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!

2013 -2014 Positives To Take Away From The Maple Leafs Season

We could most likely spend the greater part of this coming summer lamenting the 2013-2014 Maple Leafs season and what really went wrong but in all honesty I think every traditional media outlet in Toronto has that pretty well covered. Let’s try to uncover some positive elements to this otherwise lackluster year and what we can potentially look forward to in terms of rookies and up and coming players (we really already know how Lupul and Kessel and the top nine did (or didn’t)).

Jonathan Bernier I think has proven that he can be counted upon to take starting duties for years to come and is looking more and more like a pretty savvy acquisition with all things considered. Although he still had his rough stretches, overall he appeared calm, technically sound and as we all too often hear gave the team a chance to win any given evening. There is still definite room for improvement but if his game can continue to grow this could well be the solidification in net we were all hoping would one day come. Ending the season with a GAA of 2.70 and SV% of 0.922 and top 20 in terms of save percentage is better than any of us could have hoped for.

Nazem Kadri is still just 23 years old and put up a solid 50 points this year while reaching the 20 goal plateau for the first time in his young NHL career. There were times where he looked somewhat lost in the defensive zone but that could be attributed more to the teams overall play than just the individual and is the mark of a rookie still finding his way in the league. If he was a veteran there would be room for criticism but continued NHL experience cannot but improve his overall play away from the puck.

Paul Ranger started the season with some pretty lofty expectations placed on his shoulders by fans and the media alike than he more than really deserved. Coming off three plus years away from the game and one full season in the AHL, Ranger was criticized perhaps somewhat unfairly in the first part of the season with some lackluster play and poor positioning as he continued to adjust back to the speed and skill of the NHL; something most rookies would get a mulligan for. In about the last quarter of the season, at least in my opinion we all received a glimpse of what Ranger can bring as a third pairing and defensively responsible defense-man. He has shown flashes of superb defensive acumen (active stick, body positioning and overall grit) and it is my hope that if he continues on with realistic salary expectations that the Maple Leafs should consider retaining him for next season.

Morgan Reilly. What can you say, he is but a kid coming into the league but definitely showed flashes of what could very well be at times. A pretty solid 27 points in his first full season in the league but it is definitely my hope that the organization will continue to shelter his minutes and or continue to pair him with the likes of Ranger as he continues to adjust to the pro game.

Peter Holland was acquired part of the way through the season and I definitely applaud the decision that was made to acquire him. As another relative rookie this year, the expectations may have been a little high but I thought he adjusted well to the NHL game and has continued to dominate during his time in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies. His ultimate progress for the remainder of the season and the off season along with the extent of Bolland’s injury could well determine who will be Toronto’s third line center next year. If not, at minimum I hope that he can fill in on the fourth line and gain some incredibly valuable NHL face-off experience as well as sheltered minutes; continuing his career at the AHL level would not continue to assist in his overall development.

I won’t go into it at length given my previous postings on remaking the fourth line but it really is my hopes that both Carter Ashton and Jerry D’Amigo both get to join the Marlies on an extended playoff push and are considered for a revamped fourth line with the parent club next year. I believe they have all the makings of a relatively young, quick and fast hitting fourth line that could be a potentially more effective group than what was fielded this year (no offense meant to those particular players)(oh and a lot less expensive too).

Both TJ Brennan and Spencer Abbott of the Marlies were recently named to the AHL all-star squad and that in itself expresses quite clearly the season both players had. Although Brennan has yet to be called up (to play in an actual game) to the Leafs, I would hope that the team would consider him significantly for at minimum the 7th defense-man spot so he can slowly work his way into the lineup. I still believe that defense-man take a lot longer than forwards to develop but Brennan needs to take the next step to experience firsthand the overall speed of the NHL game and what it is going to take to succeed at that level. Abbott on the other hand has proven his ability to be a significant play-maker and it would not surprise me to see him garner a lengthy look in training camp and potential spot duty next year if injuries arise. Many would discount him immediately due to his size but dominating at the AHL level should garner him a lot lengthier look than most.

Like everyone else it was a pretty rough way to end things but you cannot deny that there were some pretty exciting games played over the season. It really seemed like their run and gun riverboat gambling hockey style really caught up with them near the end and here is hoping they continue to draft and develop properly over the summer. As always, food for thought.

2013 – 2014 Perhaps It Is Time For The Toronto Maple Leafs To Revamp Their Fourth Line

Is it time for the Toronto Maple Leafs to reconsider the makeup of their fourth line going into the summer? a question I have been mulling over for quite some time now. Coach Carlyle is known throughout the league for using the line sparingly at best, rotating between three scoring lines for most of the year. This must have an effect on the remaining players in terms of overall fatigue during the course of a season but the lack of a true shutdown line has become noticeable this past season to face off against other teams secondary scoring lines and is an area, in my opinion that the Leafs could easily improve upon over the summer with minimal investment. This isn’t written with the intention of focusing negatively on the current makeup of the fourth line given its legacy players but unfortunately the dynamic of the NHL has shifted in recent years and you do not see the opportunities for enforcers like Fraser McLaren or Colton Orr to affect a game with a timely hit or a fight like you once did; there just isn’t the same number of opposing sparing partners for them to square off against and that lack has hindered their overall effectiveness.

According to HockeyFutures.com the Maple Leafs organization is rife with a strength they do not yet appear to be tapping into which is a plethora of “Gritty bottom-six forwards with good size”. One such player that the Leafs really should consider in the near future, in my opinion, for a lengthy overall look next year is Jerry D’Amigo who in a couple of games with the big club this year proved that he can not only skate with some of the NHL’s best but his build (5’11”, 213lbs) which is almost tank like in nature allows him to forecheck with reckless abandon which has led to a fair number of turnovers in his brief appearance with the squad.

“D’Amigo is a strong, powerful forward who can motor at both ends of the ice. He has a tireless work-ethic and leaves everything on the ice. He’s a proven defensive player at the pro level, seeing countless defensive assignments over the last two seasons. He also provides offense in a supporting role and has a knack for raising his level of play when it matters most.” states HockeyFutures.com.

The other player needs no introduction in Carter Ashton, his willingness to grind it out in the dirty areas and engage in physical altercations has been well documented this year. The edge in which he plays is much needed on that line and coming it at decently sized 6’3”, 205lbs lends well to the makeup of this new forth line I am proposing. With Jamie McClement continuing to take the majority of the draws this line has the speeds and acumen to develop into a trustworthy group that could become more effective than what the Leafs currently have and has the potential skill level to go on offense and chip in the odd helper.

The growth and development of these two young players in D’Amigo and Ashton with additional time spent in the league learning the professional game could also see them move up the depth chart to the third line over time if their skill curves continue, something that will not occur if the Leafs do not make room for younger players to move up within the organization. There can not be much harm in playing this newly revamped forth line for 5 minutes a game as the potential benefits far outweigh the costs. What makes the situation even more interesting is that the team still has youngsters like Tyler Biggs at right wing and David Broll at left wing as replacements waiting in the wings for future consideration.

A potential stop gap measure would in a perfect scenario see the Maple Leafs consider another option that exists with the previously reported negotiations that may take place over the summer with Leo Komarov. The recent Finnish Olympian endeared himself to the Toronto faithful as a defensively responsible and considerably annoying presence against the opposition, something that had been sincerely missed since the days of Darcy Tucker. The other addition that for all intents and purposes mirrors Komarov with potentially more upside in terms of overall skill ceiling is recent acquisition Teemu Hartikainen who came over from the Edmonton Oilers in the Mark Fraser trade. Between McClement this could prove to be a considerably frustrating and gritty line to face off against, something the Leafs sorely need.

The Leafs regardless of how the post season pans out still have work to do this off season but hopefully they consider something like the above as a potentially inexpensive and cap friendly upgrade on their fourth line and focus on bolstering their defensive core. As always food for thought.

2013 – 2014 Toronto Marlies Sign Defenseman Bryce Aneloski to a Professional Try Out PTO

The Toronto Marlies recently signed defenceman Bryce Aneloski to a professional try out (PTO) contract on Friday. The 23 year old Pekin, Illinois native was currently playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs ECHL affiliate club, Orlando Solar Bears in his rookie season and has been performing admirably.

Originally drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the seventh round of the 2010 NHL draft, the 6’2″, 207lbs University of Nebraska-Omaha Maverick has put up some solid numbers in his first full professional year with 5 goals and 16 assists while sitting at an impressive and team leading +17.

Hockey’s Future has this to say in Aneloski’s Talent Analysis “Aneloski is a well-rounded two-way defenseman with good poise. He has a good first couple steps, good lead pass and can work the puck up the ice effectively. Can be used on special teams.”

Hopefully he gets to see some game action before the end of the year to see where he sits in terms of development curve. I still hold to the belief that defensemen take a little longer to develop than forwards and with the fairly potent core the Marlies look to be pretty solid heading into the final part of the year. With Zach Yuen benefiting from major minutes with the Solar Bears and Matt Finn set to join the Marlies next year the defense seems pretty set for the next couple of years. Wishing Aneloski the best with respect to this opportunity. As always, food for thought.

2013 – 2014 Toronto Maple Leafs Trade Defenseman Fraser to the Edmonton Oilers for Abney and Hartikainen

Mark Fraser was finally released from his pending stint in Maple Leafs purgatory heading to the Edmonton Oilers to play under former AHL Toronto Marlies coach Dallas Eakins and in my opinion this was a phenomenal trade for Fraser the player as well as for the Maple Leafs as an organization. Fraser can move on with his career and finally earn ice time again at the NHL level on a team that has a definite need for a defensive defenseman with his skill set.

The return was about what you would expect when trading away a 7th defenseman, with the Maple Leafs acquiring rugged winger Cameron Abney who was playing for the ECHL Stockton Thunder and will join the Maple Leafs ECHL affiliate Orlando Solar Bears. The Maple Leafs also received the rights to NHL draft pick and current KHL left winger Teemu Hartikainen.

According to Hockey’s Future, the talent analysis on Cameron Abney was “Abney’s primary talent is punching people and taking punches. He is the quintessential tough guy, a role that is being diminished in the modern game, unfortunately for him. Beyond his pugilistic abilities he is a below average to poor hockey player across the board.”

Unfortunately for Abney his future potential is outlined as “Currently playing for the ECHL’s Stockton Thunder, Abney’s lone chance to progress to the AHL and beyond lies in his fists. It is a steep climb at the best of times, but with the enforcer role becoming less relevant it is unlikely he has a lengthy career, and almost a certainty he will not be an NHL player.” according to Hockey’s Future.

In all appearances the trade was for the rights to Finnish prospect Hartikainen with the Maple Leafs taking Abney’s contract off the Oilers hands for roster/contract purposes. The 23 year old, 6’1” 214lbs left winger is an interesting player who was chosen by Edmonton in the 6th round, 193rd overall in the 2008 NHL draft who really appears to have all the makings of a solid top six power forward or at a minimum the 3rd line who has already put up a respectable 27 points in 43 games for Ufa Salavat Yulayev of the KHL.

Hockey’s Future had this to say about his talent levels “Hartikainen is known for his leadership as well as gritty and physical play. He has good size and his willingness to get his hands dirty endears him to teammates, coaches, and fans alike. Often described as a Tomas Holmstrom-type player for the way he battles all over the ice, especially in the corners and in front of the net, he is suited to play any number or roles on a team. His skating has long been described somewhere between ‘lacking’ and ‘atrocious,’ however it has improved immensely in the last couple years.”

His potential was outlined as “Hartikainen has improved by leaps and bounds since being drafted, and there is a real chance his ceiling could be as high as a top six forward when all is said and done. In the near term however, he will likely make his living in a bottom six role, where his endless energy and physical style of play will make him an effective player and a pain to play against. After becoming a restricted free agent in July 2013 and receiving a qualifying offer from Edmonton, Hartikainen made the decision to sign with Ufa of the KHL for the 2013-14 season.” according to Hockey’s Future.

Oh and the kid can dish!

Although Hartikainen is now essentially arms length from the NHL and the Maple Leafs, he is still relatively young and finding his game. He appears to be another interesting prospect that has been added to the relatively well stocked Leafs farm system and I look forward to watching his development. As always, food for thought.

2013 – 2014 Toronto Maple Leafs Trade Marlie Andrew Crescenzi to the Los Angeles Kings for Brandon Kozun

With the rather dramatic improvement of Sam Carrick’s role effectiveness, who is currently in his sophomore season with the Toronto Marlies and Jerred Smithson solidifying himself as a go to bottom six center and shut down forward, the Toronto Maple Leafs dealt 20 year old Andrew Crescenzi to the Los Angeles Kings for 23 year old right-winger Brandon Kozun. Kozun who is a Los Angeles native but dual citizen represented Canada at the world juniors with now organizational teammate Nazem Kadri also played with Jonathan Bernier during his time in the Kings organization. Although somewhat slight in nature at a generous 5’8″ and 180lbs, Kozun brings considerable skill and scoring acumen to the Marlies; at the AHL level he is another considerable offensive threat for this young squad heading towards the post season for coach Steve Spott to call upon.

Talent Analysis – Small and elusive with great skating skills. Kozun’s competitiveness and offensive skills keep him on the ice despite large and more physical competition. Despite his size detractors Kozun has been a consistent near 50-point player in the AHL for the past three seasons.” according to Hockey’s Future.

Future – Kozun is getting to the point where he has to make the transition out of the AHL and into the NHL. Despite the everlasting concern with his size, Kozun has been a consistent leader and contributor with the Monarchs. At age 23 you have to figure his time for the NHL might be nearing, and he will have a shot in the 2013-14 season. If he is not kept on the NHL roster after camp, look for him to make at least few mid-season appearances depending on injuries and such. If not, Kozun might be destined to be one of those undersized AHL players who never makes the jump to the NHL despite the good numbers” added Hockey’s Future.

Although Josh Leivo has impressed in his limited call ups to the Maple Leafs and with Hamilton native Spencer Abbott who appears to be developing much faster than the Leafs could have even hoped for, there was still some need for additional organization depth at the forward position before the end of this season and taking a flyer on Kozun who is an RFA at the end of the year makes some sense. If he doesn’t manage to impress or is not called up for the remainder of the year, he is still a much needed offensive upgrade for the Marlies potential run into the post season. The organization did not release too much in order to acquire him and it could at worst free up a much needed roster spot for next year with Crescenzi still having two years left on his current deal.

Wishing Crescenzi all the best with the Manchester Monarch’s and the Los Angeles Kings organization, it was a pleasure to watch him here in Toronto and was a potentially savvy pickup by the Kings, at 20 years old the sizable center could still very well develop into an effective shut down center and here is hoping he does. As always, food for thought.

2013 -2014 Maple Leafs Defensive Woes Continue, Should We Expect To See Changes?

So if the Toronto Maple Leafs were indeed starting to look at defenseman for the overhaul that is invariably coming on their back end in what is shaping up to be an absolutely horrid year for their d-core, who would potentially, be available to the Maple Leafs right now? Either as early as December given the Leafs current skid with players signed to teams that are exploring potential rebuilds or those who may possibly be available this summer as UFA’s.

The first player that comes immediately to mind is 31 year old Buffalo Sabre’s defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, who is signed for another seven years at a reasonable $4 million per season which may actually start looking like a bit of a deal if he can continue his strong play for the foreseeable future. Ehrhoff put up 50 points in his last season with the Vancouver Canucks and looks to be holding that rate of production, at least to a certain extent even with Buffalo having the lackluster season they are and their management team may be looking for a clean slate if they do attempt a complete rebuild in the near future. Just what Toronto may have to relinquish in such a transaction is the larger question…would it take John Michael Liles (for salary) and a combination of draft picks and prospects (think Josh Leivo, Stuart Percy, Matt Finn etc.) or a younger player like Morgan Reilly or Jake Gardiner is really anyone’s guess at this point.

As discussed previously in this blog, the New York Islanders have unfortunately been in a bit of a free fall as of late which if it continues will dash any hopes of making the playoffs; if that happens do not be surprised if defenseman Andrew MacDonald becomes available. Currently on an expiring contact at $575,000 and a UFA this summer, expect him to garner a significant raise that may put him out of reach with the Islanders self-imposed internal cap. Has already put up 11 points in 32 games, perhaps the Leafs send Mark Fraser on his expiring contract the other way and eat some salary while sending some goodies (prospect/pick) to the Islanders for the chance to see what MacDonald can do firsthand while also having the right to speak with him first at seasons end.

The Florida Panthers are another team on the outside looking in very early on in this season and although it is unlikely they would be able to offload Brian Campbell’s massive contract, perhaps they would part ways with Tom Gilbert as a rental for the rest of the year. In my opinion Gilbert is a player the Maple Leafs should have taken a better look at for third pairing minutes during the summer although it is hard to believe that anyone would have thought Mark Fraser would have struggled quite to the extent he has this year. This is a move that shouldn’t cost the Leafs all that much and could potentially shore up the third pairing.

The other player on the Panthers that should definitely be taken into consideration is 23 year old defenseman Dmitry Kulikov “CBC’s Elliotte Friedman reported the Maple Leafs have held interest in Kulikov for some time.” Bleacher Report. “Assets: Has obvious offensive instincts and a big shot from the point. Is an outstanding, well-rounded skater that posseses excellent upside. Likes to aggressively jump in and partake in the offensive side of things. Flaws: Is still learning the small nuances of the National Hockey League game, so he needs to keep minimizing his defensive-zone mistakes and utilize his body more effectively to become an all-around impact rearguard. Career Potential: Talented defenseman with good upside.” The Hockey News.

Will the Pittsburg Penguins be able to hold onto Matt Niskanen who enters UFA status this coming summer? He will most likely be expecting of a raise over his current deal of $2.9m per year and one should expect that the 27 year old will have clubs competing for his services. There is also Tim Gleason who we covered in the previous post who may be readily available should the Carolina Hurricanes take John Michael Liles in return. Gleason is rumored to be struggling in Carolina and the team is looking for a puck moving defenseman where JML may fit the bill. Gleason is a veteran stay at home defenseman with size.

That being said there were also a couple of players that were not signed to agreements that headed overseas that perhaps may be worthy of consideration if the Leafs decide to reassign Mark Fraser or Paul Ranger (harsh but potentially necessary given their production levels) to the Marlies. Ian White is currently plying his trade in Europe and although the Winnipeg Jets passed on his services after his pro-tryout during training camp could be an inexpensive replacement for the short term. The Leafs are familiar with what he brings given his previous tenure with the club and he could potentially solidify the third pairing to a certain extent if his skill levels have not diminished.

Perhaps it is time for someone to give Kevin Dallman another shot in the NHL. He last appeared with the Los Angeles Kings back in the 2007-08 campaign but has since put up solid numbers in his last four seasons in the KHL. Twice the 31 year old has surpassed the 50 point mark has scored 20 goals and it should be mentioned that he is a hometown boy from Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Well there you have it, any way you slice it there are definitely some options out there for the Maple Leafs to explore but it really comes down to availability and the trade partners demands or requirements. Although the Leafs have been struggling as of late as Kadri recently stated there is still plenty of hockey yet left to play and I for one have to agree so let’s not do anything drastic. As always, food for thought.