Had there been actual NHL games over the past two months, I likely would have reached this rather modest milestone (not sure it’s really a milestone at all, but we’ve now hit 1,100 posts here at VLM) a while back. But we are where we are, and given the lack of Leaf action, it’s as good a moment as any to cover off a few thoughts with regard to the Marlies and what might be around the corner for the big club.
I’ll be honest: I totally get why many fans are gung-ho about Toronto’s AHL team, especially in light of the current NHL lockout. But for me, my interest is pretty much limited to how I see the young Marlies developing in the context of what they might bring to the Leafs some day.
An AHL championship would not, in truth, provide me with any particular joy. That’s not why I’ve been following the Leafs for more than 50 years—to see their farm teams do well. (I mean, if the Marlies were in Oklahoma City, as a Leaf farm team used to be, would we care in the same way?) I suppose a Calder Cup championship would be nice and everything, but in the same way that most baseball fans don’t much care if their favourite team's Triple A minor-league franchise does well (but they do follow to see if future big-leaguers are playing up to expectations…), I don’t particularly “care” about the Marlies on a day-to-day basis. I do care about how they are, under Dallas Eakins, developing Leaf prospects, and whether some of these guys will be legitimate contributors to the big club sooner than later. But that’s it.
So as the days grow shorter here in southern Ontario, and it looks more and more like real winter will soon be upon us with no sign of major-league hockey action (mediation, yeah—like that will help….), some across-the-board observations:
- Kadri is on a nice little run with the Marlies. But I’m sorry, I still have no idea what he will be at the next level. Will he be a so-called “top-six” scorer, an average NHL’er, a bust? I just don’t know. Points are nice. When I see him play I feel OK, but I am not often “moved” to hockey fan rapture by what I see. I wonder how the Leaf brass really feels, deep down?
- Morgan Rielly is not a Marlie, of course, but he will likely get his shot with the Canadian World Juniors especially now that Columbus’ first overall pick, Ryan Murray, is done for the season. I watched Rielly closely recently (TV only—I defer to those who are seeing him a) more often b) in person and c) assess young players for a living…) and came away impressed yet again, as expected. However, I also noted a number of hard-to-miss deficiencies in his overall game, which you would naturally expect from any 18- year-old defenseman. That said, the notion that he should be at Leaf camp (if there is a shortened season) baffles me. That could only lead to disaster, in my view. As I’ve said here before, let him at the very least play out his season in junior hockey. What’s the rush? We’ll likely still be talking about how this Leaf team needs to improve just to be competitive in a couple of seasons. He can help us out down the road when it will matter - and when he's truly ready. Murray’s injury just reminds us that we should not pin our hopes on one guy. An injury and suddenly a “can’t miss” prospect can seem a pretty uncertain commodity.
- I wrote here recently about Joe Colborne. Some of you posted in response that you thought he had a bright future as a Maple Leaf. Others weren’t sure at all. And that’s where I sit. Hopeful, but not sure at all—and a bit confused as to whether patience alone will be enough to help him grow into an impact player at the NHL level. I like him, but I’d like to see more in his game, somehow.
- It’s early, not even 20 full games into the AHL season, but do any Leaf fans (who have followed the Marlies’ progress) really feel more comfortable that the Leaf goaltending picture is any more settled after what we have seen from Scrivens and colleagues the last two months? I would not judge any goalie’s potential based on a few weeks (good or not), and there have indeed been times that Scrivens has looked strong and confident. I just wonder where we go in net, if there is a season somehow? Are we really prepared to run with Reimer and Scrivens? I like Reimer but…wow….
- Would Holzer be one of your seven Leaf defensemen if the NHL season started tomorrow?
- Do you like what you have seen from Carter Aston through 17 Marlie games (6 points, including 4 goals and a plus 6)? He was traded for Keith Aulie, of course, and it’s difficult to gauge how Aulie is progressing in Tampa’s system (Syracuse AHL) because of an injury that has kept him out of the line-up in recent weeks. Do you project Ashton being a solid NHL’er?
- What about assorted other Marlies—are there any individuals who you really (not just wishful thinking) believe could someday contribute significantly at the NHL level? I don’t just mean players that would be what we already have—easily replaceable third and fourth line guys or 7th defensemen. I’m talking about players who would be noticeable on a nightly basis. Does Will Acton have the drive to be an energy/checker type? D’Amigo? Greg Scott? Kenny Ryan? Are you still excited about Jesse Blacker?
Again, early season ups and downs don’t trouble me at all. If a young player’s overall career arc is trending positively, that’s generally good enough for me. If he is being taught the right things and the organization is helping to build his confidence, great. A few rough spots are not an issue for me, for any young player.
It’s a funny season because of the lockout. From what I can determine a lot of minor-league teams have a surplus of players, not just the Marlies. The lockout is pushing younger NHL’ers down into the minors and that affects the entire make-up of an organization’s minor-league system. That can make things difficult for some players, but it can be an excuse, too. Players need to work past those challenges and show what they can do, regardless of the extra competition.
Anyway, it’s always good to be hopeful. That’s what I’d like to feel about the Marlies and their prospects.
How do you feel?