After missing the playoffs for the first time since 2011, the Toronto Marlies are looking for a different outcome this year.
Last season saw an inexperienced team, as a number of players made their true AHL debuts. (The COVID season skewed stats and wasn’t as competitive due to the NHL’s taxi squad.)
This year is a completely different story, though. While there were no excuses from players or management for a missed playoffs, it was clear that experience played a massive part in the result.
With a majority of the team now having at least one year of experience in professional hockey, the real work to become a playoff team begins. As does the road to developing players so that they can one day play for the Maple Leafs.
There are a few players who need to have big seasons — three of which who’ve gotten one full year of the AHL under their belts.
With one more year remaining on his entry-level contract, the 21-year-old sits atop the list of players who need to have a breakout season.
Just one year ago, Assistant General Manager and head of Player Development for the Maple Leafs, Hayley Wickenheiser, said that Der-Arguchintsev’s route to success would begin with gaining muscle in the weight room.
He had plenty of success early on in his first AHL season, scoring 13 points in 17 games. Everything after that was slightly downhill, though, as the 21-year-old would go pointless in the next nine games (with a full Marlies COVID outbreak in-between).
It wasn’t until after that stretch where Der-Arguchintsev showed his true capabilities. Adding more strength as the season went on, you could see him becoming a much more confident player. After the nine-game pointless streak, the 21-year-old put up 19 points in 25 games — a near identical points-per-game total to the stretch at the beginning of the season.
With his ever-growing confidence and his now one-year experience in the AHL, there’s a lot riding on Der-Arguchintsev’s season. He’s going to have a very big role within this team, and the hopes from everyone are that he has a lot of success.
It feels as though we should be comparing both Abramov and Der-Arguchintsev. They’re one year apart in age, from the same country, play the same position, and have spent three seasons in the CHL.
What makes them different is the type of players each of them are. Abramov, in particular, is more of a gritty playmaking centreman who can put the puck in the net from time to time. His shot and hands are his greatest attributes, and similar to Der-Arguchintsev, he needed to gain muscle in order to have a more successful campaign.
Aside from that, the 21-year-old was a very important part to the Marlies, mostly playing last year on the third line. He struggled early on in the season and found consistency to be difficult — going pointless in five or more games straight four times.
The biggest thing for Abramov, being in the final year of his entry-level contract, is finding consistency and being a player the Marlies can rely on at important times.
Král is likely the Maple Leafs’ prospect who needs to have the biggest “show me” season.
The 22-year-old defenceman appeared to progress really well last season, bouncing around the Marlies’ defence core. In some games he played on the top pairing, in others he was in the bottom four.
Král was really effective wherever he was in the lineup, but struggled in the offensive zone, where he plays best. He was almost a point-per-game player in his final season in the WHL and hasn’t gotten close since playing in both the AHL and Czechia league.
Obviously he’s not going to be that right away in the AHL, but there has to be something for him to show. With Joseph Duszak leaving the team, it could open up more opportunity for Král to show what he’s capable of — both at five-on-five and possibly on the power play.
However, that’s a big if.
There is plenty of turnover this season when it comes to Marlies defencemen and someone else could get the opportunity. Again, though, Král has been very good defensively for Toronto, there just needs to be something that makes him a little bit better than the rest of the defenders.
Right now, I just can’t find that. And with one year left on his ELC, the pressure heightens for him to show Toronto what he’s got. It’ll be facinating to see what he can do this year.
Honourable mentions: Curtis Douglas, Alex Steeves and Nick Robertson (if not with Maple Leafs), Mac Hollowell, Pontus Holmberg, and Max Ellis.
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