2015 – 2016 Maple Leafs Change Postively Impacting Marlies

It has been far too long since I last posted here and for anyone that has been referring to the site over the last little while for news on the Marlies, you have my sincerest apologies. It was really difficult to start writing again about the team and to a certain extent the Leafs when you completely agree with almost everything they had done over the offseason and you quite literally see progress being made. Let’s not rehash all the major changes that occurred over the summer given how much was reported in the mainstream media and especially given that it is now February now. HOWEVER there isn’t a person out there that saw Brendan Shanahan hiring both Mike Babcock AND Lou Lamoriello; an absolute coup in the NHL and these bold moves really signaled the beginning of a shift in direction from top to bottom. These hiring’s also had a very important secondary impact where they almost immediately took pressure off of Kyle Dubas. Uncle Lou would handle all the comings and goings of the Leafs for the most part and Dubas could focus more on the Marlies and the development of their current group of prospects.

 

 

It was also difficult to discern the type of impact Mark Hunter would have in his first NHL draft and on the Maple Leafs ability to select legitimate young prospects who could reach the NHL; something the Leafs have unintentionally managed to make a absolute mockery of over the last 30 years with some of us wondering if picking randomly would have served them better at times. All is not lost however and there was a definitive change in the teams drafting philosophy this year after reviewing Hunter’s selections once the festivities had concluded; he was apparently making selections based on high end skill above and over mid ranged skill with size and he did not shy away from trading picks down to acquire more selections, a definite change that caught a number of fans off guard but was another signal that philosophical changes in the organization were taking place. Only one forward selected was over six feet tall with the average height coming in at around 5’10” – 5’11” which is considered fairly ‘under tall’ in the NHL, however each player selected was performing at a better than average clip in their respective leagues.

The draft I think we can agree for all intents and purposes is an absolute crap-shoot mixed with highly educated guesses; determining the potential ability of a young player and their ability to make a contribution at the highest level of hockey at some point in the near future based upon their physical and mental makeup and current on-ice performances against their peers. Drafting in the top 10 as we all know increases the chances a team will have a legitimate shot at developing an NHL caliber player with high end skill but it is never a guarantee (see Brule, Filatov, Svitov and Daigle) and increasing the number of selections as Mark Hunter did, therefore by association, increased the Leafs potential of selecting a player that may one day make a legitimate impact at the NHL level. The Detroit Red Wings have been doing this for years in the draft and you don’t have to look much further than their success with players like Nyquist or Tatar (who were both selected outside of the first round) both of who were smaller, highly skilled junior players. Although there will be plenty of time to determine if this shift in draft philosophy was the right course of action to take, we can all agree that it is definitely a significant change in how the organization is tackling this part of the rebuild process.

Speaking of prospect impacts, the Marlies have been an absolutely dominant team in the AHL this year, cause for some tempered excitement. Not just from the standpoint of the players winning games but of them growing and facing challenges as a group while having a deep run into the playoffs this year, perfect for their collective development. If a number of these players could potentially playing the the NHL next year, growing together adds another positive element to their development. Giving Dubas more time to focus on the Marlies has also allowed them to be more strategic with their NHL call-ups, plugging roster holes with the likes or Mark Arcobello and Rich Clune as opposed to pulling younger impact players into a challenging environment to play 3rd and 4th lines minutes while keeping the core of the Marlies relatively intact. This also has ripple effect as it gives Dubas the ability to call up players from the ECHL Orlando Solar Bears who have been performing well, partially as a reward and partially to express to players throughout the organization that hard work is indeed rewarded with a shot at the next level and ability to make impressions. The top three performing Solar Bears Eric Faille, TJ Foster and Brady Vail are all Maple Leaf signings and look to be developing at a pace that would see one or more of them join the Marlies full time next season; further proof that a deeper prospect pool and tiered development program could be more beneficial long term.

Personally, I hope the Maple Leafs consider leaving the Marlies intact for another run at the Calder Cup, selfishly so I can go watch the games but as mentioned earlier there really is no substitute for playoff hockey. There have however been some minor moves made that hint of the contrary and that call-ups may still occur at or around the trade deadline.

Goaltender and former NHLer Ray Emery was signed to a PTO around the holidays given the injury troubles the Leafs had been experiencing earlier in the season which could signal a move to have Emery move up to the NHL if one or more of the Leafs tenders are shipped out by the deadline allowing Bibeau and Sparks to man the fort with the Marlies for the remainder of the season and the playoff’s.

 

 

In another move and seemingly out of nowhere Dubas signed defenseman David Kolomatis, a former 5th round pick of the LA Kings who was toiling in the ECHL who appears to be an offense first defenseman which leads one to assume that perhaps TJ Brennan will finally get a lengthy shot with the Leafs after the trade deadline. Given that he is well on his way to winning the Eddie Shore award again in the AHL for the top point producing defenseman it is about time the team gives him another look.

There is certainly more to come with the trade deadline literally only a couple of weeks away but with the Marlies poised to take a deep run into the playoff’s this is the perfect time to get out and watch some future Maple Leafs in action!

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2015 -2016 Toronto Maple Leafs Prospect Camp Roster Invitees

The Toronto Maple Leafs have been busy pretty busy this summer, whether it be at the draft or trading Phil Kessel they still found a way to throw together a pretty solid prospect camp up in Collingwood (with the Pan Am Games in town their regular facilities were unavailable). Unlike previous years, there was a complete revamp of the camp that focused primarily on player growth as opposed to a skills demonstration with scrimmages like in previous camps. There was an absolute tonne of invites extended this year and for the entire list of players attending see the official list below:

http://mapleleafs.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=773699

As in previous years there were some interesting invite’s extended along with the younger Maple Leafs drafted prospects (including but not limited to the likes of Nylander, Marner, Gauthier, Kapanen, Brown, Verhaeghe, Johnson, Finn, Valiev, Loov and others). Can’t imagine people were familiar with a number of the included names so I decided to throw together a bit more information on each of those that might be considered legitimate Maple Leaf prospects and who might be worth acquiring. Below are more details on the top four prospect forwards, defensemen and two goalies. The remainder are summarized after.

FORWARDS:

1. Gabe Guertler
20 years old
5’9”, 190lbs
Centre
Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)

Stats courtesy of hockeyDB.com

Stats courtesy of hockeyDB.com

One of the more interesting forward invitee’s to camp, Gabe Guertler overaged with the Soo Greyhounds of the OHL after leaving the University of Minnesota to pursue what one can only assume was additional playing time (it is fairly well known that rookies very rarely see top line minutes at University south of the border). There is also a connection with Kyle Dubas, the former GM of the Greyhounds which most likely lead to the invite. Put up pretty solid season points and is known for solid faceoff percentages and skating but it was mentioned that he needs to work on his defensive zone coverage and composure (noted to take unnecessary penalties).

Future Considerations had a really interesting article on Guertler when he was still playing on the USHL’s Fargo Force which can be found below:

http://futureconsiderations.ca/guertler-battling-through-draft-year/

2. Michael Joly
20 years old
5’11”, 172lbs
Right Wing
Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL)

Stats courtesy of hockeyDB.com

Stats courtesy of hockeyDB.com

Joly who hails from Gatineau, Quebec had his season derailed by injury but was most likely already on the Leaf’s scouting staff radar given that he plays on the same team as Fredrick Gauthier. Potentially viewed as undersized, Joly was passed over twice in the draft but did attend camp with the Buffalo Sabres last year and possesses some intriguing qualities one of which is summed up nicely in the video below:

Joly appears to at least statistically speaking be a pretty clutch playoff performer however according to WildcatMapleLeafs28 on HFBoard’s who has watch Joly play quite a bit this last year “He has good IQ , great hands and a shot but isn’t the best skater and doesn’t play a 200 foot game”. Would be curious to see his advanced stats as it may have been the reason an invitation was extended. Maple Leafs Hot Stove also had an interesting article about his attendance which can be found below:

http://mapleleafshotstove.com/2015/06/09/maple-leafs-invite-michael-joly-to-training-camp/

3. Alex Kile
21 years old
6’0″, 190lbs
Left Wing
University of Michigan (Big-10)

Stats courtesy of hockeyDB.com

Stats courtesy of hockeyDB.com

Kile produced solid numbers in his sophomore season playing with Zach Hyman at the University of Michigan, putting up 26 points (13 goals) in 36 games; he is a great combination of size (6’0″, 190lbs), speed and silky smooth hands. The 21 year old winger appears to have grown in terms of both physical size and overall game and at the same point in his career has surpassed both Casey Bailey and the aforementioned Hyman and is an intriguing invitee to say the least. There was a great review over at SBNation/MaizenBrew found below:

http://www.maizenbrew.com/2015/6/23/8831583/nhl-draft-preview-alex-kile

4. Nikolai Skladnichenko
20 years old
6’0″, 198lbs
Centre
Metallurg Novokuznetsk (KHL)

Stats courtesy of hockeyDB.com

Stats courtesy of hockeyDB.com

Skladnichenko is already playing in the KHL with some regularity, putting up 5 points in 16 games with Metallurg this past season. Has good size at 6’0″, 190lbs and was selected to the Russian World Junior U20 team in 2014 while also being included on the roster for the Subway Super Series in 2013. It is mentioned that he has an incredibly hard wrist shot although beyond that there really isn’t a whole lot of information out there about him. Put up 50 points in 42 games as a 15 year old playing in the GMHL (junior A) for the Bobcaygeon Bucks before returning to Russia. Could be another interesting name to watch out for.

DEFENSEMEN:

1. Gavin Bayreuther
21 years old
6’1″, 195lbs
Defense
St. Lawrence University (ECAC)

After being passed over in previous drafts, Gavin Bayreuther could be another prime example of a late blooming defenseman who is just starting to find his stride and is currently regarded as one of the top offensive defensemen in the NCAA. Know for an absolutely blistering slapshot and solid offensive awareness with great vision, areas of potential improvement mentioned include both skating and conditioning. The Canaan, New Hampshire native and cousin to current NHLer Ben Lovejoy of the Anaheim Ducks could be an interesting dark horse prospect if Barb Underhill can get here hands on him on a regular basis. Here is a great overview of Bayreuther by powerplaycj14 over on Youtube:

2. Nikolas Brouillard
20 years old
5’11”, 168lbs
Defense
Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)

Potentially another case of teams being scared off by a players size especially given the position he plays, Brouillard has been passed over at the draft and two training camps despite posting some pretty impressive offensive numbers in the QMJHL. It was reported via le Soleil that the Maple Leafs had already been in touch with Brouillard’s agent even before the end of the season and that an invitation to the development camp was extended right after the draft; given the assumed interest I am looking forward to seeing if there is another invitation to come. Appears to have offensive awareness, skating and hands but it was mentioned that his defensive game needs work (along with all other offensively minded defensemen it seems).

3. Aiden Jamieson
19 years old
6’2″, 185lbs
Defense
London Knights (OHL)

A definite Mark Hunter invite given the team Jamieson plays for, he would be quite familiar with the player who for all accounts is a solid defenseman with decent puck moving skills and ability to drive play (given the number of assists he racked up last year) with size and room to grow. Bill Placzek over at DraftSite.com had this to say about Jamieson:

“Terrific skating rearguard who is a second year eligible. The issue is that he has balance issues during contact, so he is less engaging than you expect. Plays lighter than he is. Has developed a bit more but this a long term developmental prospect.”

So potentially another late bloomer that has potential and size who I would not be disappointed to see invited to prospect camp.

4. Connor Boland
20 years old
6’3″, 194lbs
Sault Ste. Marie Greyhouds (OHL)

The Whitby, Ontario native completed his overage year with the Soo Greyhounds after being traded from the Peterborough Pete’s with Nick Ritchie (a team he captained) putting up totals of 22 points in 61 games and finishing the season with a plus/minus of 20. Given the familiarity that Kyle Dubas has with the Greyhounds it was good to see Boland’s included as you can be assured there is something he may know about the prospect over other teams scouts that could be advantageous to the club.

Three games into the 2012-13 season, he was diagnosed with mononucleosis and missed seven weeks. A big strong defenseman who plays with an edge and beat attackers who go one on one with him. A solid passer in transistion. Bill Placzek at DraftSite.com

You have to root for a guy that also throws hits like the one below at a camp no less 🙂

GOALIES:

1. Alex Lyon
22 years old
6’1″, 200lbs
Yale University (ECAC)

Stats courtesy of hockeyDB.com

Stats courtesy of hockeyDB.com

Alex Lyon was quite possibly the most recognizable name invited to the Maple Leafs development camp, an undrafted goalie playing for Yale who has put up the best statistical numbers of the entire ECAC with a 1.62 goals against average paired with a .939 save percentage along with 7 shutouts which landed him the Ken Dryden Award as the league’s most outstanding goalie. Chances are Lyon will return to Yale and will therefore be ineligible to join the Leafs for the upcoming rookie camp but definitely a player to keep a tab on.

“You knew what you were going to get every day at practice, every weekend going into games. He has the right combination of physical ability, mental toughness and hockey sense. To me, that’s why he’s a really good goalie.” Keith Allain, Yale Coach via the New Haven Register.

2. Lucas Peressini
20 years old
6’2″, 188lbs
Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)

Stats courtesy of hockeyDB.com

Stats courtesy of hockeyDB.com

Taking the majority of the starts for a fairly average Frontenacs team, Peressini posted the second best Goals Against Average (GAA) in the entire OHL last season behind Ken Appleby of the championship Oshawa Generals and eventual Memorial Cup winners, not bad company to be in which also landed Peressini the OHL Goaltender of the Year award for his efforts.. Possesses decent size at 6’2″ although I was amazed to see comments made online that he was considered small for a goalie.

There was a great article on the Whig about Peressini which can be found below:

http://www.thewhig.com/2014/11/27/peressini-among-ohls-best-goalies

So there you have it, outlines of some of the more interesting invitee’s to attend the Maple Leafs development camp but by all means were not the only ones that attended that may be worth watching in the months/years to come. Below are small snippets of the remaining invitee’s who attended.

REMAINING FORWARDS:

Stephen Baylis is a 20 year old winger playing Junior A for the Carleton Place Canadians of the Central Canada Hockey League (CCHL) who was in the top 10 in terms of overall points in the league with 69 points in 54 games who possesses good size at 6’0″, 186lbs. Has incredible speed mixed with equal parts grit.

Scott Eansor is a 19 year old center who just finished his second year with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL putting up 37 points in 72 games; possible playoff performer with 5 goals in 6 playoff games. Undersized at 5’9″ 170lbs who’s season was severely impacted by a bout of mononucleosis, has good speed and above average hockey sense.

Viktor Liljegran is a 21 year old native of Stockholm, Sweden currently plying his trade as a left winger with R.P.I. of the ECAC. Put up 12 points in 40 games playing as a rookie but possesses size at 6’3″ 200lbs and at one point lead the team in goals. Danny Martin of newsminer.com had a good article about him found here http://www.newsminer.com/sports/ice_dogs/newcomer-liljegren-adjusts-quickly-to-ice-dogs/article_11c526fe-30b7-11e3-b034-001a4bcf6878.html

Kevin Rooney is a 22 year old centre who just finished up his third year playing for Providence College putting up 15 points in 41 games. Good size at 6’2″, 190lbs who is a solid two way forward with good faceoff skills.

Zack Saar is an absolute monster tilting the scales at 6’5″ 236lbs and at only 22 years old could find his game catch up to his rapid growth. Had a disappointing sophomore season but could be one to watch out for if he can put it all together as you just “can’t teach size”.

REMAINING DEFENSEMEN:

Matthew Abt is a 21 year old good Albertan boy finishing up his freshman year with R.I.T. putting up 9 points in 33 games. Possesses size at 6’4″, 180lbs who’s development should be monitored in the coming years.

Brien Diffley is a 20 year old finishing his freshman year with Boston University where he put up 11 points in 40 games. Also possesses size at 6’2″, 184lbs. SB Nation has a great article about Diffley found here http://www.sbncollegehockey.com/hockey-east/2015/6/25/8844947/2015-nhl-draft-prospect-brien-diffley-boston-university-defenseman-ncaa-bu

Nolan Gluchowski put up a solid 16 points in 29 games as a rookie defender for St. Lawrence University. The 21 year also has some size at 6’0″ 196lbs and has ties to Babcock, see article here http://www.miprepzone.com/oakland/results.asp?ID=12189

Jordan Gross is a solid offensive defenseman putting up 28 points in 42 games for Notre Dame. The 20 year old is a little undersized at 5’10” 177lbs. Bill Placzek over at DraftSite.com has this to say about Gross Long term developmental defenseman prospect who displays exceptional mobility, and feet. Possesses a huge deadly shot. Makes a good breakout pass and handles the puck well. Needs time to get bigger and stronger. Was named to the U.S. World Junior A roster for the Junior A Challenge.

Cameron Lizotte is a 17 year old patrolling the blueline for the Peterborough Pete’s of the OHL who put up a modest 9 points in 67 games with an unusually high number of PIM’s. Has NHL size at 6’2″, 193lbs and is characterized as a rough and tumble type of player. Originally cracked the NHL Central Scouting rankings at 99 but remained undrafted, Lizotte may be a project worth spending more development time with.

Brendan Miller deserves an honorable mention and I really should have included him in my outlines above. At only 21 years old, the 6’1″, 190lbs defensemen put up a staggering 55 points in 65 games playing for the North Bay Battalion, adding a further 12 points in 15 playoff games. It is almost a mystery how he went undrafted and here is hoping the Leafs add him to the upcoming main camp taking place later this summer. Brock Otten over at OHL Prospects had this to say about Miller “Miller’s had an absolutely fantastic OHL playoffs, which is obviously something scouts key in on. He has good size and plays in all situations for North Bay, including helping to quarterback their powerplay. He’s also slowly developed into their premier puck rusher/mover, but has added more of a physical element to his game this year. At 6’1, 200lbs, Miller has the size to develop into a quality two-way player at the next level and has blossomed under the tutelage of Stan Butler.”

Will Reilly is a 17 year old from Toronto playing for the North York Rangers of the OJHL. Put up 35 points in 47 goals and has good size already at 6’2″, 190lbs. Looking forward to tracking his progress over the next couple of years. McKeens had a great write about him found here http://www.mckeenshockey.com/uncategorized/scouting-william-reilly-2015-nhl-draft/

REMAINING GOALIES:

Collin Delia put up solid numbers with Merrimack College with a 1.86 Goals Against Average and 0.937 Save Percentage. Has size at 6’2″ 190lbs and was scouted by a number of Division 1 schools. Another strong candidate to watch for in the coming years.

Justin Nicols is an interesting addition who originally signed at ATO with the Toronto Marlies of which more information can be found at The Leafs Nation here http://theleafsnation.com/2015/4/21/marlies-sign-justin-nichols-to-an-ato Not often you see expressed interest in a goalie that only stands 5’9″ so definitely curious to see him play at camp.

Quite an interesting trend of some larger bodies who were invited to camp mixed in with a couple of definite dark horse prospects. Looking forward to seeing who in the coming months gets invited to camp as there are definitely a couple I am personally keen to watch.

2014 – 2015 Toronto Maple Leafs Establish New Multi-Tiered Prospect System

With summer free agency looming, there is a pretty good chance that the Toronto Marlies along with their East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) affiliate Orlando Solar Bears will be pretty busy this summer. Both clubs managed to secure playoff berths this year but were unfortunately eliminated in the first round of the Calder and Kelly Cup playoffs respectively. With changes coming at MLSE in both their approach and philosophy on how to best leverage an ECHL affiliate, a new multi-tiered prospect system appears to have been proposed where both the ECHL and the AHL will serve as legitimate destinations for prospects. With that in mind, there is a pretty good chance that both teams will be fairly active on the trade and or acquisition front this summer and although these moves will most likely not be reported in the mainstream media, none-the-less could significantly increase the number of legitimate prospects the Maple Leafs would have in their system moving forward.

The assumed multi-tiered approach especially for a team with the kind of financial backing the Leafs have makes too much sense and it is strange that they didn’t implement it earlier. There are always going to be late round picks and undrafted players who will excel at different rates and being able to bring those types of players that show long term potential while being able to keep a close eye on them could increase the ability of the organization to discover and essentially hold the rights to these diamond in the rough type players. Examples for the sake of argument of such players that have attended Leafs prospect camps in the past included Charles Sarault and Adam Hughesman who are 23 and 24 years old respectively. Both took longer to establish their professional games but both have made their way up to the AHL and shown consistent progress. Dane Fox was in a similar situation this past year, after going undrafted the 21 year old was signed by the Vancouver Canucks and put up solid numbers (30 goals) in his first professional year with the ECHL Kalamazoo Wings. Its these types of players that teams really should have invested more time in but they had neither the roster space, cap space or the patience.

On the players side of the equation it use to be more lucrative to head to Europe if you didn’t make the NHL after a couple of years after turning pro instead of continuing to stick it out in the AHL/ECHL. With the new multi-tiered approach, if you offer prospect players, especially the younger ones a more structured environment with the potential to move up through the organization from one of the proposed tiers (AHL or ECHL) and give them access to first class facilities, living arrangements, staff, coaches etc. then it becomes a lot more desirable for those players to stick it out in North America. It may not be all that well known but the Orlando Solar Bears are an absolute first class organization who are well supported within their community, have great facilities and have plans to build another training facility consisting of two practice pads at nearby Winter Gardens, Florida in the near future. Let’s also not forget that getting paid to play hockey in Florida could be a fairly desirable for a young prospect and these examples of the tangible differences could very well sway some prospects to join the organization over another.

In previous postings on this blog we covered some of the players the Maple Leafs had already started to acquire with this multi-tiered system in mind. It is quite plausible that recently acquired players like T.J. Foster and Erik Bradford start their professional careers in the ECHL and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. They will be given every opportunity to play much larger role along with more minutes as opposed to sitting in the press box with the Marlies all season but will also push them to succeed given the opportunity to move up in the organization if they exceed expectations at that level. The same can be said for players that are not performing at the AHL level, they could be move to Florida to work on their game, reestablished their confidence and play more meaningful minutes. It’s a win win situation no matter how you look at it.

If we apply the thinking expressed above to the acquisition of longer term projects/prospects for the ECHL affiliate there are a couple of players currently playing in that league that the organization should consider taking a look into acquiring especially given the success they found with Byron Froese.

Matthew Register is a 25 year old native of Calgary, Alberta that has been plying his trade as a defenseman in the ECHL and is showing progress each year after turning professional. Solid +/- while putting up on average 45 points over the last two years in the ECHL, he recently spent 6 games with the Chicago Wolves (AHL) and put up 4 points. At 6’2”, 205lbs (Wikipedia has him at 6’4”, 200lbs), the undrafted defenseman has size and the innate ability to put up points that might make him ready to make a jump to the AHL but at minimum could be a solid acquisition for the Orlando Solar Bears next season.

Jason Bast is a 25 year old center from Regina, Saskatchewan who finished up a Canadian university career with St. Francis Xavier two years ago before turning pro. In his first full year with the ECHL Idaho Steelhead, Bast put up 52 points in 52 games, 30 of which were goals. Although slight at 5’10”, 190lbs he may have shown enough skill to consider taking a closer look at so that the team can more appropriately determine his potential at the AHL level and at worst he could also assist the Solar Bears next season. There was a great article about Bast on Hockey’s Future found here:

http://www.hockeysfuture.com/articles/10741/off_the_radar_jason_bast/

Tyler Barnes, a Burnsville, MI product plied his trade with the University of Wisconsin for four years before turning professional and joining the ECHL Toledo Walleye. Possess soft hands putting up 74 points in 71 games and as a rookie joined the ECHL All-Star squad. May very well be another dark horse the Marlies should consider given their lack of depth scoring the teams appears to be suffering from. Decent size at 6’0”, 198lbs, Hockey’s Future had this to say about Barnes earlier in his career:

“Barnes is a competitor, who shows a positive character at all times. His key strengths are his ice awareness, creativity with the puck as well as being noted as a goal scorer. He’s also noted for having a good shot and good hands. Though Barnes has not quite stopped growing, he plays big for his size. He has earned a lot of praise when he plays hard and does not shy away from physical game. Said to have limitless potential if he continues to develop at the base as he did over the last 2 years. He does need to display a consistent hard work ethic, gain overall strength, and learn to use his speed more effectively.”

With the additional roster space that may finally be realized now that the Maple Leafs will have more flexibility to send younger prospects to the Orlando Solar Bears to play more meaningful minutes and the likes of Colton Orr and Fraser McLaren unlikely to return to the team there is the potential that the Toronto Marlies may still yet sign more players over the summer to fill out their roster. In my opinion below are some of the players the organization should consider acquiring if they are not resigned by their current clubs (it is believed most are restricted).

Greg Nemisz’s career has in short been plagued by injury and if ever there is a team to take a more long term position with him, it is the Maple Leafs organization as they won’t have any need to fast track his career and have the resources to assure he is given every opportunity to succeed. At only 24 years old there is still time to turn it around for the former first round pick (25th overall Calgary Flames in the 2008 NHL draft) and he has shown flashes at being an effective center with the size 6’3”, 197lbs to back it up. Nemisz signed a one-year contract with the Carolina Hurricanes in July 2014 and may be available this summer. Hockey’s Future has this to say about Nemisz:

“Nemisz, a former first round pick by Calgary, has the size and hands to be an NHL forward, but needs to avoid injuries and put everything together to get back on track. When healthy he can drive the net hard while showing his soft hands in tight and has solid decision-making skills along with good defensive instincts. The lanky winger needs to increase his overall strength to help the physical side of his game in order to become a power forward in the NHL.”

Given his most recent injury there may be a chance the Hurricanes decide not to resign him and in my humble opinion the Leafs should consider adding him to their system given the potential risk/reward.

Danny Kristo was drafted in the second round, 56th overall by the Montreal Canadians in 2008 but was included in a trade to the New York Rangers during his four year tenure at the University of North Dakota. A former Fighting Sioux teammate of Matt Frattin, Kristo’s AHL numbers look almost identical to Frattin’s and at only 24 years of age may be another ‘tweener’ that the Leafs should consider as a potential player for the upcoming NHL season if he can crack the roster at camp. There is still every possibility that the Rangers attempt to keep Kristo but his prospects to play in the NHL may be greater with the Leafs. Here is what Hockey’s Future had to say about Kristo:

“At times, Kristo lacks the consistency and the work ethic needed to play at the NHL level but definitely not the skills. He has quick acceleration, a powerful stride and uses his explosive speed to help make space for him offensively. The talented winger is equally fast with or without the puck and has developed the ability to shoot the puck while in full stride toward the net with a quick, accurate release.”

Tomas Kundratek has been quietly plying his stay at home defensive skills in the AHL and been patiently awaiting an opportunity to join the Washington Capitals full time. The 25 year old Czech Republic native appears to be a fairly solid all round defender with some ability to put up points and is essentially in the same position as TJ Brennan, one of the best defenseman not yet in the NHL. If something can be worked out with Washington and/or they do not resign him for some reason, this may be another prospect worth taking a shot at. Here is what Hockey’s Future had to say about him:

“Kundratek is a solid all-around defenseman with a good cognitive game in both the offensive and defensive zone. He possesses a good shot and a solid first pass out of the zone while still being capable in his own end. While he could definitely improve his reads defensively and his strength, Kundratek has developed well since his early days in the Czech Republic and his curve has been a positive one. He could still stand to pack on a bit of muscle as well.”

“Tomas has been slowly developing over time in the AHL and got a solid stay in the NHL in 2012-13. He very much is on the cusp of being a mainstay in the NHL. While he doesn’t do anything spectacular he has been solid in many regards for a young dman still finding his game.”

So there you have it, there are prospects out there at the lower levels that the Maple Leafs organization should consider looking into and really no stone should be left unturned this summer. Now that there is a new structure in place there is no excuse to acquire a significant number of prospects over the summer outside of the draft. With that being said with respect to the upcoming draft there is a good chance that there will be a couple of players that go undrafted that may be worth taking a risk on and the club should immediate attempt to sign them to AHL contracts. Could be a really interesting summer if this keeps up.

Toronto Marlies Begin Late Season Acquisition Spree for Potential Playoff Run and 2015 – 2016 Season

A change in direction, if not a change in philosophy has definitely become apparent when it comes to the Toronto Maple Leafs and their renewed focus on restocking a once depleted prospect system after years of neglect. In recent weeks it seems that they were quite literally leaving no stone unturned with a number of signings from some rather un-Maple Leaf like areas including the Kontential Hockey League (KHL) and Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS).

The moves appear to bear the ‘Mark’ of ‘Hunter’ (groan) and fans should be excited, not so much by the caliber of the players obtained but by the sheer fact that the team is starting to step outside of its own comfort zone, flexing their financial muscle and taking on higher risk with the potential for reward type players they may not have considered in the past. They are also signing a number of these players to AHL contracts as opposed to entry level deals meaning they don’t count again the teams 50 player cap; something the Leafs should have been doing for years. With a continued affiliation with the Orlando Solar Bears there is also the potential that some of these players will start next season in Florida with an opportunity to make an impact for a solid Orlando team with an envious fan base, while playing a fair number of minutes to help in slowly acclimatizing them to the rigors of the professional game all with the potential to join the Marlies at a later date. So without further ado here are the players that have joined the club in recent weeks.

Jack Rodewald
Right Wing
Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
Born Feb 14 1994 — Winnipeg, MAN
Height 6.02 — Weight 188 — Shoots R
rodewald
*statistics via HockeyDB.com

21 year old Rodewald spent this past season as an overager with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL and after going undrafted last year managed to put up solid points and expressed continued growth in his game. Any prospect you can pick up without having to burn a draft pick or an entry level deal is just good risk management. Rodewald is signed to an ATO for the remainder of this season and an AHL contract next year so the Leafs didn’t have to burn another NHL SPC on him and he wont count against the player cap. Spending some initial time in Orlando and bringing him up to the Marlies after some seasoning next year might be the best for both parties, from an ice time perspective as well as from a development perspective. Appears to have some size and is said to have decent skating, this low risk signing was another positive step forward.

Erik Bradford
Center
Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
Born Oct 19 1994 — Orangeville, ONT
Height 6.00 — Weight 191 — Shoots L
erik1
*statistics via HockeyDB.com

Bradford has bounced around a little but the 20 year old ended his last season with the Owen Sound Attack putting up 73 points in 69 games. He suffered a badly broken femur earlier in his career which may have impacted his skating and stumped his development cruve but what can be found about him indicated that he is a talented player with above average hockey IQ, a good shot and is solid at both ends of the ice. Will be joining the Marlies on a ATO for the remainder of the season and if his development was impacted by the mentioned injury there is a definite chance he could be a savvy acquisition.

Reggie Traccitto
Defense — shoots R
UPEI Panthers
Born Jul 5 1989 — Oakville, ONT
[25 yrs. ago]
Height 6.00 — Weight 207 [183 cm/94 kg]
traccitto1
*statistics via HockeyDB.com

Traccitto is a former Niagara IceDog who went undrafted even after putting up 38 points as a defenseman in his final OHL season. Has solid size at 6’0″ 207lbs and has been brought in on an ATO contract for the remainder of the season and appears to be in a position where he will be a depth player for the team during the potential playoff run where management will most likely have more time to have a closer look and evaluate him during the period.

T.J. Foster
Right Wing — shoots R
University of Alberta Golden Bears
Born May 28 1992 — Slave Lake, ALTA
[22 yrs. ago]
Height 5.11 — Weight 175 [180 cm/79 kg]

foster
*statistics via HockeyDB.com

22 year old Foster is a Slave Lake, Alberta product who was, up until recently, playing for the University of Alberta Golden Bears who he lead to two national championships while putting up 42 points in 28 games. The former Edmonton Oil King signed a 2 year AHL contract with the Marlies and is set to join the club next season. Any time you can pickup a player that is putting up points at an above average rate at his level is worth the risk.

“Pros: Good stickhandler. Decent shot. Decent Skater. Always goes to prime scoring areas. Cons: No physicality. Could improve his defensive awareness” SEPH at HFBoards.com

Nikita Soshnikov
Forward — shoots L
Moscow Oblast Atlant – KHL
Born Oct 14 1993 — Nizhny Tagil, Russia
[21 yrs. ago]
Height 5.11 — Weight 183 [180 cm/83 kg]

soshnikov
*statistics via HockeyDB.com

21 year old Soshnikov signed a three year entry level contract with the Maple Leafs recently after going undrafted but progressing up through the KHL minor league system where he put up solid points and has shown growth every year since. There are things you have to like about his game that were summarized in the video above, he appears to posses good speed, solid hand eye coordination and a willingness to dig in the corners and take the puck to the net. It will be interesting to see how this will translate to the North American game but you have to like the fact that Soshnikov is willing to report to the AHL if necessary, something he stated after signing the agreement.

With the above taken into consideration and with the players that will be joining the organization next year (including Frederik Gauthier, Carter Verhaeghe, Andreas Johnson, Tony Cameranesi and potentially Max Everson) there is going to be a significant influx of youth into the organization. Only time will tell but this could potentially bode well for the Marlies as well as the Maple Leafs prospect cupboards if even a couple of these players develop and make the next step to the NHL.

2014 – 2015 Toronto Maple Leafs Road To Rebuilding the Fourth Line and Defensive Core

With the pending ground up rebuild coming to Leafs land, there is a significant opportunity that may be presenting itself to a number of Maple Leaf rookies currently striving to make the jump into the NHL or back to the NHL given the number of roster spots that may become available over the summer. If management does indeed decide to ship the likes of Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, Dion Phaneuf and Tyler Bozak out and free agents such as David Booth, Trevor Smith, Joakim Lindstrom, Zach Sill and Eric Brewer are not resigned, it will leave no less than 9 roster spots open; depending on whether or not the team acquires young roster players in any of the larger pending transactions that are pretty much set to happen this off season.

In terms of replacing top six forwards, of all the players that are set to becoming unrestricted free agents (UFA’s) at the end of the year, management in my opinion really should attempt to retain the services of winger David Booth who has reacted positively to an increase in ice time adding 5 points in the last 6 games recently and 8 points in the past 17 games since being added to the top six at the beginning of February. If the Leafs do ship out the likes of Kessel and Lupul, Booth would be a valuable veteran top six player that has the potential to put up points and at worst may be an inexpensive resigning. He is also driven to rekindle the type of success achieved earlier in his career and may be the kind of lead by example player the team will surely need in their room; Booth is in phenomenal shape and his tenacity on the ice could be contagious.

There is however a lack of free agents this summer who may be available to the team that could potentially slot into a top six roll; of those who are available, not many would be interested in joining a team in the midst of a complete rebuild or they may command significant contract dollars or term in order to entice them otherwise. Leafs management will need to practice patience this coming off season and stick to a proper rebuild through the draft while also waiting to see what UFA’s remain before the start of the season in an attempt to sign viable players to short term deals who could be dealt at the trade deadline for draft picks. Although one hates to admit it, for the short term especially if the team trades the likes of Tyler Bozak, they may need to consider utilizing Nazem Kadri as the top line center while bringing in the likes of a Brad Richards to fill the 2C role.

There are also two avenues the team may need to consider for next season with respect to how they will approach rebuilding the fourth line. The current unit are all UFA’s at seasons end and given the teams struggles there is little chance they will be retained. However do the Maple Leafs build out the line with free agents who could add some bulk to the corps while remaining defensively responsible OR do they bring up prospects currently with the Marlies to garner valuable NHL experience which could be the more logical long term investment.

In terms of the third and fourth lines the Leafs already have a decent third line made up of Leo Komorov, Peter Holland and Richard Panik but the entire fourth line is open for debate. This is where it may make sense for management to focus on building a workhorse fourth line from available free agents that could also be a force on the PK. Perhaps they consider pending Boston UFA’s Dan Paille and Greg Campbell along with Avalanche grinder Cody McLeod. It would also not surprise me if the team looks at the likes of Daniel Winnik again along with Chris Stewart for supporting roles who can also chip in the occasional point with the ability to play up and down the lineup.

That being said the team should also consider putting together a young Marlies fourth line and focus on getting more young players into the lineup, who could play sheltered minutes. Although there has been plenty of discussion circulating about Connor Brown and William Nylander, who are having solid years in their own right with the Marlies, both players could use some additional seasoning in the AHL to develop both physically and on the defensive elements of their games. Nylander is just 18 and Brown 21 and with some trying seasons coming for the Leafs it may make sense for both players to continue enjoying success in the minors and take more prominent roles with the team. The Marlies look poised to become even younger this summer which will increase the overall importance of players like Brown and Nylander to take more prominent roles with the club.

That being said there are still a couple of players currently with the Marlies organization that the Maple Leafs could consider extending camp tryouts to that may be able to make an impact next season who will also be very cap friendly and are at a point in their development where playing at the NHL level may be the best thing for them. Some players have been left off the list below given their relatively young age, as it just makes more sense to continue their development with the Marlies for another year logging a lot more significant minutes however below are some who may make sense to consider:

Forwards

LW Age Center Age RW Age
Josh Leivo 21 Sam Carrick 23 Matt Frattin 27
Jamie Devane 24 Byron Froese 24 Connor Brown 21

Defense

LHD Age RHD Age
TJ Brennan 25 Andrew MacWilliam 24
Stuart Percy 21 Petter Granberg 23

Josh Leivo has made considerable strides at the pro level over the last two years with a couple of cups of coffee with the Maple Leafs where he managed to produce a couple of points. A right handed shot, left winger like Lupul, Leivo at times looks almost bored at the AHL level, he has an NHL release and it might almost be necessary to bring him up for an extended look to give him a shot in the arm especially given his potential and the positive impact it may have on his development.

Sam Carrick has also been up and down between the two leagues over the last year and didn’t look completely out of place. An extended look on the fourth line if the team does not resign Trevor Smith, which seems likely given the change needed to the teams direction, may give him an opportunity in sheltered minutes at center to determine if he can make an impact on the draw and play against NHL players on a regular basis. His tenacity alone may be worth the positive impact it could have on other players.

Matt Frattin appears to have re-established his game and his confidence levels have returned to a point where he is making smarter decisions with the puck, using his body and has become a go to player to generate goals for a young Marlies squad. This may be his last chance to make an impact at the NHL level given his age and it will be up to him to grab the opportunity and run with it.

TJ Brennan may have been the most patient player in the AHL over the last two years, who has done absolutely everything necessary to be given a legitimate shot at the NHL. However after leaving the Marlies for the New York Islanders, he was part of a trade to the Chicago Blackhawks who’s depth chart was no better. A late season trade back to the Maple Leafs for Spencer Abbott finally saw Brennan called up to the Leafs recently and it is expected he will slot into the lineup on the teams upcoming road trip. Long overdue but very much warranted.

Andrew MacWilliam played his first NHL game in front of his parents the other day against the Buffalo Sabres and did not disappoint, garnering his first professional point (see the 1 minute mark on the video below with his cross ice pass) an assist on Brandon Kozun’s goal and landing recognition as the third star of the game. Hopefully the Leafs will continue to rotate him into the roster for the rest of the season to get a better idea of where he may fit in to their future plans.

So the team has two options to explore over the summer with respect to rebuilding their fourth line and some decisions to be made on which young players would be best to integrate into the defensive core for next season, with a number of positives and negatives for each to weight. Here is also hoping that the team also considers leaving a spot or two free, in terms of the number of players they have signed next year, as an assumption could be made that there will be a player or two worth picking up on the waiver wire especially given the cap situation some of the other teams are in.

Given how passionate and knowledgeable this fan base truly is, the team will hopefully consider acquiring and fielding as many young prospect players as they are able who have the potential to grow with the team over the next couple of seasons. They would be at the very least entertaining to watch and along with their own development may help re-develop a passion for the team long lost in the circus that has been the last couple of seasons.

2014 – 2015 Toronto Maple Leafs Need To Embrace Scorched Earth Concept

There are opportunities abound for the Toronto Maple Leafs to take advantage of over the next couple months that may very well define the relative success or potential failure of their pending rebuild, their ability to restock the prospect cupboards and finally the acquisition of additional draft picks. By the trade deadline this year there should be a significant focus on acquiring as many draft picks and prospects via trades for current roster players as they are able, of which there should be no question however there are two additional ways management should explore to assure the rebuild goes as smooth as humanly possible. That would be cap space management while acquiring influential veteran leadership with the potential to be turned into assets during the next trade deadline and professional tryout invitations at training camp.

With the number of Toronto players that are rumored to be on the trading block, one can hopefully assume that the Leafs will have a lot more cap space available to them before the end of the year. Any available cap space the team manages to generate in the near future will be absolutely vital in their rebuild efforts as it will open up a number of new avenues for the club to explore, especially if they attempt to acquire younger players from cap maxed teams. This space could also be used to potentially absorb other teams less than desirable contracts, an asset which if properly negotiated could yield additional players and picks.

Off-loading current players will also require the team to start plugging positional holes, which if properly approached, could be used to their advantage. Taking a more in-depth look at the potential UFA market for older veteran defensemen as an example, perhaps there is a player or two available that could be had at relatively low cap hits and/or short term contracts that could aid the team two-fold. If for example Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf is dealt over the summer, it would immediately open a roster spot on defense and there should be some focus on signing a player to a contract who has the potential to be trade bait by the next trade deadline AND is capable of lending a veteran hand in developing current Leaf prospects. Players like Robyn Regehr (34 years old), Johnny Oduya (33), Scott Hannan (36), Carlo Colaiacovo (32) or Keith Ballard (32, depending on whether he chooses to retire after suffering another concussion back in December). They may not be the best defenseman available to the team and all have slowed a step to be certain however they are all veteran NHL players who could be signed to inexpensive, short term contracts and depending on their personality, may also be the influence needed on such a young defense core.

Although the main stream media recently made mention that the Maple Leafs are now rumored to be considering retaining Roman Polak’s services due to his mentor-ship qualities and relatively low cap hit that does not expire until next year, this would be a significant mistake in my opinion. Given how well Polak has been playing as of late and paired with the agreeable cap hit will make him enticing to teams looking to make a playoff push. Unless the potential returns are really poor, the Leafs should not hesitate to pull the trigger on a deal that lands them additional future assets especially if you can find an inexpensive serviceable veteran leader for next year that really just costs you money, something the Leafs have plenty of.

This thought process could also be applied to UFA forward’s over the summer with a focus on obtaining teachers and mentors who are also capable of filling holes in the lineup; who could potentially develop into trade-able assets by next years deadline. For example, if the Maple Leafs were to part ways with center Tyler Bozak, perhaps there should be focus on obtaining the services of a veteran player like Brad Richards over the summer who is a pending UFA and although has slowed over the years, still put up 31 points in 57 games to date or perhaps Daniel Briere who before his buyout still looked to be good for 20 goals a season.

On the flip side if management were able to part ways with players who have high cap hits perhaps the focus with available cap space should shift to potentially absorbing the likes of Vincent Lecavaliere’s contract from the Philadelphia Flyers who has three years left on his contract ($4 million next season and $3 million for the remaining 2) or perhaps Mike Richards who the Los Angeles Kings currently have buried in the AHL playing for the Manchester Monarch’s (paying him $6m next year and $5.5m, $4.5m and $3m over the next 3 years). The team would be essentially buying the draft picks or prospects that came along in the trade but the veteran player coming over could be the mentor this teams youth will so desperately need over the next couple of seasons which will undoubtedly be trying at times.

Thinking outside the box, one other potential adjustment Maple Leafs brass should consider making over the summer is their approach to training camp. They really should consider rolling the dice and extend a significant number of pro invitations to former NHL players currently plying their trade in Europe or elsewhere. Players like Peter Mueller who has expressed an interest in making a return to the NHL in the past (attended the St. Louis Blues camp but was not signed) who at 26 still might be worth investing in or perhaps the likes of Ryan Malone who’s agent I would get in touch with yesterday and tell him to start getting prepared for potentially his last shot at the NHL. The college free agent market should also be re-explored. Under Brian Burke the Leafs were fairly active in this area which really faired no worse in producing NHL caliber players (like Ben Scrivens and Tyler Bozak) and if you are further able to sign some of these players to AHL only contracts it would allow you to further build up your prospect pool.

Hopefully the team will continue to support the concept of a complete tear down while implementing some out of the box thinking no matter how uncomfortable the processes may be, anything else will just have them revisiting the past.

2014 – 2015 Newest Toronto Maple Leafs Member and Current Toronto Marlie Brendan Leipsic

With respect to the trade announced recently between the Nashville Predators and the Toronto Maple Leafs, one of the more interesting pieces of that deal coming back to Toronto that will have an immediate impact on the Toronto Marlies was prospect Brendan Leipsic along with a late first round draft pick and veteran centreman Olli Jokinen in exchange for Leafs defenseman Cody Franson and versatile forward Mike Santorelli. As far as a rental transaction goes both teams made out pretty well. The Predators come away with two solid players that will definitely bolster their roster for a lengthy playoff run with coveted right handed and offensively minded Franson who has a previous history with the team and versatile winger and center Santorelli who can slot up and down the roster. The Maple Leafs on the other hand come away with a coveted first round draft pick in a really deep draft year and a veteran centerman that may be another asset to trade away if his audition with the team goes well; with rumors the Leafs would seek a lower round draft pick for his services, which would make perfect sense for the team and a veteran player who would love nothing more than going on a lengthy playoff run. The remaining piece was prospect center Brendan Leipsic which at first glance appeared to be an undersized agitator with upside but upon further investigation revealed that he is much, much more.

Leipsic was originally drafted by the Nashville Predators in the third round, 89th overall in the 2012 draft and looking at his statistics (via HockeyDB.com) they paint a much more interesting picture:

leipstats

The 20 year old Leipsic put up some solid numbers on a dominant Portland Winterhawks club during his last two years of junior and in his rookie AHL season has been impressive, putting up a solid 35 points in 47 games while keeping his PIM’s down, which is equally impressive given some of the situations he found himself in back in the WHL, including a personal favorite, ‘bottle gate’:

While going through some of the highlight videos available on Leipsic, he appears to be a solid passer that has good vision while being quick and agile on his skates. His stats indicate a pass first mentality which could be pretty dangerous is you pair him with the likes of Connor Brown, William Nylander or Matt Frattin. Many thanks to SEER Video via YouTube for throwing this one together:

The talent analysis at HockeysFuture.com lends to our assumptions made above, although it is interesting to note they have him listed at left wing. With the Marlies current lack of depth up the middle it will be intriguing to see where he plays for the rest of the season and even more so next year when the likes of centers Frederik Gauthier, Carter Verhaeghe and Tony Cameranesi make the professional jump and join the Marlies ranks and who will end up slotting where.

“Leipsic is a small, energetic winger who hits everything that moves and makes life miserable for his opponents. The speedy forward is offensively skilled, a gifted finisher, and can produce on the power play. He needs to add strength, more consistency throughout the season, and play on the edge without going over the line. The physical winger could project into a top-six forward at the NHL level but at worst, a checker with some offensive upside.” HockeysFuture.com

At the end of the day the Leafs managed to acquire a top 100 projected prospect who while on the smaller size (conflicting reports have him at 5’9″ – 5’10” between 165 – 177lbs) has all the remaining tools to make an impact. Even more importantly for the club right now is influence Leipsic may have on the Toronto Marlies, a young club decimated by call-ups this year and who are thin down the middle at the moment. If you have to applaud the Leafs on one thing, they finally seem to have changed their antiquated view on the types of prospects they acquire and who they draft, electing to focus on overall skill level more than anything else. Would be curious to see if Leipsic’s advanced stats had anything to do with this as well. Looking forward to seeing who else joins the club before the end of the year.