The Outsiders: Marlies Defensemen

Gus Katsaros
October 23 2012 07:13AM

Korbinian Holzer is likely the latest graduate to join the Maple Leafs once this lockout ends. There aren’t many candidates to immediately join him.

Just like how we looked at forwards with an outside chance of becoming full time Leafs, this is going to focus on the blueline and look at Mike Kostka, Jesse Blacker and Mark Fraser.

Mike Kostka

This is the sexy choice, the undrafted feel-good story who had emerged as a reliable two-way rearguard with an outside chance of an addition on an NHL blueline.

The 26-year old has added another strong shot presence from the point and gives the Marlies a 1-2 combination with Jake Gardiner. While he’s made a good first impression on a short successful career that saw 25 goals in the last two seasons, it’s not an overly convincing skill set to translate in the NHL.

He’s an adequate all compass skater and capable of moving the puck but is unnatural as a puck rusher and a little rigid. He has stiff hands and can skate himself into trouble making him better support than spearhead. He prefers the left point for his right handed shot and often crosses with Gardiner to gain position on the power play.

His greatest asset is a heavy shot spurred by a shoot-first mentality. He can get himself in trouble when he tries to improvise looking for a clear lane, but generally manages the puck well. Pace and urgency are good for the American League, but a touch slow for the NHL where the play turns quicker and this is the main concern over making the show.

It’s feasible he eventually works his way into and NHL lineup for limited time playing some soft minutes, but staying power doesn’t jump out. Considering the path that he took to get to the level he’s at right now, the Etobicoke native is a good example of perseverance and dedication to the craft earned him a six-figure contract .

At the 2:00 minute mark he admits that he needed the full four years at the University of Massachusetts as a late bloomer. He admitted he wasn’t ready to play junior at 16 or 17 and has grown into a good player regardless, earning a Championship ring to boot.

Jesse Blacker

It seems odd to include the 2nd round pick in 2009 (58th overall) with an outside chance of making a full time jump to the NHL. Of any of the listed players here, Blacker is the likeliest defenseman to graduate full time.

Blacker exploited his skating speed in junior, supporting the offense and actively jumping into the rush. In his first year as a pro in Marlies silks he was more selective about jumping up front, growing more responsible on the back end. While his defensive zone play improved, what makes Blacker effective is finding outlets and skating the puck out, being creative and dangerous as a trailer. There’s a little riverboat gambler in there too.

He’s started 2012-13 pinching and joining the rush more frequently. He’s shown an aggressive side in the defensive zone, but has a penchant for using his stick to check when he could be more physical. He could also pick his spots as he engaged players with excess aggression when the puck and play had already moved on. That’s a decision-making issue, not physicality.

The Leafs are assembling mobile pieces on the back end, adding Morgan Rielly, Matt Finn, to compliment Jake Gardiner and perhaps an aged Dion Phaneuf by the time all these pieces morph through this transition. It’s going to make the competition for a spot more difficult for Blacker if he can’t emerge as a viable puck moving element. For this reason I feel Blacker may head the list of outsiders as a player who may end up playing in the NHL, however it may be for another organization.

He needs to get his shot count up, especially after having posted an atrocious 1.4% shooting percentage last season scoring one goal on 69 shots.

Mark Fraser

Addressed what coach Dallas Eakins deemed a ‘dangerous hit’ the 6-foot-4 220-pound blueliner instigated a melee in retaliation when Nazem Kadri was tripped up in the neutral zone. He ran over Brian Lashoff who was somewhat unaware of Fraser and his intentions and unprepared for the aggressive contact. Fraser ended up fighting Brennan Evans as a result.

The previous night versus Hamilton, he talked to Kyle Hagel at center after the Marlies fifth goal as the refs attention was drawn to the timekeepers bench. It was evident they were going to drop them after the faceoff.

Fraser has good size and an aggressive nature and nasty on-ice demeanor. He exploits his size and hits to hurt, sometimes overly forceful which leads to trouble. His skating improves once he overcomes a somewhat slushy start up and can keep up with the play. With his reach and compete, he is a nasty presence below the face off dot. His puck skills are basic, getting the puck out of the zone in trouble, looking for passes to advance the play. Unloads a heavy, yet erratic shot from the point.

He can get pulled out of position when he responds with too much enthusiasm and his pivots aren’t crisp and prone to speedy forwards skating by him wide.

The former 3rd round selection in 2005 (84th) has an outside chance due to his toughness and willingness to fight for his teammates, playing minimal minutes. He could see an audition having notched 98 games already. Staying power isn’t currently evident.

Paul Ranger

Off season addition dressed in the season opener and scratched since. I thought he brought a similar game to that of Jesse Blacker, joining the rush and as a trailer using his puck moving skills. He didn’t distinguish himself, but wasn’t out of place either.

Nonetheless, after a prolonged absence from the game, even as a former NHL player, the road back to the pros is a challenge. I haven’t seen enough to make that call yet, so I will leave this as a work in progress.

This was the scouting report that appeared in the McKeen’s Yearbook in 2009-10.

Offense-oriented rearguard boasts a heavy pointshot and sharp attack instincts .. identifies outlet options swiftly and likes to assert himself .. not a natural puckcarrier though - struggles to control and finesse the puck and can be forced into panic outlet decisions .. inefficient skater - has good straightaway speed but looks wobbly and off-balance in certain phases, especially moving backwards and defending the rush .. it impacts all areas of his game such as not being stable enough to withstand a heavy hit .. still plagued by errant passes and poor outlet decisions at times

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Gus Katsaros is the Pro Scouting Coordinator for McKeen's Hockey. Follow him on twitter @KatsHockey or his blog Kats Krunch at mckeenshockey.com
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