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A look at the Maple Leafs’ “non-prospects” on the Marlies

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Photo credit:Steven Ellis/Daily Faceoff
Jon Steitzer
9 months ago
At The Leafs Nation, August usually means it is time to count down the top prospects in the Maple Leafs organization. Of course, some don’t make the cut. Others, like those we’ll look at today are very much capable of being NHL players but most certainly don’t get that prospect label attached to them. Upside might have waved goodbye to these players long ago and in at least one case they are closer to the end of their career than the start, but there is also a greater chance that we see these players in the Maple Leafs lineup over the prospect group.

Bobby McMann – 27- Forward

Last year Bobby McMann made his Maple Leafs debut and delivered what you’d expect from a 26 year old making their first appearance in the NHL, a full display of the energy and effort to not see that opportunity taken from him. An injury wound up shutting McMann down for the season after 10 games with the Leafs, but in that small sample Bobby displayed a lot of traits that will keep him consideration for a fourth line role coming out of training camp.
McMann is in a lot of ways the ideal turnkey callup option for the bottom six. He’s not flashy, isn’t going to make high risk plays and he’ll keep his game simple enough to be about keeping the puck out his end and chasing the puck at the other end of the ice. All the hitting, puck battle, and blocked shot stuff that doesn’t necessarily win games but helps keep them close is in his wheelhouse.
In short, McMann is an easy player to like but in that small dose 4th line capacity.

Kyle Clifford – 32 – Forward

It doesn’t need to be said that Clifford isn’t going to enter a glorious renaissance and he is what he is and that’s largely an AHL player that combines some enforcing with some leadership while being capable in a third line capacity at the AHL level. Where Clifford fits into the larger Leafs picture is through injuries to niche toughness needs at the NHL level. If Ryan Reaves is injured or Toronto has a road trip with a string of tougher opponents it seems possible that Kyle Clifford could still factor into the Leafs lineup.
It also would be nice as his NHL contract is winding down that he gets at least a couple of more games in the NHL this year. It’s an 82 game season and Clifford has given a lot to the Marlies. It would be nice to see.
The other path to the NHL for Clifford is via his affordable cap hit. At $762k Clifford, like McMann are the cheapest possible depth options the Leafs could carry and with some roster adjustments could make them 12th/13th forward options.

William Lagesson – 27 – Defence

A few years back I feel I might have been overvaluing Lagesson based on a “best in a bad group” crop of defence on the Oilers. Lagesson had strong numbers in a depth role which largely points to sheltering and at the time I was willing to make a case for him as a potential top four guy. The reality of how he’s played in different situations since then has tempered my expectations down to Lagesson being a depth option and as a potential 8th defenceman on the Leafs he’s exactly where he should be, but I also still like a lot of things about his game. He can move the puck well enough in a third pairing role against weaker competition and he’s not afraid to hit or fight even if he’s primarily there to move the puck.
It would be nice if last year was just that the Carolina blueline is a tough walnut to crack and that is what kept him out of the NHL. No matter what, it seems like he’s a player who will be in Toronto’s lineup as the reality of defensive injuries takes hold.

Marshall Rifai – 25 – Defence

I know Leafs fans aren’t comfortable with the idea of looking at Justin Holl as a success story but coming into the organization on an AHL contract and earning regular work in the Maple Leafs top four defence group is just that. While that goal is still a lofty one for Rifai, he’s taken the first step and that is earning an NHL contract on the strength of his year in the AHL last season. What sets Rifai apart from someone like Lagesson is skating. Rifai is far more capable of skating himself out of trouble and if his game continues to evolve based around that we’ll see him earn some consideration as a potential callup.
Still as a 25 year old 5’11” defenceman in the AHL it’s an uphill battle to get noticed over the other depth options, not to mention some good prospects like Niemela and Villeneuve.
The most likely outcome this season for Rifai is that he continues to improve his game at the pro level and be ready to push for NHL spot duty in 2024-25.

Max Lajoie – 25 – Defence

The Leafs admiration of the Carolina Hurricanes defence probably isn’t much of a secret at this point. First they brought in Dean Chynoweth as an Assistant Coach and then this summer the Leafs have recruited both Lagesson and Lajoie out of the Canes’ farm system.
While Lagesson is the defenceman I’ve seen more of and therefore see him as the 8th defenceman on the depth chart, Lajoie is the one who played three games in the NHL last year, captained the Chicago Wolves, and actually has a few more NHL games on his resume. It might not be the most compelling story heading into training camp, but Lajoie and Lagesson duking it out with Conor Timmins for a depth role is definitely something that will be going on.
A lot like how I touted Bobby McMann as a turnkey callup option on forward, Lajoie represents a lot of the same on defence. He’ll come in and do smart simple things where Lagesson might come with a few more risks and a bit more flash.
Lajoie will also be a minute eater on the Marlies and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him next to Topi Niemela to help give the Finnish prospect a leg up and playing in key situations early in the year.

Finally… Martin Jones – 33 – Goaltender

I guess for the purpose of being thorough we’ll lump him into this group and having discussed what he brings to the table recently, I’ll be brief in that Jones being around when Samsonov and Woll are both unproven when it comes to the workload asked of them and that it is in the Maple Leafs best interest to give Dennis Hildeby as much time as possible to develop without the immediate pressure of tending goal in the NHL in an emergency situation.
The non-prospect but under contract depth might not offer a significant amount of upside but all of them seem like they can quietly bail the Leafs out when required.

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