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While Leaf fans’ eyes are on the Marlies, the World Championships are set to kick off in Finland

It’s a good thing that the Marlies are in full flight as they begin their second round of AHL playoff action Tuesday night against Abbotsford.  Leaf fans have kind of latched on to the big team’s top farm club affiliate as the "haven of hope" as we all look to to find glimpses of what “could be” when it comes to the blue and white in 2012-’13 and beyond. (It's the old, "if Ottawa can do it...".)

Even my old eyes will be spending more time than I usually would watching them in action and assessing who is earning key minutes under coach Dallas Eakins—who is not only trying to do his job to the hilt in developing future Leafs, but is also forging his own career path which could lead to an NHL job (I’m guessing as an assistant) as early as next season.

With the Marlies, we all know the standard prospect names, you know, Kadri, Frattin, Colborne, Ashton, Mueller, Blacker, Holzer and of course Scrivens in goal.   But the emergence of young D’Amigo in the first round was a nice add-on name to keep an eye on going forward.  Teenage defenseman Stuart Percy (from the Ontario Hockey League, drafted last summer) also drew some very positive observations, and it’s likely the spotlight will shine even brighter on each of those players as the playoffs unfold.

Now, when it comes to the World Championships over in Europe, it will be interesting to see if Leaf enthusiasts pay much attention to what will be going on.  With injuries to Kessel and Lupul, the blue and white contingent is pretty modest this time around.  On the Canadian team, there is Phaneuf and Schenn, while Grabosvki will suit up for his native Belarus, Nik Kulemin will do the same for Russia as Joey Crabb will play for the United States.

Whether we should be upset that more Leafs were not deemed worthy to at least be asked to represent their respective countries is something we can debate another time.

One would expect Phaneuf to play as he usually does, including with some offensive jump.  (He should be well-rested, eh?).  For Schenn, I don’t know what this tournament will mean, but it comes after an uneven season with the Leafs, one where he was part of trade speculation at various times (and found himself on the bench or in the press box on occasion, too).  It’s a cliché, I suppose, but the World Championships does provide him with an opportunity to end his up and down season on a high and feel good about himself heading into a summer of preparation for training camp this coming September.  I still feel Schenn is on the table this summer when it comes to trade talks, but at the very least, if he can regain his seemingly lost confidence under Duane Sutter at the Worlds, it should bode well for his short-term future with the Leafs- or alternatively, as a trade asset.

I don’t think most Leaf fans are too worried about Grabovski.  After several solid  years with the Leafs, I sense most of us think we know what we have.  A guy who can play with skill and heart, and who should provide better “numbers” than he did this past season, but who has a ceiling that will realistically limit his ever being anything more than a decent number-two NHL center on a decent team.  (On this note, we are reminded, whenever we watch playoff hockey, that the level of “try” that we admire in Grabbo is evident on a consistent basis from virtually every player still performing in the current NHL playoffs, be they first-liners or fourth-liners.  Not to suggest Grabovski wouldn’t similarly raise his game in the spring, given the chance, but I see him as a nice complementary player.   Full stop.  I like him a lot, but he’s not a big-time star, not really a major game-changer most nights, despite the nice new contract.)

As for Kulemin, his downslide seemed to begin at the World championships exactly a year ago.  As the tournament unfolded, his minutes dropped and by the end he wasn’t playing much.  A series of factors seem to have contributed to a dismal 20112-’13 season.  While everyone tried (including me) to say how much he was still "working hard" and that he was simply snakebit, I honestly thought his effort was not what it needed to be on a consistent basis many nights this past season—and that’s aside from his dreadful offensive statistics.  So again, this is an opportunity to end the year on a positive note.  I want to believe he is a guy that can still be, like Grabovski, if not a “star”, an important player on a decent team.

But all this said, there is no question that right now, it’s all about the Marlies.  Even if we get a bounce back from Schenn and Kulemin next season and improve the club’s goaltending depth, the Leafs will likely be looking for some youngsters to boost the franchise’s sagging fortunes sooner than later.  At this point, it doesn’t matter who, but some of the aforementioned “kids” need to start to earn those roster spots right now. (They’ll have to do it again at training camp in September, but that’s OK.) 

And with the eyes of the brass—and all of Leafland—upon them, they couldn't find themselves, personally, in a better situation.  The opportunity is there.

Maybe every game really will be a try-out.

8 comments:

  1. In addition to the usual Marlies names you mentioned, there's a kid named Greg Scott that I really like. He hits and plays hard every shift, and scored 21G and 44 points this year.While he may only be a 3rd liner if he makes the NHL, he is also worth keeping an eye on.

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  2. As well, keep an eye on Brad Ross, the "truculent" winger Burke drafted a couple years back. He's very much a Darcy Tucker kind of antagonizing forward who can contribute offensively. He's young and plays on the second line for the Portland Winterhawks who are poised to win the WHL championship this year. Could be a good 4th liner who can actually provide some scoring (like a mike brown but angrier and more talented).

    Anyway, I'm excited for the Marlies. It's a great experience for them, and I will be at the game tonight to cheer them on.

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  3. Thanks for that, Darryl. I will look to check on the young man's progress. And enjoy the atmosphere at the Marlie game tonight. If you have any time afterwards, let me know how they looked...

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  4. everyone bashes schenn to hard. hes the best defensive defencemen we have and hes still young

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  5. There is no question Schenn is still a young man in NHL terms. I've said here many times, I hate the idea of trading away young defensemen with potential. Hopefully he plays well at the Worlds...Thanks Colin.

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  6. Skill2Envy has left a new comment on your post "While Leaf fans’ eyes are on the Marlies, the Worl...":

    Correction: Brent Sutter is Canada's bench boss.

    I'm hoping Schenn can have a good showing, for his sake and for the Leafs. He needs some sort of rebound and the sooner, the better.

    As Darryl note, Ross will be quite the agitator in the future. Currently 19 years old, 5'11 and 185lbs but plays MUCH bigger. Darcy Tucker clone but better, the Leafs own Mike Ulmer had a feature article on him March 20th referring to him as - a "Brother Tucker" or something close to that (exact words). He is still a couple years away from the Leafs roster though but someone to look forward to.

    Most people project him to be a good 3rd liner who can occasionally slide into the 2nd. Often compared to a Tucker, Ruutu or Cooke but might have a development curve akin to Callahan or Marchand which would be a great thing.

    Anyways, it has been hard for the Marlies to pull my attention away from watching the NHL playoffs but I like to read the odd article on the game. World Championships will have my attention before the Marlies as well, I guess its the Canadian pride.

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  7. For some reason your post did not come through on Blogger...don't know why, Skill2Envy...

    Thanks for the correction...I knew it was the ex-Flame coach Sutter, but I still get confused with the Sutters after all these years. (I knew it wasn't Darryl, he's otherwise occupied these days!)

    And yes, re Ross, a Tucker/Marchand/Callahan hybrid would be just fine.

    Thanks.

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