The Toronto Marlies recently announced they had assigned six players to their ECHL affiliate the Orlando Solar Bears and immediately there were talks of demotion and failure which I think needs to be expanded upon given the circumstances the team currently finds themselves in. For more on the players reassigned, please see the link below:
Before the beginning of the season I had written in part that Tyler Biggs and Brad Ross should start the season with the Orlando Solar Bears partially to build their confidence and in all honesty I think this turn of events is the best thing the Marlies could have done for both players; maximizing their affiliation agreement with the Bears is an astute use of resources. One does not have to look much further than Sam Carrick‘s progress, who was having difficulty making the jump from junior to the AHL level and the impact he is now having is nothing short of impressive and a true testament to how his development was handled. This move for Biggs and Ross is of the same mindset, getting both players more significant minutes in the ECHL as opposed to sticking them on the fourth line for 4-8 minutes a game in rotation, allows the club to fast track their development, especially given the sheer depth chart of the Marlies (they are not going to send Orr or McLaren down to the ECHL) this is better for both the players and the organization.
Ryan Rupert is in his first season as a pro and like the others is more a victim of circumstance than anything else. The Marlies have a number of veteran players on the club this year that are taking up third/fourth line spots. Easing a young player like Rupert into the pro game by sending him to Orlando can only but benefit both the team and the player. Allowing him to develop under the watchful eye of a trusted affiliate who utilizes similar systems and can guarantee more significant minutes just makes sense.
Eric Knodel and Blake Kessel being reassigned to the Solar Bears is also a sign of a backlog of defensemen the Marlies have in the system. With Viktor Loov staying in North America and the late signing of Brendan Mikkelson, there were already a limited number of spots available on the back end; this assures more significant playing time for both players as opposed to sitting in the press box while waiting for their chance to rotate in with the Marlies as well. Knodel has an absolute bomb of a shot from the point and here is hoping the Bears put it to good use and Kessel is already familiar with the club. This gives both more time to showcase their respective talents to Leafs management.
It was fairly obvious at the time that the Marlies were going to send one of their goalies down to Florida especially given that the Bears really only had one on the roster coming into training camp. Although Garret Sparks is heading down first it does seem to be more likely that this is just part of a planned rotation and his injury lead him to pick the proverbial short straw. You should expect to see him back up with the Marlies in a relatively short span of time. Getting all three young goalies significant playing time this year appears to be the focus and having them facing a tonne of shots in real game situations will only bring positive results.
Another relatively positive spin on the situation at least in terms of goalies could well be the play of Antoine Bibeau who greatly impressed not only during the rookie tournament but Maple Leafs camp as well and who has potentially usurped one of either Chris Gibson or the aforementioned Sparks with his recent play. Another positive could be the play of recent addition and former Montreal Canadians prospect Brady Vail who must have impressed the team early on given his remainder on the team. There are also newcomers Brett Findlay and Patrick Watling who are being given a look with the Marlies, which bodes well for the team further stocking the cupboards with legitimate prospects; the recent ECHL assignments are just a by-product of how stuffed the shelves have become.
So there you have it, not quite the doom and gloom demotions that you may have heard recently, more of a calculated shift of young assets that need as much playing time as you can find them. If the Marlies were truly shifting unsuccessful players at the AHL level you can imagine that there would be some veterans going the other way instead. As always, puck for thought.