The Toronto Marlies will have undergone significantly more change than their parent club this summer as they enter the upcoming season without their former coach, starting goaltender or leading defenseman in terms of points generated for the 2014 – 2015 season. Steve Spott was promoted the the Maple Leafs as an assistant coach, beloved goaltender Drew MacIntyre took a position with the Carolina Hurricanes organization while T.J. Brennan jumped at an opportunity with the New York Islanders for a legitimate chance of playing in the NHL this season. They all departed the organization with nothing but positive things to say and all took positions of growth in their profession so who can really fault them. With the success of those that have left comes opportunity for those who remain.
The Marlies have a considerable number of options going into main camp this year and that includes some of the invitee’s attending the prospect tournament coming up in September. Assistant GM Kyle Dubas may not even be done signing players to further bolster the roster in the coming weeks given the seemingly recent trend of signing longer shot prospects to AHL deals this summer. In no significant order other than my own personal bias, here is the depth chart for the Marlies as of August 19th, 2014 a la Capgeek.com style:
As you can have most likely deduced from the outline above, there have made some fairly bold predictions made as to who will make the Maple Leafs out of training camp this coming fall given the player breakdown in the depth chart.
I strongly believe that one of either Petter Granberg or Korbinian Holzer will join the squad as a 7th defenseman this season and actually leaning a little more towards Holzer; the reasoning essentially being two fold. Holzer is in the last year of his contract and will be a UFA at the end of the year; if he cannot make the Maple Leafs out of camp given that he is now 26 as much as I hate to admit it, it may serve the player and the club better if he is placed on waivers and given an opportunity to catch on with another club. The second is that although he did not perform as well as we would have hoped for in his NHL debut, fans tend to forget that the Leafs paired Holzer with Dion Phaneuf, as a rookie no less, playing against most of our oppositions top lines. Sheltered minutes on a third pairing would have given him a much better chance to acclimatize himself to the NHL game and here is hoping he is given that important second shot to prove some of his critics wrong. Who is also to say that another year of seasoning for Granberg wouldn’t hurt in the AHL as Holzer really is at a make it or break it crossroads in his career and you could always bring Granberg up if Holzer falters.
Peter Holland was another choice, even with the glut of serviceable centermen and the fact that he will require waivers to be sent down to the Marlies, he will ultimately make the Maple Leafs out of training camp this year in my opinion given his significant upside over some of the other available options. Unfortunately Trevor Smith, Carter Ashton and Colton Orr in the same breathe may be squeezed out of the roster because of the sheer number of serviceable third and fourth line players available to the team this year. Both Smith and Ashton hopefully will understand that they would very likely be the first call-up’s made if/when injuries occur and between the two of them provide great depth to the organization overall. You can imagine that Ashton would most likely be fairly frustrated if this occurs but hopefully he will come to understand that this is an opportunity in itself to express to management just how mature of a player he has become and embrace the significant leadership role with the Marlies that he will most certainly take on. He will very likely be counted upon significantly in all important situations this year and could further his stock by leading a young Marlies roster by example. At only 23 years old, he has plenty of time to play in the NHL and continuing to prove that he can be a consistent contributor and counted upon defensively could very well lead to being the first player called up and an even more difficult one to send down.
Make no mistake, I for one would also not be surprised if Colton Orr is claimed if the team places him on waivers for the purpose of removing his salary from the cap and sending him to the minors if indeed the team decides to go with Troy Bodie moving forward. Orr is still very much one of the most talented at his trade left in the NHL and at 6’3″ 222lbs could provide the security and confidence for a team lacking someone of his aforementioned skills. If he does go unclaimed, as a Marlies fan, he provides exactly the same thing to that team, a significant presence along with Fraser McLaren whom could create a fair amount of comfort for one of the youngest squads in the AHL with a solid one two punch ahhh sort of speak.
Either way the above works out, the Marlies defensive core has plenty of depth this year and a number of decisions to be made. It will be very interesting to see who makes the opening roster given that you have the likes of Matt Finn joining the group this year as a rookie and former captain of the Memorial Cup contending Guelph Storm who will have something to prove as one of the Leafs more highly touted defensive prospects. Tom Nilsson and Victor Loov are very likely going to make their North American debuts this year and Loov was highly praised during the prospect camp so it is quite plausible that he gets a fair shake at ice time. Last but not least you also have Zack Yuen whom had a silent but statistically solid year with the Orlando Solar Bears and may very well be contending for a spot with the Marlies.
Finally a developing tandem of Garret Sparks and Chris Gibson in net who will both now have a legitimate opportunity, after sheltered minutes behind MacIntyre last year, to claim the number one spot with the Marlies. Both have developed fairly well all things considered well in my opinion last year and having MacIntyre was an all important addition to give these young netminders more time to acclimatize to the AHL game. Lets not forget about 6’2, 210lbs, 20 year old Antoine Bibeau either who given the lack of a second goaltender signed to the Orlando Solar Bears squad as of yet may have an opportunity for some fairly significant ice time in Florida while Sparks and Gibson battle it out this year. If either falter, expect Bibeau to join the Marlies promptly.
With all the above being said, when you have an excessive number of bodies in the system it is always good to know that with the extended two year agreement the Marlies have with the Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL that players can be sent to Florida for ice team and to a quality organization that will continue to provide positive guidance to prospects. Garrett Sparks actually made some phenomenal comments about his time with the Solar Bears that summarize just how important this type of relationship can be:
“It was critical. I went from not being able to handle a league, to being a difference maker in the games that I was in. My time in Orlando was the reason why I was so much better later in the season than I was to start. Every opportunity that I had down in Orlando, I took advantage of it, and the results were instantaneous.” quote via Jeff Veillette @ TheLeafsNation.com
It would also not surprise me in the least if Brad Ross, Tyler Biggs and Bibeau are sent to the Solar Bears to start the season, not so much due to performance as of late or won’t make the Marlies out of training camp but strictly from an overall confidence level standpoint. Specifically Biggs and to some extend Ross, could, in my opinion benefit from it. There has been so much talk about Biggs status as a legitimate prospect rapidly dwindling, as a rookie in the AHL, playing fourth line minutes of all things. Sure he didn’t produce to the lofty expectations place on him given his selection closer to the end of the first round of the draft but to be frank people really need to relax. Prospects, regardless of draft rank all develop at different rates and Leafs nation has been exceptionally harsh on Biggs this past year. He went from college to OHL hockey and then to the AHL; which is plenty of bouncing around and style/system adjustments for any player to endure, regardless of supposed talent level. Then in his rookie year the Marlies were a crowded AHL club with a number of veteran fourth line players with the likes of Staubitz, Smithson and to some extent McLaren all with NHL experience which left very little room, even on rotation that Spott attempted to enforce for Biggs (and other rookies like David Broll) to find a groove.
A pretty decent example of the potential for bounce back to reinforce the train of thought above would be Sam Carrick in his rookie season who spent the majority of his first professional year with the Idaho Steelhead of the ECHL. He was considered by many to be under performing after a fairly successful junior career yet in his sophomore year he became a dependable two way pivot with some scoring touch. Gaining confidence and some degree of stability this season could go a long way to re-energizing Biggs status as a legitimate prospect and here is hope they consider the same route that appears to have worked so well for Carrick and Sparks.
So there you have it, the Marlies and my thoughts for the upcoming season on where members of the squad will end up. They should continue to be a pretty exciting team to watch and hopefully if they can clear up the mess at Union Station in Toronto to make it easier to get to games I will see some of you there. As always, puck for thought.