Custom Search

Wide-ranging Leaf and Marlie/prospect thoughts as VLM reaches 1,100 posts…

There is no question I have been posting less often in recent weeks, which is not shocking given the state of the NHL.  Which is to say, there is no “state” of the NHL right now, unless “limbo” is a state.

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?


  1. Kadri:

    I feel pretty good about him these days. On the weekend I saw this hard 100 foot pass out of the corner, across the ice and right on the tape of streaking winger. It was elite NHL level pass, the kind of stuff that only 40 guys in the NHL can do. I looked at the replay...Kadri. I am quite sure he will be an NHL player. He could be a nice third-line centre. He might peak as a decent 2nd line guy. I am thinking Mike Ribeiro lite. Not a first line guy, but a guy who could pot some useful goals behind a really good first line.

    Leaf goaltending picture any more settled?

    Well sort far Scrivens isn't really dominating. There was a time I thought we might have a future Cory Schnieder in Scrivens. I don't think we have that now. We have a guy who is at best an NHL backup. Unless Reimer is back to his best form, we don't have adequate goaltending in this Scrivens/Reimer tandem. As long as the price isn't too high, it seems ok to trade for Louongo.

    Other Marlies and prospects?

    Frattin sticks out as an NHL level player.
    Gysbers looks steady. I would like to see him get a look an NHL training camp.
    Spenser Abbott: 6 points +3 in only 5 games and the poor kid sits. What more can you ask? He might be a nice small player if matched with some big teammates. Not top six, but I sure want to see him play more for the Marlies to see what we have.

    Down in OHL:

    Tyler Biggs had a 2 point game tonight so that is 29 points in 28 games. He looks to be turning into that Ryane Clowe type player. Biggs gets the goals and points, but he also shows no hesitation when it comes to his teammates. Take a look at this clip from the other day:

    You think Biggs would have done nothing when Gionta bumped Reimer?

  2. I, too, see Frattin as a given on the big team. He showed me glimpses of being a mini power forward last season. He should be fine.

    If Biggs becomes like Clowe, I would take that in a second.

    Thanks DP.

  3. Only one comment I have is regarding Morgan Reilly. In your blog you reiterated what you had said in a recent podcast of "Leaf Matters", that Reilly has no business being invited to a training camp this year. I agree, but the reason is more because of the lockout and shortened season.

    When Burke invites young prospects to camp it is primarily to give them a taste of what the NHL is all about, and the compete and fitness level required to play in the NHL. Realistically Burke knows the chances of a rookie making the team are slim. What he should be doing in this case, is saying no rookies will attend camp given this is a shortened season. But Burke is honouring his word and letting Reilly taste camp anyway. Even if Morgan turned out to be the best player in camp, I still believe Burke and Carlyle will send him back to Moose Jaw. This is not the year for experiments, especially with the development of a young offensive defencemen. Leafs have Gardiner and Liles who are both quite capable of moving the puck. They both know fast-tracking Reilly is not wise.

    Fans and analysts need to relax. Burke is just honouring his word and inviting the kid to camp. It may give Reilly a good idea how far yet he has to come physically to play at this level. Unfortunately it will be a shortened camp so development time with coaches will be very scarce. For that reason bringing him to camp will really not accomplish much other than giving him a taste.

  4. I understand what you are saying, Don (TML_fan).

    Unfortunately, Burke did not simply say "I will invite him to camp...". He said if he plays well and catches the coaches eye, he could make the team. That just sets up unfair expectations and likely disappointment all around. Why even say that?

    If he had just said we want to let him see what a pro camp is like, fine. But again, Burke was saying too much, and re-calibrating expectations unnecessarily. We've seen that here too often lately- in my opinion.

    Thanks Don.

  5. You are right in that Burke wants to promote his players and team too much, and in doing so maybe sets everyone up with unrealistic ideas. He said "I want to put them in a position that, if we're able to play, the coaches have a decision to make on those players." That's fine to say with a normal camp, but with a lockout season he should have tempered his words. Maybe I have just got accustomed to looking past his bravado and understanding his intent.

    Thanks Michael

  6. No- your point is quite valid and I think Burke's "intention" is fine. I just would prefer if he showed a bit more restraint and did not feel the need to make these pronouncements.

    That aside, it is the rare, rare young defenseman who can move into the NHL without a "cost". I would prefer that Rielly stand out where he is, and when he is fully "ripe", then he can join the Leafs and never have to look back.

    I appreciate your thoughtful views on this subject, Don.

  7. i seem to remember this sport you describe michael.... hoc...key? good times. perhaps one day it shall return... until then, i'll think about the good old days of the maple leafs (a difficult task as i had yet to be born).

  8. I know, Alex. Sp frustrating for fans right now, and not just Leaf followers. Hard to feel positive - or enthused - about a sport and a product that keeps shutting itself down!

  9. You and your readers may enjoy this, which I stumbled onto on YouTube:

    NHL the first 50 years 1917-1967
    Overview of the first half of century of the National Hockey League 1917-1967 with rare interviews with Cyclone Taylor, Aurel Joliat, Connie Smythe, King Clancy, Jack Adams... Vintage footage of hockey action from the 1930's and 1940's.


  10. Another update about how well our prospects are doing:

    David Broll had a three point game last night. He now has 21 points in 27 games for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds

    Broll is 6'3 and 235 lbs as a 19 year old kid! If he makes the NHl in a few years he probably plays at 240-245lbs.

    Some people would label Broll as an enforcer but he's not like Colton Orr or Jay Rosehill. 21 points in 27 games puts Broll right on the track of a Chris Neil type player (a tough guy who can fight anybody, but can actually play a regular shift and put up 25 to 30 points a year.) But at 19 Broll is already 20 lbs bigger than Neil and probably 30 lbs by the time he is in the NHL.

    If Biggs turns into a Ryane Clowe and Broll is a larger version of Chris Neil...then the Leafs could become a very different team in two or three years.

    Along with Rielly, Broll was one of the two desinated NHL eligible for this year by Burke, so we might even get a look at him in an NHL game this year.