If there was ever a moment in the current management regime’s top-down restructuring that made it all make sense, it’s this one. Some people have questioned the idea of the Leafs organization seemingly signing any hockey player that wasn’t signed elsewhere, but in less than eleven months, the approach has shown its first significant payoff with the recall of Byron Froese.
The 24-year-old was far from anybody’s radar at the start of last season. The Chicago Blackhawks were a few months removed from fully walking away from their 2009 4th round pick, and at that point, he had just 17 AHL points in 97 games, largely being used as a shutdown forward and penalty killing specialist. But the Leafs organization noticed something; when he went to the ECHL, his coaches let him play an offence-oriented game. He shot the puck. He shot it a lot. Because of that, the pucks were going in, and he had 24 points in 17 games with Cincinnati to start the year.
Kyle Dubas, who in a past life was actually Byron’s agent, and then assistant coach Ben Simon, who was once his head coach, took notice. After all, there was a chance that this was a case of long-term improper usage and that a wise team could pick up a useful asset. So the Marlies started slow and requested him from Cincinnati on a loan, in hopes of fixing up a team that was struggling offensively.
Things immediately clicked for him. The Marlies put him in a top-six role and told him to score some goals. Suddenly, he was shooting twice as often, playing on the powerplay, and it led to fantastic results. Not only was he scoring at nearly a point per game, almost every single forward on the team upped their production when playing on a line with Froese, who spent some time with all of them as the team figured out what he was all about.
Within a month, Froese turned that loan into a contract with the Marlies for the rest of the year. With his production remaining consistent and the Marlies continuing to win, Froese had his AHL deal extended into the following year three months later. He continued to put up results and was one of the better players in their first round exit with Grand Rapids. Finally, when July rolled along and the Leafs cleared the 50 contract line, Froese was signed to a 1-year NHL two-way contract. Today, he gets the call to potential play his first NHL game nearly six years after being drafted.
Not a bad story.
Froese has continued to perform this season. Through four games, he’s scored three goals, leading the Marlies. He’s also taken thirteen shots, a rate of over three per game and good for third on the team (Connor Brown has 14 and William Nylander has 17). He also picked up the lone goal in a shootout against Manitoba last Saturday.
As for what he can bring to the Leafs right now, that really comes down to where he’s slotted. With the Leafs opting for four evenly-distributed, all-responsibility lines at the moment, I doubt he’ll be placed in a disadvantageous shutdown position. Either way, he’ll still be effective there; Froese is quick on his feet and positionally sound.
Because he’s already cleared waivers this season, Froese can remain with the team for ten games or thirty days (whichever comes first) before having to go through them again. He’ll wear #56.
Photo courtesy of Christian Bonin / TSGPhoto.com