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Marlies training camp: some names to watch

Like a lot of hockey observers (old-fashioned “purists”?), I’m a big fan of allowing a young player the time to develop fully and properly at the minor-league level before he is thrust into action prematurely at the NHL level.

Too often through the years the Leafs have force-fed youngsters into the line-up. (Nazem Kadri, in my view, was a recent example.  Do you recall when he was supposed to be the scoring savior in the fall of 2010 and was promoted from the Marlies—simply because the Leafs were having a difficult time scoring goals?  A bad decision.) 

This flaw in the organization’s approach has not been an “always” thing, but it has happened enough that it can be a concern at times. (Leaf fans of the late ‘70s-early ‘80s era will always remember Punch Imlach pushing three young defensemen into the line-up before they were fully ready—Benning, Boimistruck and McGill.  They were all good players and McGill had a long career, but I always felt Benning, in particular, would have been even better had he played out his full junior career and then spent time in the AHL …)

One of the “positives” that is often quoted as gospel around Brian Burke is that he has stocked the Leaf system with a ton of prospects and future Leafs.  I’m not convinced that we actually know just yet if any/some/all of the names that are trotted out as evidence will be impact players at the NHL level.  However, one thing that we will be able to do this coming season, in light of the lockout, is to watch the development of these young players closely at the AHL level.

The Leafs announced the training camp roster for the Marlies Tuesday, and there are some familiar names on the list- as you can see from the announcement on the Leaf web site:

Forwards: Spencer Abbott, Will Acton, Carter Ashton, Keith Aucoin, Tyler Brenner, Sam Carrick, Joe Colborne, Andrew Crescenzi, Jerry D’Amigo, Nicolas Deschamps, Jamie Devane, Ryan Hamilton, Adam Hughesman, Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov, Greg McKegg, Brad Ross, Kenny Ryan, Greg Scott and Mike Zigomanis
Defencemen: Jesse Blacker, Mark Fraser, Jake Gardiner, Ryan Grimshaw, Simon Gysbers, Korbinian Holzer, Mike Kostka, Paul Ranger, Corey Syvret and Dylan Yeo
Goaltenders: Andrew Engelage, Mark Owuya, Jussi Rynnas and Ben Scrivens

It’s natural to gravitate to names like Jake Gardiner, Nazem Kadri and Korbinian Holzer because Gardiner has already demonstrated that he can play at the NHL level (as has Kadri) and Holzer looks more than ready to play for the Leafs as well.  But given that I believe that we already know a lot of what those guys can bring, I’m actually more interested in other names.

Who stands out for me?

Up front, I could say Colborne, sure.  Given that he is now healthy, we should see a bit more of what he is capable of this season.  But he’s the easy pick.  I'm even more curious about some others like Greg Scott, who had some big moments for the AHL playoffs this past spring.  I’m particularly keen to see how Komarov adjusts to the North American game.  Given that I have been writing a lot lately about the need the Leafs have when it comes to “team toughness”, beyond Komarov, I’d also like to see for myself if Jamie Devane has “game” to go along with his impressive size.

I kind of became a fan of Jerry D'Amigo when I had a chance to watch him with the Marlies last season.  I've always liked spunky players and he fits the bill in that regard- so I'll keep an eye on him as well, just in case I sense he may have a future with the Leafs some day.

On defense, Jesse Blacker is a name people have been telling me about for quite some time.  I’m also intrigued by the Paul Ranger signing.  It wasn’t that long ago that he was considered an elite prospect, right?

This is not to suggest there aren’t other players who may jump up and catch the eye of the Leaf brass (or ours) in the days ahead.  I’ve long acknowledged here I’m no expert when it comes to junior prospects and the Marlies.  So I’m open-minded and very much looking forward to seeing how many of these guys actually stick with the Marlies (given the infusion of NHL-level players like Gardiner who would otherwise be with the big club) and make an impression—and show they just might help the Leafs sooner than we think.

A lot of you know about these kids better than I do.  If you’ve seen them play in person a fair bit (or even on television) and can provide a glimpse into what they will bring this season -and beyond-  by all means share your observations.


  1. Hey Michael.

    Ranger was never considered "elite" but he was considered a top 4D-man which is something, in my view, the Leafs currently lack. He's definitely a guy to watch.

    Devane will be interesting. When the Leafs picked him in the third round they were laughed at, but he worked really hard on his skating and overall game and is a player now. His size gives him a massive reach and he's a great fighter. He could be a fantastic "modern day" enforcer so to speak.

    The organization loves D'Amigo, so at the very least I think he's going to get a shot. He could definitely kill penalties at the NHL level right now.

    Blacker is a guy to watch out for too as the Leafs have made noise about him being closer to the NHL than people think.

    One guy I would add to your list is Carter Ashton. He was of course acquired for Keith Aulie. Ashton's big, plays with a mean streak, goes to the net and mucks in the corners... basically everything the current Leafs forwards do not.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. Thanks for your input, Anthony. I'm not as informed as I'd like to be regarding the junior (now Marlie) talent out there so I appreciate hearing from those who are and have a sense of where these guys may fit with the Leafs.

    We already know players like Gardiner will Leaf regulars- the fun will be in seeing how and if others emerge.

  3. Like you Michael I'm anxious to see how some of these players perform this season, especially given the maturity and experience on the team. This is a unique opportunity for many of them, in that there will be added focus on the team given the NHL lockout.

    Unlike others, I have not been that excited about D'Amigo as yet. I've been impressed with his speed and tenacity, but would like to see more production from him. Maybe this year he'll become a more productive scorer.

    I'm very curious to see how McKegg will do in the AHL. This kid is a prolific scorer and has tremendous offensive skills. Much like Kadri, he has to learn to play both ends of the rink well. Dallas Eakins and his staff will surely work on developing his 2-way play. Hopefully he'll get some decent minutes at centre.

    Very interesting addition this year in Paul Ranger. If he settles in with the Marlies and returns to form, this Marlies defence will be impressive. Who knows what personal issues may still be lingering or how he'll adjust to returning to hockey. Here's hoping it is all positive.

    I plan on watching the Marlies a lot more this season, given that the Leafs are locked out. I'm also going to try getting to a number of their games as well. Perhaps after that I'll change my thoughts on some of the younger players.

    P.S. Not sure how Scrivens name made that list. Can he join camp without going through waivers?

  4. You make a fair point about D'Amigo, Don (TML__fan). If he can add that dimension to his game at this level, it will surely help his cause.

    McKegg is another interesting name, for sure. Ranger is a wild card but a worthwhile (and minimal) investment.

    As for Scrivens, I'm sure others have a clearer understanding of the process than I do. Based on the list the Leafs offered up yesterday, it appears he will be a Marlie...

  5. MIchael,

    It does look like a great year to follow the AHL. Great possibilities on the Marlies for sure. I am trying to be enthusiastic about their season. I am having about as much success as when I was younger and opened a present from Grandma. You know the ones, tube socks or a sweater with a giant wildlife scene on it. Thanks NHL, I will always cherish the gift you keep giving me.

  6. Tube socks!

    I know it's harder to get cranked up about AHL hockey, Jim. But it is what it is. We can at least focus on some prospects though, if we're all honest, we'd rather be watching the Leafs/NHL.....

  7. As much as the Leafs LACK team toughness, the Marlies absolutely DO NOT.

    I don't think Komarov can be considered tough tho. He is Grabovski tough, not protect your teammates tough. Burke said letting Schenn fight his own battles (pre Burke) was not something he liked. So assuming Phaneuf shouldn't and Brown is injured or out-weighed... WHO THEN ?

    I am very much scared of the 2012/13 Leafs.
    I may not even wanna watch. How is Phaneuf gonna hit and Kadri or Komarov gonna be a pest with nobody to back them up ?

    I remember that feeling I got in my stomach when Kaberle got hammered by Janssen and only Tucker (IN THE DRESSING ROOM) reacted. Pathetic.

    Gonna watch McKegger, Devane and Ross.
    Optimism is at a minimum. Ugh.

  8. That's a good point about pests (Komarov, maybe), Anon. For them to have an impact and get into the heads of other teams, they usually need some "back-up" in terms of legitimate toughness. The Leafs still need to find that.

    As you say, that issue does not seem to exist with the Marlies....

  9. "Who stands out for me?"

    I am going to answer this question in terms of a past colum:

    "Team toughness. I think this remains one of our biggest flaws."

    I think the solution to this problem lies in the Leafs prospects. Most of the answer is in the system or on the farm.

    I am really interested in Jamie Devane It looks like going to get a good look as the teams's tough guy. This might work out well, as he has been one ot the toughest in the OHL for a while now, but he can play at bit. He had 23 goals and 45 point last year. At 6'5" and 217 lbs already, we might have a future Mike Rupp.

    The comparision with Rupp works well because both players have similar size and points in the OHL. Rupp can fight the toughest guys in the league, but he can actually play the game. He is more useful than Colton Orr. Rupp had 19 points last year and 17 points the year before. That's pretty good for a tough guy on the 4th line. Rupp is a good enough player that he actually plays in the playoffs, not like some enforcers. In fact Rupp played every playoff game for the Rangers last year...20 in total. I am quite sure that Devane is at least AHL potential, though he might not make it this year because of numbers. However I look forward to seeing him play because we might get some indication if he could play in the NHL on the 4th line in two years. If he turns into a Mike Rupp, I am pretty happy.

    The other guy I look foward to seeing play is Mark Fraser. Fraser and Holzer were a mean defensive pairing in the AHL and their nasty play helped out Scrivens. Oposing forwards looked a little scared to come near the net. I like the idea of Holzer and Fraser as the third pairing in the NHL next year. I think Fraser would be at least as good as Komisarek and Holzer and Fraser playing together for two years means we have familiar defensive partners. Fraser has played in the NHL for New Jersey and he can fight the tough guys of the NHL...take a look:

    It will also be interesting to see how Brad Ross fairs at an AHL level. Based on size, skill and agitation, we might have another Steve Ott here.

    I am also watching two other guys who might be called up to the AHL when the lockout is settled.

    Tyler Biggs had a really good US national camp over the summer and was scoring lots of goals. He is better than people appeciate. Maybe we have a Ryanne Clowe type player. He already has an OHL point. Biggs certainly stuck up for his teammate this weekend:

    David Broll is 235 lbs, built like a truck and better than may people think. He might become an effective 4th liner in the NHL. He has 3 points in 2 games in the OHL so far this year.

    Think of Broll as a bigger version of Shawn Thornton.

    How much better would the current Leafs be with a Mike Rupp, Steve Ott and Ryanne Clowe and bigger verison of Shawn Thorton?

    Nobody would run the goaltenders without paying. Most teams would be very polite.

    The Marlies will be scary tough next year with Devane, Fraser,Ross,Biggs and Broll all likely to be on the same team. They might bond well for future roles with the Leafs.

    I am less concerned with our skilled guys beacuse we alreay have small skilled guys on the Leafs. We might have to deal guys like McKegg, Carrick, and a defenseman (Blacker?) to get that number one center.

    I hope we don't trade Colborne too soon. I want to see how he does without an injury.

  10. There's no doubt I, like you DP, want to see how much grit we have down on the farm. Devane, Ross, Broll (and Biggs at the junior level) all sound like emerging names to watch. Thanks DP.