Leafs Prospect Roundup: Marlies eliminated, Growlers look to close out first round series, NCAA transfer portal

Photo credit:Nick Barden
Kyle Cushman
1 year ago
Nobody tell Jim Mora, it’s time for the playoffs! The Toronto Maple Leafs begin their first-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight, but before we get to the rest of our series preview content here on The Leafs Nation, it’s your weekly Leafs prospect roundup as more and more of Toronto’s prospects have their seasons come to an end.
We do have a couple of news items to get to in this one regarding two prospects entering the NCAA transfer portal, but we begin this week’s edition with the biggest headline of the week in the Toronto Marlies failure to make the playoffs.

Toronto Marlies

As outlined last week, the Marlies needed to capture four out of six possible points to guarantee themselves a spot in the 2022 Calder Cup playoffs. They recorded three heading into their final game of the year and with Rochester’s win on Friday, the Marlies had to at least force overtime to make the postseason.
They fell 5-2 to the Belleville Senators instead.
It was a difficult season for the Marlies. Young players were thrust into major roles to varying degrees of success and players in significant positions missed lengthy spells due to injury. Those two factors don’t usually combine to result in a playoff team.
Still, given the Marlies resources and expanded AHL playoff format, a spot in the Calder Cup playoffs is the bare minimum and the 2021/22 Marlies failed to reach that expectation.
@Semyon Der-Arguchintsev and @Mikhail Abramov were tasked with leading the way down the middle with little professional experience to lean on, and the two struggled to different extents throughout the season. Josh Ho-Sang didn’t quite hit the high levels that were anticipated of him after his strong preseason with the Maple Leafs, while midseason addition Joe Blandisi really cooled off as the season went along.
In terms of injuries, there were many. @Nicholas Robertson, easily the Marlies biggest impact player, was injured in the second game of the year and was limited to just 28 games. Middle six options Antti Suomela and Marc Michaelis both missed extended time as well, plus a late-season injury to Der-Arguchintsev that saw him miss the end of the year.
Things were a bit more steady on defence, though the same cannot be said about the goaltending. @Erik Kallgren missed time and then finished the season with the Leafs, while @Joseph Woll had two injury spells that saw him limited to 15 appearances.
There were still positive performances, of course. @Brett Seney had a career year, while @Alex Steeves stepped into the professional ranks seamlessly in his first year as a professional. @Bobby McMann and @Curtis Douglas both had breakout seasons on AHL contracts and earned themselves NHL deals beginning in 2022/23.
Overall, though, questions will have to be asked about what went wrong. Sure the Marlies had injury troubles and had players unavailable due to recalls, but that’s the case for every AHL franchise. The Marlies should be able to withstand those concerns with the amount of importance and resources the parent club puts into their cause.
Greg Moore has been head coach of the Toronto Marlies for two and a half seasons now, to middling results. Granted, in his first season he took over midseason when Sheldon Keefe was promoted, and his second season was a meaningless short schedule with no playoff spot to battle for.
For Moore, this was essentially his first real season coaching the Marlies. He had an entire offseason, training camp, and full-length schedule with the team. The Marlies are a development first, results second team, but with that mindset, you would anticipate early struggles and a crescendo to the end of the year. That did not happen.
I don’t think Moore will be fired. If anything, I would be fairly surprised if he is let go. But having missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010/11 (eight seasons in which playoffs were held), the temperature on the seat is beginning to rise. Factor in some questionable lineup decisions, such as healthy scratching 2nd Team All-Star @Joseph Duszak in the final game to dress 4th liner Jack Kopacka, which will have to be looked at as well.
Overall, the Marlies had a few standout performances in what was a lacklustre season as a whole. I anticipate we’ll see a new cast of veterans come into the team given how the season ended, with @Carl Dahlstrom the only player over the age of 25 under contract for next season (though Rich Clune will certainly be back if he wants to continue playing).
There will be another influx of young talent, with @Nick Abruzzese, @Max Ellis, @Axel Rindell, @Mikko Kokkonen, and @William Villeneuve all anticipated to play a role with the Marlies in 2022/23.
Finally, look for a handful of the Marlies roster to join the Maple Leafs squad as “black aces” in short order. Nick Robertson is the only one with a genuine shot of making an appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but the rest simply being around that environment will be a valuable experience for them.

NCAA Transfer Portal

5th year senior Ryan O’Connell and John Fusco, two depth prospects in the Leafs system, entered the NCAA transfer portal over the past week as both look to join a new program for the 2022/23 NCAA season.
O’Connell had a solid season with Ohio State in 2021/22, recording 10 points in 30 games. Rather than turning pro after his fourth year of NCAA hockey, the 23-year-old defenceman will use his extra year of eligibility granted to players by the NCAA due to COVID. As a result, this means O’Connell’s exclusive rights will not expire in August as originally scheduled, and Toronto will retain his rights for an extra year.
The 2017 seventh-round pick primarily played a third-pairing role for Ohio State, seeing more ice-time as the season went along. I’ll be interested to see whether O’Connell transfers to a smaller school in hopes of receiving big minutes, or whether he looks to a competitive program to be a depth veteran for a contender.
The other Leafs prospect entering the transfer portal was Harvard’s John Fusco, a 2020 seventh-round pick. Drafted as an overage prospect in 2020, Fusco played in the USHL in 2020/21 due to Harvard’s cancellation of school sports before making his NCAA debut as a DY+3 in 2021/22.
He was buried on the depth chart, often finding himself as the extra defenceman in the Crimson’s lineup. Though he appeared in 26 games, recording two points, Fusco rarely played any kind of notable minutes.
Soon to be 21 years old and entering his DY+4 season, Fusco is simply in need of ice-time. He played 20 games at the USHL level and barely played in 2021/22 in his freshman season. Unlike O’Connell, who is playing out his NCAA eligibility and could value a depth role on a contender, Fusco needs to find a program that fits his needs and will play him. If that has to come at a smaller, less competitive program, so be it.
Two other names I’m still keeping an eye on in the NCAA transfer portal among the Leafs prospects: Wyatt Schingoethe and Mikey Koster. Schingoethe had an abysmal freshman season with Western Michigan, rarely getting in their lineup. With multiple seniors moving on to pro hockey, it appears he is staying, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see Schingoethe look for a change of scenery.
As for Koster, it looks as though he will remain buried on a stacked Minnesota team as a third pair defenceman. I think he’s got breakout potential once he gets into a bigger role, but with two years of eligibility and an optional third remaining, Koster appears to be content playing a lesser role for his local school and on a championship contender.

Newfoundland Growlers

We’ll keep this one shorter as the Newfoundland Growlers continue their first-round series against Trois-Rivieres.
The Growlers hold a 3-2 series lead after dropping Game 5 away from home. They will look to close out the series at home with both Game 6 and if necessary, Game 7 both at home in Newfoundland.
Veteran Zach O’Brien is tied for the team lead in scoring with eight points alongside Manitoba Moose loanee Tyler Boland. Ben Finkelstein remains a point-per-game presence on the backend, while Keith Petruzzelli is sporting a .911 save percentage having played all five games.
With the Marlies eliminated, keep an eye out for @Pavel Gogolev’s status. He was made playoff eligible by the Growlers prior to the start of the Kelly Cup playoffs and he would bring a huge offensive boost to an already potent Growlers offence. Gogolev has not played a game since the beginning of April, though, and his status is unknown at this point.
Regardless, the Growlers will be looking to keep their franchise’s perfect playoff record intact and book their ticket to the second round with a win in Game 6 tonight.

OHL Playoffs

Finally, an update from the first round of the OHL playoffs.
@Ty Voit’s six points in six games weren’t enough to overcome the Western Conference’s top-seeded Windsor Spitfires. It was always going to be an uphill task for Voit and the Sting and pushing the Spitfires to Game 6 will be seen as a small positive. Voit’s overtime heroics and Game 5 kept them alive for one extra game.
Unfortunately due to the Marlies elimination, Voit’s season is now done. He does not have the Marlies to be re-assigned to go practice with and gain professional experience, and he is not eligible for the Kelly Cup playoffs. His fantastic DY+1 season ends here.
As for @Braeden Kressler, the Flint Firebirds hold a 3-2 series lead over Owen Sound. He has one goal in the five games so far, having been relegated to the 4C position prior to the start of the playoffs having just recently returned from a torn UCL.
Stats via Elite Prospects.
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