Photo credit:Thomas Skrlj/Toronto Marlies
10 observations from the Toronto Marlies’ 2022-23 regular season
By Nick Barden10 months ago
The Toronto Marlies have had a remarkable season — up until now — leading the AHL’s North Division for most of the year. But what is underneath all of that?
Throughout the entire season, I’ve jotted down observations of what I’ve learned from each player — good or bad. As they approach the playoffs — searching for the team they once were this season — it’s worth discussing what each player has done to help get them to where they are.
So, here are 10 observations from the Marlies’ 2022-23 regular season that I’d like to share with you.
1. Joseph Woll is an NHL goaltender
There is likely no better story than seeing Woll succeed at the AHL level with the Marlies this season. 12-straight wins to begin the year — after recovering from both a shoulder and ankle injury — catapulted him to new heights.
Although the 24-year-old had a successful NHL campaign with the Maple Leafs last season, Woll followed it up with something even better. Seven games, five wins, and a .932 save percentage — an incredible start to what could be a full-time NHL career in the near future.
It’s very early, but I’ll say right now that he’ll be the Maple Leafs’ backup next season.
2. William Villeneuve’s ever-evolving game in the AHL
An up and down start to his first professional season allowed Villeneuve to find his way in the AHL. It wasn’t the prettiest of arrivals, but Marlies head coach Greg Moore said there’d be a time where the 21-year-old would come flying out of a cannon.
That he did.
Villeneuve has three goals and 19 assists through 53 games with the Marlies this season, a fairly promising point total for a rookie defenceman. Throughout the entire season, the 21-year-old has worked hard in the gym to get stronger so that he can be more effective in his own end.
If there’s anything that I’ve learned from watching him this year, it’s that there’s potential for him to be an NHL defenceman in the future. Villeneuve can succeed if he puts his mind to it.
3. Topi Niemelä confident start in North America
Niemelä began his North American career straight away and hasn’t looked back since. The Maple Leafs’ top defensive prospect immediately got PP1 duties and was in the Marlies’ top-four when he joined the team nearly two weeks ago.
The 21-year-old plays with a lot of confidence and swagger. Although he stands at 5-foot-11, he’s not afraid to use his body to either shield the puck or to clear a forward out from in front of the net.
Niemelä is a strong puck mover and has a lot of offensive flair, rarely making mistakes with or without the puck. By the end of the regular season, he’ll only have played six games for Toronto, but it looks like the 21-year-old has already secured a spot on the playoff roster.
He has one goal and one assist through four games, and he’s a player that could possibly (though unlikely) make his NHL debut sometime next season, if he has a promising playoff run with the Marlies and training camp with the Maple Leafs next fall.
4. Max Ellis’ promising start to professional career
There isn’t a more intriguing player in the Maple Leafs system (at least to me) than Ellis.
Standing at 5-foot-9, the 23-year-old uses his speed and skill to weave his way through a game. This year, Ellis has gotten used to the AHL — the speed and physicality players bring — becoming stronger on and off the puck, and improving his shot a fair bit.
He’s played throughout the Marlies’ bottom six for most of the season and still has been able to put up 20 points (10G, 10A) through 49 games.
Although he’s on the smaller side, I believe Ellis has a bright future ahead of him at the professional level.
5. Greg Moore deserves his flowers
After last season ended, Marlies fans weren’t happy with Moore. It’s been a difficult run for him as he never really landed on his feet in Toronto until this year. He joined the organization prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and didn’t have a legitimate full season until last year.
And even then, there were times where fans weren’t allowed in the building. There was also a point last year where the team had a COVID outbreak which shutdown a lot of their holiday plans (and games).
Suffice to say, it’s been a rough go and Moore’s finally where he knew he’d be eventually: heading into his first Caler Cup Playoffs as a head coach in the AHL.
“It’s really exciting,” Moore said earlier this week. “For myself, I feel like it’s been a long time here, and just unfortunate circumstances of two COVID seasons, things just not having the flow and the feel of a real year.
“And (I’ve) just been so proud this season of our players, our staff, our whole organization and the hard work that everyone’s put in to get to this point. And now for us to gain the experience of being in the postseason and go through that together as well.”
6. Nick Abruzzese has quietly steady rookie season
The expectation for Abruzzese was that he’d have a solid first season with the Marlies, and that he has.
As of right now, the 23-year-old tied for 7th in AHL rookie scoring with 15 goals and 35 assists (in 67 games) this season. Abruzzese has got on the scoresheet quite a bit, but he’s done so more quietly than others.
What stands out to me about him is his hockey IQ. His ability to find open teammates and get them the puck is quite unique for a rookie in the AHL. And it seems like with the more playing time he gets, the more he puts points on the board.
His shiftiness is what allows him to have success as a rookie. Abruzzese knows how to use his body effectively to the point where not many of his opponents can get the puck off of him.
The 23-year-old is responsible at both ends of the rink and I’m very curious to see how he handles his first taste of AHL playoff hockey.
7. Erik Källgren has had a difficult season
I’m not sure anyone’s had a tougher go this year than Källgren. Once touted as the Maple Leafs’ top goalie prospect, things just haven’t been going the way the 26-year-old had hoped.
It was an exciting start for Källgren, as he went up and down between the Marlies and Maple Leafs last year. But this year hasn’t been too kind to the Sweden native.
He’s played in 23 games this season with the Marlies, posting a 9-9-2 record and an .884 save percentage in that span. His play has bounced up and down all season long, and I can definitely say that it’s not up to his standards.
But as Toronto approaches the playoffs, it’s always possible that Källgren turns this ship around and helps lead the Marlies to another Calder Cup — similar to what he did with the Växjö Lakers HC back in 2021.
8. Watch out for Keith Petruzzelli
The 24-year-old got off to an incredible start with the Marlies this season and honestly hasn’t looked back. It’s been an interesting year for Petruzzelli as he’s been in and out of the Marlies lineup, all depending on if Woll or Källgren play.
As of late, he’s shared the net with Källgren and has arguably been the better netminder. Through 24 games this season, Petruzzelli has 13 wins and a stellar .912 save percentage.
It could go either way as to who starts the playoffs in net for the Marlies, but if you’re going solely off numbers, Petruzzelli is your guy.
And depending on what happens with Woll and Källgren heading into next season, Petruzzelli could end up being the guy in the AHL for Toronto. Next year could be a huge year for the 24-year-old netminder.
9. Bobby McMann is good enough to be a Maple Leaf
The story of McMann is quite remarkable. He joined the Marlies on an AHL contract during the pandemic shortened season back in 2021 and played 21 games, only tallying two goals and two assists.
Later that year, he joined the ECHL’s Wichita Thunder on their playoff run, putting up two points in five games. At the beginning of the 2021-22 season, McMann was with the Newfoundland Growlers where he had four points in four games.
An injury to Nick Robertson allowed him another shot at the AHL level and the 26-year-old hasn’t looked back since. He finished last year breaking the Marlies rookie goal scoring record with 24 goals in 61 games, and because of all of his hard work, he got an NHL deal from the Maple Leafs.
Just by watching him during practices early in the 2021-22 season, I knew there was something there. He just needed a chance to showcase himself. And that he did.
This season, between the injuries he’s endured, McMann scored 21 goals in 30 games with the Marlies.
The 26-year-old’s body of work was so good that he even got into 10 NHL games with the Maple Leafs where he had his first NHL point. I’ll say it now — he’ll be a full-time Maple Leaf next year. Book it.
10. Marshall Rifai and Noel Hoefenmayer’s NHL potential
Toronto’s defence core has been riddled with injuries since almost the beginning of the season. And that’s where each of Rifai, Hoefenmayer, and Miller have really stepped up.
Hoefenmayer began the season putting up points like he was a five-year AHL veteran. In doing so, it led to the 24-year-old being named an AHL All-Star and joining Shaw, Woll, and coach Moore in Laval.
He has everything you’d want as a defenceman on your team. Physicality, strength, defensive smarts, and point production. For most of the season, Hoefenmayer quarterbacked Toronto’s top power play unit and did a very good job.
Although his point total has gone out of kilter as of late, he’s still a player the Maple Leafs could sign to an NHL deal later this year.
I’d put Rifai and Miller each in that conversation too.
Both have been defensively strong players for the Marlies in their rookie seasons. Rifai is an elite skater who uses his strength and skating to be responsible at both ends of the rink.
Miller is a good skater, too, but he uses more of his 6-foot-2 frame, and strength, to be one of Toronto’s top shutdown defencemen this season. He’s a very reliable defender, and I could see him sticking around on an AHL deal for next year.
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