Following the elimination of the Orlando Solar Bears from the Turner Cup playoffs, the Leafs organization had a bunch of its prospects sitting around with nothing left to do. That changed this morning, as the Toronto Marlies recalled four players from sunny Florida to recently sunny Ontario.
Sparks comes up in the midst of a very interesting season. Despite battling through multiple nagging lower-body injuries, you could make the case for the twenty one year old being one of the best goaltenders outside of the NHL this year.
In 36 games, Sparks posted a spectacular 21-7-3 record, 2.34 GAA, and outrageous 0.936 save percentage. By comparison, 0.924 was enough to get you into second (Jeff Jakaitis), only five regular goalies put up a 0.920, and just twenty were able to even get to 0.910. In a league where finding top-tier puck stoppers is hard, Sparks was in a league of his own.
If you remove emotion and put out the twenty best skaters, you could argue that Sparks should be dropped in as the Marlies starter today. But, it’s a game of fairness as well, and neither Christopher Gibson or Antoine Bibeau have played their way backwards, which is a major reason that we didn’t see a goalie shakeup mid-season either.
Vail is still searching for his first point with the Marlies, having yet to score in six appearances. But he joins this roster as Orlando’s top goal scorer in the playoffs, where he picked up four in five games. Throughout the regular season, the twenty year old former draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens scored fifteen goals and added fourteen helpers for the Solar Bears, giving him a little bit less than a half point per game.
Its not particularly likely that Vail breaks the playoff lineup, but stranger things have happened.
Watling has spent the bulk of his games watching from the Marlies press box this year, but due to his versatility and strong defensive game, was kept on the Toronto roster. He did finish the year with the Solar Bears though, and put up a very impressive 25 points in 24 games, eleven of which were goals. He also added two assists in the playoffs.
Watling, one of the first AHL-specific signings of the Dubas era, could draw in if needed. His ability to play on the wing as well as centre is an asset, along with the fact that he’s strong on the penalty kill. At the very least, however, he’ll continue to practice with the team.
Last, but not least, we have the tallest man in the whole wide world. Or, at the very least, the organization. Knodel, who was drafted by the Leafs in 2009 and made the jump from the University of New Hampshire late last year, has played nineteen games with the blue and white this year and another thirty eight with the Solar Bears. In this time, he’s hovered around the half point per game mark with both teams, though he’s still looking for his first AHL goal.
Knodel could end up playing this week, depending on what exactly the team decides to do with the defensive spot that Viktor Loov’s suspension has left open. Rinat Valiev and Stuart Percy could also fill in; we’ll see tonight when the Marlies continue their playoff run against the Grand Rapids Griffins.