The Leafs made some moves to shake up the big club on Wednesday, and today the Marlies followed suit. The team has announced the signings of forwards Christopher Clapperton, Brett Findlay, and Patrick Watling, as well as defencemen Andrew Campbell and Brenden Miller.
Findlay and Watling are familiar faces with the Toronto Marlies and played a combined 44 games for the team last season in depth roles. Both are former members of the Sault Ste-Marie Greyhounds of the OHL under Kyle Dubas.
Clapperton is an interesting name, and not just because it sounds cool. A 2013 5th-rounder of the Florida Panthers, Clapperton had a pretty good junior career and was actually considered a bit of a threat to make the Canadian World Juniors team back in 2013-2014. It didn’t happen, and he’s apparently fallen out of favor in NHL circles because he went unsigned by the Panthers and it looks like he hasn’t been able to get an entry-level contract from any other NHL teams either. He plays a hard-working, grind-it-out style and could be a good depth piece for the Marlies this season. Oh and by the way, he played on a line with Leafs prospect Frederik Gauthier in Rimouski this season.
Andrew Campbell is a former third-rounder of the L.A. Kings in 2008 and has had a pretty successful AHL career to date, amassing a total of 489 AHL games and 38 NHL games since turning pro during the 08-09 season. He’s 27 now and isn’t an NHL prospect, but he figures to play an important role for the Marlies this season. He’s another former member of the Greyhounds, though he played there before Kyle Dubas became the GM.
Brenden Miller is 21 and just wrapped up his OHL career, playing in a top-four role for a North Bay Battalion team that played a total of 36 playoff games over the last two seasons. Miller had 55 points this year and had a pretty good OHL career. He doesn’t figure to be much of an NHL prospect at this point, but he’s another valuable depth piece for the Marlies organization.
Miller and Watling both received invites to the Leafs prospect summer camp, which takes place next week.
These aren’t moves that figures to impact the big club in many ways at all, but it does impact the Toronto Marlies and to that extent it will impact the player development side of things, especially as it relates to allotment of ice time.
The Marlies are very deep right now, with a depth chart that looks something like this:
Josh Leivo-Sam Carrick-Kasperi Kapanen
Brendan Leipsic-Ryan Rupert-Zach Hyman
Matt Rupert-Carter Verhaeghe-Nikita Soshnikov
Brett Findlay-Frederik Gauthier-Casey Bailey
Christopher Clapperton-Denver Manderson-Jack Rodewald
Scott Harrington-Petter Granberg
Andrew Campbell-Stuart Percy
Viktor Loov-Tom Nilsson
Rinat Valiev-Matt Finn
And don’t forget Matt Frattin or T.J. Brennan either, both of whom for the time being figure to have a decent shot at making the team, especially since they could serve as stop-gaps which would allow the young Leafs prospects to get further seasoning in the minors. That said, they could very well end up on the Marlies next season, too. But the Leafs need some extra bodies and the Marlies are incredibly deep, so both figure to be practical options at the NHL level for next season.
Of course the likes of Leivo, Carrick, Harrington, and Percy could end up earning spots with the Leafs out of camp too so this depth chart certainly isn’t official, but the main thing to understand here is that the Toronto Marlies are deep.
Leafs assistant GM Kyle Dubas has mentioned before that the Orlando Solar Bears (the Leafs’ ECHL affiliate) may factor in more this season. Just looking at the Marlies depth now, that certainly seems to be the case. We’re looking at the likes of 2013 first- and third-rounders Frederik Gauthier and Carter Verhaeghe, who both had good junior careers, potentially getting big playing time in the ECHL as opposed to the AHL next season because the Marlies just have so many players. Rinat Valiev, who had a strong season for the Kootenay Ice of the WHL this season after being drafted in the third-round by Toronto in 2014, is another prime candidate to head on down to the ECHL.
The team wants to really get the player development side of things right as they begin this rebuild, and my sense is that they really want to do two main things around that: don’t call up their young players to the NHL until they are absolutely ready, and make sure their young players are getting lots of playing time.
Because the Marlies are so deep there simply won’t be enough ice-time to go around in the AHL. There are going to be more “big name” Leafs prospects playing in the ECHL next year, and I don’t think that will be as much of an indicator that a prospect isn’t very good as it has been in the past.
It certainly won’t get as much hype as all the trades or the signings or Mike Babcock or the Leafs’ continued search for a GM, but there are some pretty interesting things going on with the parts of the Leafs organization that fall beneath the surface. It’ll be interesting to see exactly the Leafs will maneuver their minor league players and affiliates next season, and if the apparent depth of the Leafs’ projected minor league players are any indication, the Marlies and Solar Bears could be pretty fun to watch next year.