When it comes to the offseason plans of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate, it’s out with the old and in with the new.
Coming off a season in which the organization’s most promising prospects – Rasmus Sandin, Jeremy Bracco, Timothy LIljegren, Adam Brooks, Pierre Engvall and Mason Marchment – propelled the team to within two wins from advancing to their second consecutive Calder Cup Finals, the Marlies’ supporting cast is undergoing a facelift this offseason. While Toronto has never been shy to flex their financial muscle in signing marquee AHL talent to NHL one-way deals, they upped the ante this offseason.
Those players can be deemed “accelerators”, whose jobs are to otherwise accelerate the development of the Leafs’ young prospects by surrounding them with high-level talent relative to the level.
You see, the majority of the Leafs’ new additions – Pontus Aberg, Kenny Agostino, Tyler Gaudet, Kalle Kossila, Nick Shore, Garret Wilson and Kevin Gravel – aren’t just really good AHL players, but also capable NHL utility players. And the thing is, with only a handful of spots up for grabs at this years’ training camps, most of these recent acquisitions will be Marlies bound in the fall.
2019-2020 Potential Marlies Accelerators
|Player||Age||AHL P/PG Last 2 Seasons||NHL P/PG Last 2 Seasons||Contract|
|C, Kalle Kossila||26||0.89||0.16||$700,000|
|LW, Kenny Agostino*||27||0.82||0.36||$700,000|
|LW, Garrett Wilson*||28||0.68||0.16||$725,000|
|RHD, Jordan Schmaltz||25||0.47||0.09||$700,000|
|LHD, Kevin Gravel*||27||0.40||0.19||$700,000|
|C, Tyler Gaudet*||26||0.47||0.00||$700,000|
|C, Nick Shore*||26||0.00||0.29||$750,000|
2018-2019 Marlies Accelerators
|Player||Age||AHL P/PG Last 2 Seasons||NHL P/PG Last 2 Seasons||Contract|
|C, Chris Mueller*||33||0.87||0.00||$650,000|
|C, Josh Jooris*||29||0.29||0.26||$650,000|
|RHD, Vincent LoVerde*||30||0.24||0.00||$725,000|
After a year in which Mike Babcock openly called out his team’s depth, Kyle Dubas is leaving no room for excuses. Many interpreted Babcock’s criticisms as blasphemous due to the progressions many of Toronto’s prospects had made last season – the organization is known to over ripen, not rush, its youngsters. And as much as they stole the show during the playoffs last spring, the Leafs’ AHL prospects are still a relatively raw bunch.
While Sandin and Bracco each had excellent AHL campaigns last season, they’ve still got some kinks to iron out in their respective games before becoming ready for regular NHL duty. Liljegren’s sophomore season – in which he was deployed in a top-four role – was much better than his rookie year, but if the acquisition and subsequent signing of Cody Ceci tells us anything, it’s that the Leafs believe Liljegren needs at least another year in the minors.
Brooks and Engvall probably need another full season or two as well before they can become regular centres at the next level, while Mason Marchment needs to get a full season of AHL hockey under his belt before the Leafs can consider plugging the power forward on their fourth line.
By adding so much insurance to the depth chart, the Leafs not only provide themselves with a handful of stop-gap recall options, but it also gives the Marlies a Calder Cup contending team.
“On paper, they look like the best team in the North division,” one AHL head coach told The Leafs Nation via text message.
Marlies Projected Lineup
A quick glance at the Marlies’ (projected) lineup will tell you that Toronto seems poised for yet another lengthy playoff run.
***(Note: In this projected lineup, Aberg and Shore crack the Leafs opening lineup out of training camp and Neuvirth is the Leafs backup, meaning Hutchinson would return to either carry the torch, or split starts with Woll if the rookie netminder proves he can handle it.)****
Kenny Agostino – Adam Brooks – Jeremy Bracco
Garrett Wilson – Pierre Engvall – Mason Marchment
Dmytro Timashov – Kalle Kossila – Yegor Korshkov
Scott Pooley – Tyler Gaudet – Darren Archibald
Rasmus Sandin – Timothy Liljegren
Kevin Gravel – Mac Hollowell
Teemu Kivihalme – Joseph Duszak
Scratches: Tanner McMaster, Aaron Luchuk, Brady Ferguson, Giorgio Estephan, Colt Conrad, Hudson Elynuik , Richard Clune, Krisitans Rubins, Ryan Johnston
First Forward Line
With Mueller out of the fold, Bracco, whose 79 points last season pegged him second amongst all AHL skaters, needs a new running mate. Agostino, who has a proven track record of converting on chances at the AHL level, could be that guy.
Put a cerebral centre in Brooks between those two and boom; you’ve got yourself an AHL first line.
Second Forward Line
It’s not a forgone conclusion that Engvall slots down the middle next season, but I’m hard-pressed to believe that the Leafs won’t give the speedy 6’5 winger every opportunity to become a full-time centreman. Engvall is a zone entry machine, and if he can get the puck in the zone, he and Wilson will surely do a darn good job of keeping it there.
Wilson, on the other hand, is not the fastest skater. But his aggressiveness and offensive instincts have helped him become an offensive weapon at the AHL level over the past few years. Adding him in next to Marchment, a pest in the truest sense, and you’ve got yourself a rare blend of skill and grit that will surely give the opposition a massive headache.
Third Forward Line
Timashov was translating for Korshkov when the latter came over from Russia at the end of last season and the two appeared to develop some chemistry. You’ve ought to think that the playing styles of Timashov, a speedy creative winger with tremendous vision, and Korshkov, a physical power forward with a tremendous shot, would compliment Kossila quite well.
Possessing slick hands, borderline supervision, and a solid defensive repertoire, Kossila is a dynamic talent at the AHL level. If Timashov and Kosslla are on the same line, I wouldn’t be surprised if Korshkov had a breakout season.
Fourth Forward Line
Keefe likes to have a sort of energy line that he can rely on in defensive situations, and Gaudet, Archibald, and Pooley fit that bill.
Gaudet, who played under Keefe and Dubas in the OHL with the Soo Sault Marie Greyhounds, is a responsible two-way centre whose game includes an element of sandpaper. Pair him with a puck-hound like Pooley (who I envision will be rewarded with an extended AHL look after playing a big part in the Growlers’ Kelly Cup Championship) and a gritty forward like Archibald who has some offensive upside and you’ve got a modern-day fourth line.
First Defence Pair
Keefe embraces Sandin and Liljegren’s creativity with the puck and after their showing together at the back-half of the 2018-2019 regular season and throughout the playoffs, there’s no reason to believe that they’ll be split up.
Second Defence Pair
I’m really intrigued to see how Hollowell does over the course of a full AHL season. He’s a solid puck-mover who likes to jump into the rush and make plays, and I think Gravel, a steady stay-at-home defenceman, would help counterbalance that.
Third Defence Pair
Odds are that Kivlhame and Duszak get ample opportunity to prove their worth this season. Both are on entry-level contracts and while the Marlies signed Ryan Johnston to an AHL deal, I can’t foresee the grizzled AHL veteran beating out either of the two defenceman, but he’s a quality backup option nonetheless.
If all goes according to plan, Michael Neuvirth will be the Leafs’ backup goaltender and Hutchinson will return to the Marlies. It’ll be interesting to see to what degree Hutchinson is deployed, be it as the full-time starter or as the 1A of a goalie tandem with Woll. Goalies take time to develop and having Hutchinson as a safety blanket as the 21-year-old rookie goaltender adapts to the pro game helps the Marlies avoid a massive headache.
The Best Of The Rest
You need to have depth to survive an AHL season and the Marlies have plenty.
Be it prospects that shined for the Growlers last spring – Ferguson, Estephan, Elynuik, Rubins – or recent acquisitions such as Luchuk, Brazeau and Woods that have a great deal of potential yet to be unlocked, there’s going to be plenty of people fighting for jobs at Marlies training camp next fall.
Giddy up for another lengthy playoff run, Marlies fans.