In rejoining organization, Findlay and Watling add flexiblity and stability to minor league depth charts

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Photo Credit: Christian Bonin/TSGPhoto.com

Thanks to many of us distracted by the Leafs’ big-league signings over the course of the past few days, a couple of smaller deals were agreed upon yesterday without the much fanfare. Brett Findlay signed a one-year contract with the Toronto Marlies, while Patrick Watling agreed to terms with the Orlando Solar Bears.

While neither of these players is likely to ever really make a jump up to the show, it’s still not a bad idea for the team to bring the two back for another year.

Toronto Marlies top-20 players with NHL contracts, sorted by Games Played, 2015/16

Player AHL GP NHL GP Player AHL GP NHL GP
Matt Frattin 71 0 Nikita Soshnikov 52 11
TJ Brennan 69 7 Josh Leivo 51 12
Andrew Campbell 66 6 Rich Clune 49 19
Brendan Leipsic 65 6 Mark Arcobello 49 20
Rinat Valiev 60 10 Kasperi Kapanen 44 9
Zach Hyman 59 16 Antoine Bibeau 40 0
Stuart Percy 58 3 Casey Bailey 38 0
Frederik Gauthier 56 7 William Nylander 38 22
Viktor Loov 55 4 Connor Brown 34 7
Sam Carrick 52 3 Richard Panik 30 0

Leafs management likes the idea of the Marlies being a competitive team. Not quite in the “sign a bunch of washed out veterans to force the team into the playoffs” way that we saw in the late-JFJ, early-Burke eras, but they recognize that they have a ton of secondary prospects who exceed the level of the average AHLer and are doing the best they can to maximize every game the team plays.

But even a great team can fall apart with a few injuries and a few call-ups. This became clear last year, as the Toronto had their worst stretch of the year in the few weeks following the trade deadline as the best of the rookies got to get a sniff at the big club. It was still good enough to cruise to first overall, but they weren’t quite what they were in the first half of the year.

Brett Findlay

 SEASON Age TEAM LEAGUE GP G A TP NHLe PIM +/-
 2009-10 16  Blind River Beavers  NOJHL 50 28 59 87 18.55 51  
 2010-11 17  Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds  OHL 57 20 24 44 20.26 31 -3
 2011-12 18  Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds  OHL 68 20 36 56 21.61 44 -6
 2012-13 19  Peterborough Petes  OHL 68 19 27 46 17.75 21 0
 2013-14 20 San Francisco / Alaska  ECHL 69 22 32 54 14.12 14 2
 2014-15 21  Toronto Marlies  AHL 15 1 3 4 10.27 12 -5
 2014-15 21  Orlando Solar Bears  ECHL 45 18 23 41 16.44 32 8
 2015-16 22  Toronto Marlies  AHL 39 6 11 17 16.79 6 9
 2015-16 22  Orlando Solar Bears  ECHL 22 10 11 21 17.22 38 -5

Patrick Watling

 SEASON Age TEAM LEAGUE GP G A TP NHLe PIM +/-
 2009-10 15  Chatham Jr. Maroons  GOJHL 39 3 4 7 1.91 15  
 2010-11 16  Chatham Jr. Maroons  GOJHL 49 25 50 75 16.32 28  
 2011-12 17  Guelph Storm  OHL 67 6 17 23 9.01 22 -1
 2012-13 18  Guelph Storm  OHL 53 12 13 25 12.38 14 16
 2013-14 19  Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds  OHL 65 18 36 54 21.79 39 35
 2014-15 20  Toronto Marlies  AHL 29 2 1 3 3.98 12 2
 2014-15 20  Orlando Solar Bears  ECHL 24 11 14 25 18.79 20 8
 2015-16 21  Orlando Solar Bears  ECHL 24 6 22 28 21.05 12 1

Toronto seems to recognize that fact and have prepared themselves for the long haul. The team already has Mason Marchment, Chase Witala, TJ Foster, Shane Conacher, Marc-Andre Cliche, Colin Smith, Nikolas Brouillard, Cason Hohmann, Eric Faille, Rich Clune, Ty Stanton, Tony Cameranesi, and Willie Corrin signed to AHL contracts, making Findlay the eleventh player on the list for a team that should already be filled to the brim with Leafs prospects.

This gives the team a ton of options down the stretch. They’ve now got a surplus of players to fill in for injuries or call-ups, or even just play a game in a 3-in-3 weekend to keep their other teammates from burning out early in the year, similar to what many soccer teams do. It ensures the Solar Bears will be reasonably competitive down the stretch, and in specifically targeting Findlay and Watling, they ensure that there are voices that have done this supportive bounce around for a couple years now.

Not to mention, both are reasonably good in their own respects. In the ECHL, they’re bona fide top-sixers, while they act as responsible minute fillers with the Marlies, with Watling even getting penalty kill time in his occasional appearances. He, of course, will need an AHL deal if he were to get called back up, but I doubt the team would much hesitation. While a budget is still in place for any hockey team, there aren’t the same set-in-stone limits to roster composition in the lower tiers as there are up in the NHL.

That the two would want to come back to a scenario like this is telling as well. This will be the third tour of duty with the club for both players, who first signed in August 2014. Despite not being able to earn NHL contracts from their time, neither have looked to other clubs or to Europe since. A bit of that might be a bit of two-way Sault Ste. Marie loyalty with Leafs assistant GM and Marlies GM Kyle Dubas, but it’s still rare to see minor leaguers find places of comfort.

Ultimately, I don’t see either being players who turn the needle in a hockey rink near you this year, but any sort of safety net or depth bolstering with no consequence is usually a good thing, and that’s what they’ll bring.

  • Trevor5555

    I think this depth is good for the reasons you said as we want the Marlies to be in the Calder Cup hunt year after year to instill that winning culture top to bottom of the organization.

    Going a step further we could make sure Orlando is always competitive which means our secondary prospects can play in a good environment if they cant make the Marlies. The ECHL can be a good starting point for the longer term projects. Its likely Kaskisuo starts in the ECHL as well as a few other long term prospects so why not make that team as strong as we can?

    We may develop a proper 3 tier professional system like some european leagues. If our scouts keep finding guys the ECHL could become more of an established path for prospects, even if only to strengthen our AHL team with our late picks and undrafted signees. If Toronto becomes a sought after destination like the glory days more prospects may be patient playing for the Leafs affiliates with dreams of making the big club. Or at least get exposure to other pro teams scouts.

    Could the ECHL ever be a respected development path say like the BCHL is to major junior? As the grass roots system improves more and more good players have to play tier 2 so I wonder what the peak is in terms of viable NHL prospects.