In all honesty, I sit here in my attempt to begrudgingly ignore all things NHL related given the lockout, to prove a point and sure enough the Maple Leafs are drawing me right back in without even so much as an apology by making bucket-loads of sense so far this season. So what is it that has me so excited and why should you be too? Well nothing that hasn’t already been said by mainstream media outlets but let’s summarize and then move onto how this all translates to the Marlies.
Mike Kostka was on the first defense pairing alongside Dion Phaneuf in the Maple Leafs opener in Montreal playing more than 22 minutes while logging an assist and being put out by the coach in almost every possible situation; all in his first NHL game…ever. Someone please give the Maple Leaf scouts a well-deserved applause for not only continuing to keep tabs on this guy but for pushing Leafs brass to sign him, which they smartly did in the first 5 minutes of free agency last year. It just goes to show that not every acquisition needs to be a household name in order to have an effect on your team and this situation proves that point particularly well; what casual Leafs fan even knew who this guy was before last year? (myself included). Pleasantly surprised is all I can say and watching the post game interviews you have to feel for Kostka given the size of that smile!. He put in his dues and all that hard work was rewarded in not only making the show but playing for the team he grew up watching, kudos to him!
Randy Carlyle can definitely coach and boy is it ever evident. Not saying he hasn’t calmed down a bit from his days in Anaheim but the lengthy interviews he has conducted with the media speak volumes. He has taken a methodical approach of asking for the very best from all his players while in the same breath working on rebuilding the reputation of the Toronto Maple Leafs as a hockey club to be respected and feared. He is obviously going to play the best players day in and day out and his handling of Nazem Kadri has been nothing short of superb. Build the person and the player will shine. Be clear and concise with your expectations and clarity will reign.
Mark Fraser and Kobinian Holzer are finally getting the opportunities that they both most certainly deserved to show off their defensive skills in real action and given that the game in Buffalo wasn’t a blow out definitely speaks volumes for both of them. Although Randy Carlyle did mention that Holzer looked a little ‘nervous’ he is also the only one out of the three Marlies defensemen currently with the Leafs who is on a two way contract and could be sent back to the Marlies once Jake Gardiner comes back from injury (note – this has since happened with Holzer being assigned to the Marlies as of Thursday)
So one could argue that the current makeup of the Leafs has relied at least to a certain extent on some emerging Marlies players to provide much needed depth and thankfully that was the whole point of Brian Burkes exercise of going out and acquiring solid prospects via trade or free agency in the first place. Hopefully this has indicated to Maple Leafs brass just how important it can be to have a well stocked minor league team. ‘In case of emergency please call up’.
So where does all this immense amount of activity leave the Marlies? Well here is a summary of the impact in case you missed it or only casually follow them (yes, you really should catch one of their games if you haven’t already, great hockey atmosphere and it takes less time to get your beer hint hint):
– Keith Aucoin was claimed off waivers by the New York Islanders at the end of training camp and you have to admit that it appears like some interest must have been expressed beforehand for the Leafs to leave him exposed in that manner and subsequently claimed, possibly to give him another shot at NHL action especially if you look at his point production over the years at the AHL level. A great acquisition by the Isle, he will most certainly be missed by the Marlies.
– Tim Connolly was placed on waivers and assigned to the AHL Marlies after being unclaimed and is a significant boon for the baby buds with Aucoin moving on. Connolly is an incredibly skilled center that entered directly into the NHL as an 18 year old and Leaf fans should not judge this move as a lack of skill but moreso due to a difference in playing style the new coach has implemented and in the same breath letting him sit on the third line wasn’t the best for either party. Expect the Leafs to entertain moving him sooner rather than later but until then he will be a significant player for the club moving forward.
– With the loss of Mike Kostka and Mark Fraser (Holzer was recently reassigned to the Marlies) the Marlies defense was looking pretty depleted with only Jessie Blacker as the remaining original six starter. ECHL call-ups Ryan Grimshaw and Corey Syrvet have held their own at least from what I can see statistically with veteran Dylan Yeo getting in a lot more games and has since contributed with 5 points over 15 games played.
– Mike Mottou a veteran defenseman formerly of the New Jersey Devils joined the Leafs for a camp tryout and given the crowded blueline was assigned back to the AHL (he was previously playing for the San Antonio Rampage this year) to represent the Marlies. He should be a valuable and experience asset to lend a calming presence to the blueline and guidance to those young players looking to make an impact at this level and the next and we should be glad to have him.
– With the recent and possible lengthy arm fracture suffered by Joffrey Lupul in last nights game again the Pittsburg Penguins (don’t think that is the shot in the arm he needed lol) expect Matt Frattin to join the parent club for a lengthy session. I could even see Connolly and a prospect headed elsewhere for a young versatile winger but we shall see. Perhaps with Aucoin leaving they will look to free agency if Frattin doesn’t find his scoring touch (which he did against the Islanders in his first game up, incredible hands on this kid!)
So although there was some higher end point producers leaving the Marlies, the primary young core remains and in some respects has been bolstered with a tremendous amount of NHL vetern talent and the ‘kids’ better start absorbing as much knowledge as they can from the likes of Connolly and Mottou as it is not every day you have two players of that caliber and experience playing next to you. They make for some exciting hockey all the while the roster opening up to give guys like Ross and McKegg more ice time. Now if only Brampton would ditch the proposed CHL team for an ECHL team and we would be all set, more on that later. Food for thought!