If you’re like me, you probably find it difficult to keep up to date with everything going on in minor league hockey, specifically with the Leafs’ affiliate the Toronto Marlies.
Honestly, trying to keep an eye on the standings, key stats, performances of prospects, line changes and roster moves among other things can make it almost like following a second team at times. For some of you that will no doubt be possible, but it’s hard to really put the AHL under the microscope you’d truly like.
With that being said, I have been a jolly good sport and compiled a mini-recap of the first quarter of the season so far for the Toronto Marlies. Enjoy!
The results so far
The Marlies rolled into their 2017/18 campaign on the back of a positive previous season. Head coach Sheldon Keefe, entering his second campaign at the helm, led the ‘mini Leafs’ to an impressive 42-29-5 record through the 72 games regular season. It’s worth noting that they entered the 16/17 campaign having won the AHL equivalent of the President’s Trophy as they racked up 54 wins in 2015/16.
After that, they steamrolled the Albany Devils in a best-of-five first round series in the playoffs, securing the final win when defenceman Justin Holl scored at 6:53 of the third overtime in Game 4 – the Marlies’ 60th shot on Devils’ goalie Mackenzie Blackwood.
However, in the second round the Marlies met the Syracuse Crunch, and it simply was not to be. After losing the first two games on the road (including conceding eight in Game 2), they headed back to the Ricoh Coliseum where they evened up the series. The teams then traded wins, before Keefe’s men suffered Game 7 heartbreak as the Crunch pumped in five unanswered goals for a 6-3 win.
Nonetheless, the club headed into the current season with sheer determination to build on the exciting culture that has been established since they became the Toronto Marlies back in 2005. This includes an impressive nine play-off appearances in 12 years, but still just one finals appearance and no Calder Cup.
Looking at the AHL standings after 18 games of the current season would yield a familiar site: the Marlies are top of the North division, leading the league in both points (28) and wins (14).
The campaign started with the usual Saturday-Sunday back-to-back, both games against the Utica Comets, both resulting in wins (3-1 and 4-3 respectively). The Marlies’ first loss followed at Hartford in the third game, before a three-game winning streak saw the team put aside Providence, Springfield and Charlotte.
In fact, that’s pretty much what the season so far has been: mini streaks broken up by the odd loss. Division wins over Laval, Binghamton and Utica have the Marlies seven (7!) points clear atop the North, with rivals the Rochester Americans and Laval Rockets tied for second.
The blue-and-white have also been early pace-setters in goal differential too. They’ve scored 60 goals in 18 games so far, the sixth best in the league, but they have allowed just 35 goals. This gives them a +25 differential; the closest team to this are the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins with +22 (61 scored, 39 against).
Leading the way
It all sounds very promising, right? So who is responsible for the Marlies’ red-hot start to the 17/18 season?
In terms of games played, five of the current roster have appeared in all 18 fixtures so far; those being Colin Greening, Chris Mueller, Kerby Rychel, Ben Smith and Dmytro Timashov. Miro Aaltonen, Justin Holl and Travis Dermott are all honourable mentions, missing just one game each.
Speaking of Aaltonen, here’s a beauty he scored on November 22.
— Toronto Marlies (@TorontoMarlies) November 23, 2017
Penalty minutes wise, Greening and Timashov also appear in the top five with 15 PIM – only Andrew Nielsen (16) and Dermott (26) have incurred more penalty minutes. Only eight Marlies players have so far racked up ten penalty minutes or more, that compared with the Leafs who have 10 players in that category, albeit with most of them having played more games.
Looking at plus/minus, only six of the current 27 on the Marlies active roster are in the negative. I won’t name and shame them; instead I’ll highlight the impressive numbers for Dermott, Smith and Martin Marincin, who are +11, +13 and an AHL leading +14 respectively.
Now let’s get to the good stuff…
Winger Ben Smith currently leads the team in goals with nine scored through his first 18 outings – that puts him ninth in the AHL scoring table. The 29-year-old, who was drafted by the Blackhawks in 2008, is closely followed by left-winger Andreas Johnsson who has seven. Four players are then tied for third place in the goals column with five: Marchment, Timashov, Kasperi Kapanen and Nikita Soshnikov. More on those last two later.
Six Marlies have amassed over 10 points so far, those being Smith (17), Johnsson (15), then Mueller, Timashov, Marchment and Soshnikov all with 12. The latter two in that list have only played 13 and 14 games respectively.
In terms of assists, the same names crop up again, and you can work that out for yourselves using the points totals. See, I’m even testing your mental arithmetic.
Looking at goaltending, Garrett Sparks and Calvin Pickard have played in 17 of the 18 games so far between them – the other appearance coming from Kasimir Kaskisuo, who was loaned to the Chicago Wolves last month.
Sparks (24) has without a doubt had the edge over the 25-year-old Pickard, who was traded to the Leafs in exchange for a 2018 sixth-round draft pick and Tobias Lindberg last month. Sparks leads the league with a 1.56 GAA through 11 starts, and also tops the AHL in save percentage at 0.946.
Pickard’s stats are not too shabby either though: the former Avalanche man is eighth in the league in SAV% with 0.924, while he sits ninth in the AHL with a 2.20 GAA. The future is bright in net for the Marlies at least.
I suppose the purpose of this section is not really to just highlight the players who have been putting up the numbers, but more the guys who are gearing up to make the jump. Let’s start by taking a look at the top five Leafs’ prospects heading into the season (as widely accepted by the media).
1. Timothy Liljegren
For those who don’t know Timothy Liljegren, he is probably the Leafs’ most talked about defensive prospect at the time of writing. The 18-year-old Swede was picked up 17th overall in the 2017 draft by Toronto, and it hasn’t taken him long to impress for the Marlies.
With 10 games played, six points amassed (five assists), a +/- of 4 and just four penalty minutes, fans are already looking to the future with Tim. He did sit out four games after suffering an upper-body injury in Hershey on November 4, and the management did the right thing in allowing him ample time to get back to 100%.
It’s not often you see a teenager play in the AHL, let alone succeed, but Leafs fans can get excited by how Liljegren is thriving with the Marlies.
2. Kasperi Kapanen
If Liljegren is the most talked about defensive prospect in the Leafs’ system, then Kasperi Kapanen is without doubt the offensive equivalent. The 21-year-old came to Toronto in the deal that sent Phil Kessel to Pittsburgh back in July 2015, having been drafted 22nd overall the previous year.
Kapanen probably straddles the line of what could be considered a prospect, having already contributed in a big way in the NHL during that series against the Washington Capitals. Patrick Marleau’s arrival signified a shift to “win now” by the Leafs, and probably didn’t help his cause.
That said, Kapanen has got on with his job playing for the Marlies either side of being called up by the Leafs in late October. He has five goals in the AHL this season – including two on the powerplay – as the Finnish born winger has tallied seven points. What does the future hold for KK though? Will he break the Leafs for more than a few games, or will he be used as a trade chip moving forward?
3. Travis Dermott
Travis Dermott is another D-man who has been tipped to possibly crack a Leafs pairing some time in the near future. The 20-year-old was drafted 34th overall back in 2015, having led the OHL’s Erie Otters in playoff scoring for defencemen with 17 points.
The general consensus so far this season though is that Dermott is struggling with the pace of the AHL. As referenced earlier, he has taken a lot of penalty minutes thus far, leading the team with 26 already on the board – ten more than the second most.
Offensively he has had similar struggles, with just five assists to his name and no goals through 17 games. Justin Holl, who currently resides in the second pairing alongside Marincin, has been much more impressive with five goals and three assists already. However, Holl is 25 and the Marlies may fancy sticking with Dermott in the top pairing in the hope that his game adapts.
4. Carl Grundstrom
Carl Grundstrom is the second Swede to crack the list. They’re quite good at this hockey malarkey, right? The winger was drafted 57th overall by the Leafs back in 2016, and after attending the Maple Leafs training camp for the 2017/18 season, Grundström was re-assigned to continue his development on loan in Sweden with Frölunda HC.
The news since then has not been good, however. Grundstrom racked up five goals and one assists in 11 games in the SHL, but has been sidelined by a meniscus injury in his knee which needs surgery. Frölunda’s coach Roger Rönnberg gave the following update: “At worst, he may be [out for the season], at best he’ll be back before Christmas. So there is very wide spectrum.
There is a chance that Leafs fans will see him back with the Marlies after the Swedish season is over, but it does seem like rotten luck for a guy who was definitely one to watch prior to the season.
5. Adam Brooks
The final man on the list is the first natural centreman in Adam Brooks. The 21-year-old was drafted 92nd overall back in 2016 by the Leafs, having been eligible for both the 2014 and 2015 drafts but going undrafted.
His story since then is quite incredible. Brooks led the WHL in assists (82) and points (120) in 2015/16 with the Regina Pats, earning him the Bob Clarke Trophy and a favourable look from the Leafs. That meant he had recorded 250 points over the last two seasons, making him no longer an easy snub for NHL teams.
The Marlies have clearly tried to assist his development, even moving Smith to the fourth line in order to try bring along his numbers. Having registered just two points (2A) in 13 games, he was left out of the Marlies’ one-day road trip to Utica in order to “work with the development staff”. The future is perhaps a bit cloudy for Adam Brooks.
So, that’s just shy of 2000 words to catch you up with the Marlies’ first quarter of the season so far. Now that you’re all up to speed, you can feel like an expert while you watch the remaining three quarters of the season (and of course the play-offs). If you can’t keep up to date, I’ll see you in 18 games for the next round-up.