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.