2014 – 2015 Newest Toronto Maple Leafs Member and Current Toronto Marlie Brendan Leipsic

With respect to the trade announced recently between the Nashville Predators and the Toronto Maple Leafs, one of the more interesting pieces of that deal coming back to Toronto that will have an immediate impact on the Toronto Marlies was prospect Brendan Leipsic along with a late first round draft pick and veteran centreman Olli Jokinen in exchange for Leafs defenseman Cody Franson and versatile forward Mike Santorelli. As far as a rental transaction goes both teams made out pretty well. The Predators come away with two solid players that will definitely bolster their roster for a lengthy playoff run with coveted right handed and offensively minded Franson who has a previous history with the team and versatile winger and center Santorelli who can slot up and down the roster. The Maple Leafs on the other hand come away with a coveted first round draft pick in a really deep draft year and a veteran centerman that may be another asset to trade away if his audition with the team goes well; with rumors the Leafs would seek a lower round draft pick for his services, which would make perfect sense for the team and a veteran player who would love nothing more than going on a lengthy playoff run. The remaining piece was prospect center Brendan Leipsic which at first glance appeared to be an undersized agitator with upside but upon further investigation revealed that he is much, much more.

Leipsic was originally drafted by the Nashville Predators in the third round, 89th overall in the 2012 draft and looking at his statistics (via HockeyDB.com) they paint a much more interesting picture:

leipstats

The 20 year old Leipsic put up some solid numbers on a dominant Portland Winterhawks club during his last two years of junior and in his rookie AHL season has been impressive, putting up a solid 35 points in 47 games while keeping his PIM’s down, which is equally impressive given some of the situations he found himself in back in the WHL, including a personal favorite, ‘bottle gate’:

While going through some of the highlight videos available on Leipsic, he appears to be a solid passer that has good vision while being quick and agile on his skates. His stats indicate a pass first mentality which could be pretty dangerous is you pair him with the likes of Connor Brown, William Nylander or Matt Frattin. Many thanks to SEER Video via YouTube for throwing this one together:

The talent analysis at HockeysFuture.com lends to our assumptions made above, although it is interesting to note they have him listed at left wing. With the Marlies current lack of depth up the middle it will be intriguing to see where he plays for the rest of the season and even more so next year when the likes of centers Frederik Gauthier, Carter Verhaeghe and Tony Cameranesi make the professional jump and join the Marlies ranks and who will end up slotting where.

“Leipsic is a small, energetic winger who hits everything that moves and makes life miserable for his opponents. The speedy forward is offensively skilled, a gifted finisher, and can produce on the power play. He needs to add strength, more consistency throughout the season, and play on the edge without going over the line. The physical winger could project into a top-six forward at the NHL level but at worst, a checker with some offensive upside.” HockeysFuture.com

At the end of the day the Leafs managed to acquire a top 100 projected prospect who while on the smaller size (conflicting reports have him at 5’9″ – 5’10” between 165 – 177lbs) has all the remaining tools to make an impact. Even more importantly for the club right now is influence Leipsic may have on the Toronto Marlies, a young club decimated by call-ups this year and who are thin down the middle at the moment. If you have to applaud the Leafs on one thing, they finally seem to have changed their antiquated view on the types of prospects they acquire and who they draft, electing to focus on overall skill level more than anything else. Would be curious to see if Leipsic’s advanced stats had anything to do with this as well. Looking forward to seeing who else joins the club before the end of the year.

2014 – 2015 Toronto Maple Leafs Trade Deadline Moves Will Open Up Opportunities

It really is no longer a question of if but a question of when. The Toronto Maple Leafs should, by now, be steeling themselves for an uncomfortable and complete ground up rebuild if Brendan Shanahan wants to make his mark and bypass the failures of his predecessors with the patch job mentality they applied to the team. Coaching changes only ended up further exposing that this particular team was poorly constructed; if your best offensive threats are putting in 100+ goals a year BUT are on the ice for 300+ against, that is a serious problem; regardless if a weak d-core was partly to blame. Combined with the wrong mix of offensively minded defensemen who were unable to turn the tide when facing other teams top lines, it really was only a matter of time before the final straw broke this camels back…in two…bits of camel flying everywhere.

A number of traditional media points (newspapers, radio, tv) are now throwing out odds of players being traded either before the trade deadline or over the summer and it appears that most are in agreement that a number of players are going to be traded away before the start of next season and I am sure most of us are all for it at this point given how the team has been playing. There has to be a parting of ways with the bromance we have with this particular collection of players; they haven’t been able to get it done and it’s time to break up with them. If the Leafs attempt to retain any players at this point in time they are kidding themselves. Any player over the age of 25 will be on the downturn of their career by the time this club is truly competitive again and more signings will only signal that Shanahan is taking the same route as his predecessors. The team should be Shanna-banning themselves from signing any player over the age of 25 for the next year or two (keeping the likes of Van Riemsdyke, Kadri and Reilly) unless there are UFA projects available on short team deals a la Mike Santorelli, David Booth and Mason Raymond; players the team may be able to turn into draft picks later on down the road.

Hard to say at this point who will actually be traded in the next couple of weeks but outside of the almost certain Cody Franson transaction (who they guestimate might be worth a late first round pick and a prospect, umm yes please) and Tyler Bozak who I still liked as a Leaf, just never in the first line roll he was pushed into (which was not his fault) the rumours the possible departures of Daniel Winnik, Korbinian Holzer, Mike Santorelli and Joffrey Lupul. Now if the Leafs are truly and I mean truly going to start from the ground up and stock pile both picks and prospects they should really also consider trading the following.

Listen to trade offers for Jonathan Bernier. The romantic notion held with Bernier needs to be ditched and one needs to look no further than the facts surrounding his tenure with the team. Bernier is 26 years old and by the time the Leafs are contending again he will be in his 30’s. He has shown signs of being a stellar goaltender but has also been derailed by nagging injury. Has put up decent numbers but perhaps we are at a crossroads, could his current trade value be enough to warrant parting with him? The Leafs have some young prospects in the pipeline and we really didn’t give up all that much to acquire him in the first place.

Roman Polak has proven to be everything we could have hoped for since the Leafs acquired him in the Carl Gunnarsson trade with the St.Louis Blues last year. A solid 5-6 defenseman with speed, heart and a daily axe to grind. For a team making a deep run into the playoffs he could be an asset that could draw some attention while being relatively affordable.

Jake Gardiner is sporting a pretty awful -21 this year. He is truly aggravating to watch while playing defense but sucks you right back in with a talented play in the offensive zone to the point where you are actually left wondering if he should just take a page out of the Brent Burns playbook and play forward for awhile. Unfortunately for him Morgan Reilly is a player of very similar style, younger with a higher upside and less expensive which may make Gardiner expendable. It might take some salary absorption to get a trade done but it may still be worth it if you land a high value, lower cap hit prospect in return.

Dion Phanuef was retroactively added to the IR but was slated for return before the March 2nd trade deadline and there is almost a palpable buzz surrounding him these days; it sounds like a couple teams are going to make serious inquiries about the Leafs captain to bolster their roster for a playoff run and it is rumored that the LA Kings, Anaheim Ducks and Dallas Stars have all expressed interest in the 29 year old. In true Maple Leafs fashion, if anything, they have overvalued Phaneuf in terms of playing him as a number one defenseman and realistically he is more of a 2-4 and was never really comfortable as captain HOWEVER he is a solid asset and fans should not be surprised there is interest and a possible deal struck before the deadline. If a deal could be consummated that finds the Leafs saving cap space, any deal for Phaneuf could be the solid start to a rebuild the Leafs so desperately need.

If the Leafs are able to move a significant number of players before the end of the season for draft picks, one could expect that this could potentially work out in their favour. Firstly, it gives them a much better shot at drafting future core players for the franchise. For example, in the first round of the upocoming draft (at least at this time given the Leafs have the 6th worst record) this could very translate into the Leafs being able to draft a future core defensive defenseman they so desperately need like Ivan Provorov, who I believe Craig Button mentioned on TSN radio the other day may actually be the best defender available in the 2015 draft.

One of the other positives about stockpiling mid and low range draft picks right now for expiring UFA’s is that Mark Hunter now works for the Maple Leafs. This is the same Hunter who was successful in bringing players to the London Knights organization and building an incredibly dominant OHL club. Paired with Thommie Bergman in Sweden who has found high potential in a number of late round picks (Viktor Loov, Tom Nilsson, Andreas Johnson), it will be very interesting to see how these two men will make their mark on the Maple Leafs and potentially turn the teams draft fortunes around moving forward.

So with all the potential bodies moving out of the organization either by March 2nd or over the summer, the Maple Leafs will most likely start playing their prospects; if you are going to find a positive in this mess, that could very well be it.

In terms of forwards, the Leafs should bring up Matt Frattin immediately and play him for the rest of the year, no question. He appears to have rekindled his game again with the Marlies and the Leafs need to get him into the roster promptly to determine where he actually sits; he does currently lead the Marlies in goals. Josh Leivo has the size and speed to play at the NHL level and combined with a lethally accurate wrist shot should also be brought up and given a lengthy look. Brandon Kozun essentially made the Leafs out of training camp and brings a ridiculous amount of speed to his game and is another threat on the PK; injury derailed his season but adding him to the team could fill the void left by any potential departures and brings some additional bite to the PK. Troy Bodie and Jamie Devane should also be considered for the added grit they would bring that Don Cherry seems so desperate to add to their roster and both have upside if you compare them to Orr and McLaren, adding some bulk to the fourth line.

If the Leafs do indeed end up parting ways with Dion Phaneuf, Cody Franson and even Jake Gardiner then the team should considering promoting both Stuart Percy and Petter Granberg, there is no better time for these two to get NHL experience without it having an overly negative impact on the club. They are already at the cusp of breaking into the NHL and the extended look may actually bolster their development. One other player that Leafs management should consider for promotion for the remainder of the season if a roster spot becomes available is Andrew MacWilliam, a solid stay at home defenseman plying his trade with the Toronto Marlies. Hockey’s Future has MacWilliam’s peg as a mobile defensive defenseman who has the innate ability to anticipate plays quite well, given that he is currently a +13 with the Marlies and logs large minutes is no coincidence. At minimum the 24 year old 6’2″, 220lbs could be returned to the Marlies and Viktor Loov could take his place.

For all the doom and gloom surrounding the team these last 12+ games, there are some honest to goodness positives to take away from this rather disgraceful season. At minimum, the team is going to stock their cupboards with some new prospects, add some valuable draft picks for this and next years draft and call-up some of their prospects for the remainder of the season (long overdue in my opinion). At best the team will be able to find homes for some under-performing and lengthy contracts giving the team more cap flexibility for the future and rid the team of core players who have been as a group at least a disappointment.

2014 – 2015 Toronto Marlies Add Center Bryon Froese; Advanced Statistics May Have Been Involved

It has been no real secret for those following the Marlies this year that the teams relative youth and inexperience has been a little more apparent with the off season departures of veteran goalie Drew McIntyre and AHL defenseman of the year TJ Brennan. They have had trouble finding the back of the net and with the loss of captain Trevor Smith and stalwart defenseman Korbinian Holzer to callup’s, rookies have been pressed into service with mixed results. Although it is important to allow prospects time to develop and see as much game time action as they are able; as a fan of the team, watching them lose a truck load of games in November and December was somewhat difficult.

Unfortunately this also appears to be further supported by some of the grass roots advanced statistics that are surfacing around the net these days where the lack of scoring has been attributed to the lack of scoring chances. Many thanks to Kevin McAllister (@joshweissbock) for the image below expressing Estimated Fenwick Close for the AHL:

B6C0OdmCIAAenTs.png large

For those who are not quite familiar with all the new fancy stats seemingly coming out of nowhere this year from the hockey universe, Fenwick is essentially shot attempt differential excluding any blocked shots and the above clearly indicates that yes indeed the Marlies have had trouble scoring because they are not generating enough shot attempts versus the rest of the league. For a more in-depth explanation of Fenwick, Pension Plan Puppets has great article on it found below:

http://www.pensionplanpuppets.com/2012/7/25/3184137/intro-to-advanced-hockey-statistics-fenwick

So the Marlies are being out shot and out scored which usually leads to losing, which really should not come as any great surprise. Thankfully however management seemed to be well aware of the problem and initially made moves back in early November to add a scoring or at minimum point generating forward. Mickey Lang, the reigning ECHL scoring leader from the Marlies affiliate Orlando Solar Bears was originally called up when the issue was becoming more apparent but the club suspended Lang before he could suit up in any games citing “personal reasons” which we can be sure was more along the lines of “conduct unbecoming a Toronto Marlie” which was unfortunate for the organization, the team and the player. Hopefully Lang is working hard to make amends. This however opened up opportunity for another player from the ECHL, enter Byron Froese.

Froese is a 23 year old centre from Winkler, Manitoba who was originally drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 4th round of the 2009 NHL entry draft. A solid 6’1″ and 190lbs, Froese was riding a ten game point streak when the Marlies contacted the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL to consumate a loan agreement essentially allowing the Marlies to call up Froese for an undetermined period of time. What made this negotiation more specifically interesting was the fact that although the Cyclones are the ECHL affiliates of the Florida Panthers and Nashville Predators, Froese was only signed to an ECHL contract and was essentially available to any AHL team regardless of affiliation. The Cyclones director of new media and broadcasting, Nick Brunker had this to say about the seemingly unusual agreement:

“When any player is under an ECHL contract, such as Froese, he is eligible to be called up to any AHL team – not just an affiliate,” he said. “With Toronto in need of a forward, they were looking for a guy who can produce. Froese is among as hot as any player right now in the ECHL and certainly earned a promotion.” (via WCPO Cincinnati)

So far the move has proven incredibly worthwhile to the club with Froese contributing 6 points (4 of which were goals) in his first 7 games and the Marlies gaining some important ground after a pretty disastrous slide that has jeopardized their playoff chances. Although known to more of a defensive forward with an innate ability to chip in, if Froese can continue with the point production and sound defensive play he may find his way onto the Marlies or another AHL club in the very near future. A tandem of Froese and Rupert as bottom six centers in the near future if Carrick makes the jump, at least at this point doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. As always, puck for thought.

2014 – 2015 Toronto Maple Leafs Prospects Who Fall Outside of the Top 20 Update

Just as I was putting the finishing touches on an article that covered some of the higher level prospects the Maple Leafs currently had in their system along with where they current are in terms of their respective development, then no less than three other articles from much more reputable sources were published lol; back to the old drawing board. That being said there were some middling prospects that fell outside of the top 20 that most of the authors mentioned (see the links below) that I thought at a minimum deserved some coverage so we knew where they sit.

http://www.hockeysfuture.com/articles/111523/nylander-leads-emerging-group-toronto-maple-leafs-2014-fall-top-20/

http://theleafsnation.com/2014/11/30/leafs-prospect-update-november-30-2014

http://blog.mapleleafs.com/prospect-update

2010 Draft Prospects Summaries:

Brad Ross took it all in stride. In a recent interview after his call up, ‘Rad-boss’ cited a move down to the Maple Leafs ECHL affiliate Orlando Solar Bears as a bit of a wake-up call. After producing almost a point per game with the Bears, he was recalled to the Marlies where he has put up 6 points in 16 games and was mentioned by the coach as a factor in the games he has played and that finding consistency in his game that will remain a priority throughout the rest of the year. He has put on some much need weight coming in around 190lbs to play the style of game he will need to at the pro level but one must remember that at 22 years old he still has a little bit of time to put it altogether. Has definitely been a more noticeably agitating factor in games this year and looks to be back to his old self.

The remaining three players left in the 2010 draft year selected by the Maple Leafs that fell outside of the Leafs top 20 players mentioned by HockeysFuture who I believe the Leafs only continue to hold the rights to, may still be worth mentioning and are briefly covered below.

Sondre Olden was drafted in the 3rd round, 79th overall by the Maple Leafs in the 2010 draft. The Olso, Norway native is now a 6’4”, 176lbs 22 years old playing in the Swedish Hockey League for Brynas IF as a right winger where he has 2 points in 16 games so far this season.

Daniel Brodin was selected in the 5th round, 146th overall and is also playing for Brynas IF of the SHL. The 6’1”, 187lbs right winger is now 24 years old and was originally projected to be a speedy, checking line winger. He currently has 5 goals and 15 points in 31 games so far. Hockey’s Future had this to say about Brodin earlier on in his career:

“Brodin is a high energy winger who brings a ton of tenacity and speed each game he plays. He’s not intimidated easily and isn’t afraid to battle in the dirty areas of the ice. Likely never to be depended on for his offensive ability, in time Brodin may prove to be a quality checking line forward. The next step for Brodin is adding strength so that his checking game becomes more valuable.”

Josh Nicholls was unfortunately not retained by the Maple Leafs after the draft and signed on with the New York Rangers as a free agent in March of 2013. Nicholls is currently plying his trade in the ECHL for the Greenville Road Warriors where he has 15 points in 15 games.

2011 Draft Prospects Summaries:

Defenseman Max Everson was selected by the Maple Leafs in the 7th round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and soon after was caught up in an academic scandal that saw three Harvard Crimson players sent home. Although details are scarce, the players were later reinstated and Everson, who spent some time with the USHL’s Omaha Lancers has continued to show progression, at least statistically, over the years. Originally touted as a defensive defense-man with solid skating and positioning, one of the knocks on the Edina, MN native was that he was not overly imposing. That may have changed given that he now tilts the scales at 6’2”, 210lbs. It will be curious to see if the scandal derailed his career permanently but an invite to the Marlies at the end of the year could signal where Leafs management thinks he sits.

Dennis Robertson was selected in the 6th round, 173 overall by the Maple Leafs and finish out four years with Brown University where the defense-man put up pretty respectable numbers. It seems the Leafs parted ways with Robertson who is currently playing in his first full AHL season with the Charlotte Checkers after being signed to an entry level contract by the Carolina Hurricanes.

David Broll may be one of the younger prospects this year on the Marlies who is being affected to a certain degree by the number of veteran players on the squad that also have an element of grit and pugnacity. Playing mostly fourth line minutes he is another player who in my opinion is being miscast due to his size who will benefit from spending some time with the Orlando Solar Bears to refine other elements of his game. Broll has the foot speed and size to grind down other lines and could still very well develop into an effect checking line winger with PK abilities but he needs more time at the pro level working on those areas. Hockeys Future has this to say about Broll:

“With size, strength and skating ability David Broll has all the makings of a future fourth-line energy player. Broll tips the scale at nearly 240lbs, which makes him a monster to handle. With his wrecking ball style, Broll dominates opponents with thunderous body checks. He has a high work ethic and plays a consistent brand of physical hockey that will make him a nice fit to a team’s energy line. He’ll need to keep his conditioning in check and continue working on his defensive game to become a more effective pro.”

2012 Draft Prospect Summaries:

Some would take a demotion to minor pro’s as an early signal that your career had taken a wrong turn somewhere along the line but Ryan Rupert for all intents and purposes appears to have turned it to his advantage putting up 14 points in 17 games before being recalled by the Marlies where he sits at a commendable 8 points in 14 games and sits at a plus 4. Seems the move to the Solar Bears paid off for the coaching staff and Rupert appears to be putting up some much needed and valuable points for a team that is fairly desperate this year for them. Rupert has a ways to go but is showing steady and commendable growth to his game and for a rookie does not look out of place.

Not to mention he is doing things like this again:

2013 Draft Prospect Summaries:

Frabrice Herzog after a pretty slow start with Zug of the Swiss National League appears to have found his scoring touch putting up 7 points in the last 32 games as a 20 year old playing against men of which 6 of those were goals. Playing with the likes of former NHLer Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Robbie Earl, Herzog is on a pretty good Zug team that current sits 5th in the league. One can only assume given his age and the teams relative success, Herzog is most likely playing 3rd to 4th line minutes garnering valuable experience as opposed to playing an overage year in the Q or as a rookie with the Marlies for that matter and at this time and the Leafs should continue to let him to marinate in Europe for the time being.

Although coming back down to Earth a bit since the beginning of the year, Antoine Bibeau, a goalie the Maple Leafs selected in the 6th round (172nd overall) in the 2013 draft is starting to look like a real steal. Posting a solid Save Pct of 0.913 and a GAA of 2.63, Bibeau is another solid (and we mean solid at 6’2”, 210lbs) prospect in the mix with the Marlies and is making some noise.

I won’t touch the 2014 draftee’s this time around but it is safe to say that the Marlies look to be handling the development of their prospect players in a much better fashion these days and are more readily adopting the notion that shuttling younger players to Orlando to get them some much needed ice time, a kick in the pants and a boost in their confidence can pay off in spades. Hopefully a few more of those mentioned above will find their way into a top 20 list in the near future but for the most part they all appear to be headed in the right direction. As always, puck for thought.

2014 – 2015 Toronto Marlies Send Six To Orlando Solar Bears, Wild Speculation Ensues

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:

http://blog.marlies.ca/the-roster-calls/

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.

2014 – 2015 Early Impressions of Marlies Attending Main Maple Leafs Camp

With the conclusion of the preseason, the Toronto Maple Leafs already had a number of difficult decisions they needed to make. The top two lines looked to be pretty much a lock however there were some surprise showings made by their prospects who gave a number of veteran players a run for their money. This further exemplified how far along the Leafs prospect development had come and the impact that having a full cupboard and retaining your draft picks was having on the organization. Below are just some of those prospects who stood out at this years camp.

David Broll went out in his first preseason tilt and made you notice him. A feisty scrap, a scoring chance and some timely grinding almost forced his name to be mentioned in consideration for the fourth line of the Maple Leafs. He is a big man that has some ability, hockey sense and potentially more to offer than some of the other veteran players vying for the same role. Although he was already sent down for the Marlies start to camp, Broll left a lasting impression and appears to be ready to make great strides this year.

Viktor Loov has been nothing short of impressive not looking the least out of place with timely hits, solid gap control combined with great skating and an astute awareness of all things defense during camp. He has continued this trend in the first couple of games in the AHL and is definitely someone to keep your eye on as the season continues.

Antoine Bibeau was not a very familiar name to Leafs faithful until the last few pre-season games and although he appeared to come back down to Earth in a game against the Ottawa Senators, he has shown great patience and poise in net that is quite removed from what you would expect from a raw prospect who just graduated from the QMJHL. Although unlikely to usurp Reimer anytime soon, he will definitely be pushing for minutes with the Marlies, complicating things in a good way for the farm club.

It is hard to believe that Josh Leivo is still only a year removed from the beginning of his first year of pro with the Toronto Marlies and at 21 years old is making quite the case to stay with the big club on a full time basis. With a recent foot injury to David Booth who blocked a shot with his skate, it is quite possible that Leivo may be the first on managements list of call-ups this season, incredibly impressed with just how far he has come as a prospect.

Brandon Kozun left it all out on the ice. His stature had always been a source of focus on why teams might have passed on him, whether it be in junior, the draft or as a prospect. It is about the last thing you notice however these days, Kozun has absolutely blistering speed and a hard wrist shot with an innate ability to be in the right place at the right time. Seeing him being used on the penalty kill also creates a unique dynamic of a PK member that poses a very real threat of creating shorthanded shot attempts that could dial back how aggressive some teams are on the PP when facing the Leafs this year.

What can you say about Stuart Percy that hasn’t already been said. He has surpassed all expectations so far this season and has beat out competition from Tallinder, Granberg, Holzer, Loov and to a certain extent Gardiner becoming a trusted element on the Leafs back end. Probably the most impactful seventh defenseman the Leafs have had in quite some time and another first round draft pick that is starting to express just how important it has been for the club to stick with and develop draft picks.

Last but certainly not least is Sam Carrick who reinforced his stock as a legitimate prospect for the Maple Leafs as a dependable two way center that I hope the organization will reward with increased ice time this year given his camp and considerable impact during the playoffs last year. Carrick responded well during training camp, keeping up with the play, creating a number of scoring chances and showing the oft mentioned grit and character that sometimes separates some prospects from the pack. Expect to see a bit more of Carrick this year for the Marlies as a dependable two way forward who is responsible in his own end and has a penchant for scoring big goals.

So there you have it, a couple of drafted and/or acquired prospects that have had an effect on the main training camp and have shown legitimate development at becoming impact NHL players in the coming years. This really continues to highlight just how far the Leafs prospect development focus has come and the fruit it is finally starting to bare. For those who did not make the team it will still be interesting to watch their continued development with the Marlies, perhaps I will see you at the Ricoh! As always, puck for thought.

2014 – 2015 Toronto Marlies Depth Chart Thus Far

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:

2014 2015 Marlies Depth Chart a la Capgeek.com

2014 2015 Marlies Depth Chart a la Capgeek.com

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

Image courtesy of the Toronto Star

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.