to part ways with Marlies defenseman and legitimate prospect Jessie Blacker in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks I recall not being overly excited, especially about how it was portrayed in some circles as more as the dumping of a streaky offensive and under performing draft pick rather than a significant acquisition. Not knowing much about the center they received in return, looking back at that trade now I would called it masterful and in some part, a fleecing. Peter Holland not only met expectations as a young center man at the NHL level but his stay with the Marlies in their drive to the post season only allowed him not only to garner valuable playoff experience but further solidified the argument that he is ready for a lengthier stay in the NHL. With rumors of significant change in the Maple Leafs organization on the horizon, one would hope that management may consider a youth movement in the makeup of their third and fourth lines, with Holland as one of those options. With 15 points in 11 AHL playoff games, the 23 year old player has shown that he would only but benefit from additional playing time at the NHL level.

Photo courtesy of the Toronto Star.

This blog post was really designed with listing off Marlies players who appears to kick it up a notch during the playoffs in mind but he was so dominate this season (and in the playoffs) as an offensive threat that one has to give a quick mention to T.J. Brennan who went home this year with the Eddie Shore award for those most outstanding defense-man in the AHL. His place with the Maple Leafs may very much depend on whether the team parts way with Jake Gardiner/Cody Franson this offseason or re up’s with Paul Ranger but it is definitely my hope that they have seen enough to invest in the player and reward him with a new contract.

Kevin Marshall was an absolute beast during the playoffs and it is my hope that he can hold up this type of play and production throughout the year next year. He most certainly won over the confidence of head coach Steve Spott with his heightened play, which saw him out on the ice for numerous key defensive assignments. Although Marshall will never be a high point producer, he does appear to be rounding into form as a dependable defensive defenseman with a nasty streak the Marlies have sorely needed in front of their net.

Although last on my list but certainly not least, Sam Carrick raised his game this past year in the regular season and transitioned it right into the playoffs putting up a solid 9 points (5 goals) in 14 games and noticeable throughout the early round series. Carrick has plenty of time on his hands given his relatively young age and as he continues to become more and more comfortable with the size and speed of the AHL game, his own game will continue to be raised and he will continue to surprise. It would definitely not be an overstatement to say that Carrick was without a doubt the most improved player on the Marlies this season and reestablishing himself as a legitimate prospect in the farm system.

I was always a fan of the moves Brian Burke made to restock the Maple Leafs farm system and stick with my earlier comments in the blog that he is one of the most underrated builders in hockey. He like everyone else had some misses in the draft but overall the Marlies have never looked better in terms of the sheer number of players with the legitimate potential of becoming NHL players in some capacity. I think how the team has performed over the last couple of years is further testament to how the players are developing and indicates just how far the team has come (one has to but look at the Marlies roster that ended the 2007-8 season to see the net positive effect Burke had on the team). Making the playoffs is one indication but having standout performers like the ones mentioned above is quite another. Anyways, as always, puck for thought!