Somewhere you have to imagine that Brian Burke is getting a bit of a kick out of the current Maple Leafs roster, after all he had a pretty large part in the formation of it in the first place. Whether you agreed or not with his overall tenure as General Manager here in Toronto, one fact does remain, the amount of overall depth in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization is far better now than it has been in a very long time.
Ryan Hamilton, captain of the Toronto Marlies who recently returned from the AHL all star game where he had a hat trick and received MVP honors no less, got the call earlier this morning to join the Maple Leafs in their tilt against the Washington Capitals, likely to center the fourth line. One aspect of Hamiltons game that was apparantly holding him back from the NHL was his overall footspeed and it was really nice to hear Randy Carlyle identify it in particular as an area of improvement with Hamilton referencing that he was now finding another ‘gear’ in his game, nice positive praise from the coach who has obviously been watching them play.
With Hamilton up the Maple Leafs are now benefiting directly from no less than five former Toronto Marlies players (Kostka, Fraser, Frattin, Kadri being the others) and with the current .500 record are fairing pretty well all things considered. Kadri has shown that even with somewhat limited amounts of ice time, he too can contribute at the NHL level and Frattin has shown glimpses of high end talent if he can continue to bring an aggressive forechecking game night in and night out, it boades well for him solidifying a spot on the roster (this written before the Washington game too!). Personally I would really like to see a line of McClement, Kardi and Frattin let loose for a couple of games to see what they could accomplish together. In my mind this particular line would have speed while still posing a significant scoring threat all the while being defensively dependable, especially with McClement overseeing his two charges.
Now recently a fair number of comments have been made about the Maple Leafs roster this year that I wanted to outline and explore a little deeper, hopefully most of you wont mind lol. Some of those comments pointed to the lack of experience in goal, others meanwhile were adament that Kostka fits into the definition of a journeyman AHL defensemen and finally, that the Leafs are seemingly too young and inexperienced. Yes, it has to be admitted that the Leafs are light on NHL experience with some of their players but how else does one expect to grow promising rookies into NHL caliber players? Carlyle hit it on the head with Reimer too, he doesn’t have to steal games, he just has to give the team in front of him an opportunity each night to compete and that is exactly what he has been doing. The same experience arguement can be applied to Kostka who has done nothing but improve his game over the last couple of years. Yes he went undrafted and played four years of college puck but so did Adam Oates. Lets not forget that Leafs great Borje Salming also technically went undrafted. If someone continues to get better at the AHL level then the next logical step is to put them up against better players, heck Brian Gionta didn’t make the Devils until he was 27. Therefore you cannot assume that Kostka does fits into the definition of a journeyman which is essentially defined as ‘any experienced, competent but routine worker or performer’ given his continued development levels. Finally yes this team is indeed young!, the are still second just behind the Edmonton Oilers in terms of average age so there is plenty of room for development and the experience will come with more and more games played. This team is getting better and it is poised for exactly just that. There is little downside with how they are structured and I would hope that both casual and hardcore fans alike will take a collective breath and see that you cant just change the team overnight. Would trading the farm for Lou make a difference…sure it would…but would it be worth it? I argued that he would make them better in a previous post but he wont make them the best and what if after that trade they lose two or three players to injury like they did recently? having a depleated farm system with little to call up could make the difference in a long season so lets not forget that element either. So let the kids develop and play them game, only good things can happen from here on in.
Speaking of depth the Leafs picked up Frazer McLaren off waivers today and it had plenty of people scratching their heads. Now although I thought Hamilton would make a decent replacement for the injured Mike Brown (shoulder strain), you have to look at the teams the Leafs are going to face in the next week or so and some grit and size would definitely be useful, enter McLaren. At 6’5″ 230+, McLaren statistically is your typical enforcer but the more you look into his game, for a big man he is a decent skater and gritty checker. He is also on a two way contract so there is a good chance that upon Browns return that McLaren moves down to the Marlies where he would be most welcome given that they lack a sizeable body that can stand up for teammates, something Fraser was doing (quite well I might add) before making the Leafs. I should also point out that there was mention that a couple teams still lack a semi-skilled Clarkson like player/enforcer player and chances are good that McLaren could be a useful piece come further into the season in some trade scenario’s.
Oh and before I forget given that they haven’t been mentioned in a little while, Tyler Biggs and Stuart Percy have continued to impress showing strong development curves in junior and I for one was really glad that the Maple Leafs decided to keep them both in the OHL. Biggs is definitely a gritty power forward and currently sits second on the Oshawa Generals with 40 points in 43 games with a solid +7. Stuart Percy on the other hand sits fourth in terms of points on the Mississauga Steelheads team with 30 points in 40 games holding an even plus minus. Tyler Brenner recently changed addresses moving from the ECHL Bakerfield Condors where he put up 21 points in 32 games to the Toledo Walleye where he has a goal in 2 games. Going from a team that was last in the Pacific Division to a team that is in the thick of the playoff hunt, currently second in the North Division definitely can’t hurt and it puts him on the same team as former Leaf Phil Oreskovic. Oh and before I forget, yes my man crush is still well and good with Denny Urban who moved on from the ECHL Reading Royals and is now playing the for the AHL Worchester Sharks on a PTO where he has 3 goals and 8 points in just 13 games! Glad someone was listening out there! LOL. Anyways as always, food for thought and thanks for reading!