Toronto Marlies (AHL)
After finishing fourth overall in the 2007-08 American Hockey League regular season, the loss of some key veterans has plunged the Toronto Marlies into the middle of the pack. With the eighth-best power play (19.6%), the Marlies have been able to compensate for the loss of their power-play quarterback Derrick Walser, but have not been able to generate even-strength scoring. Despite the solid power play, the Marlies are tied for the 10th worst offense in the AHL (with 111 goals). Defensively, the Marlies are middle of the pack. They have a record of 20-15-1-3, and are currently holding down a playoff spot in the North Division.
Veteran Tim Stapleton leads the paltry offense. Stapleton, who played with Jokerit Helsinki in the Finnish elite league last season, leads the club in assists by a wide margin with 28 in 37 games.
The offense recently got a boost recently when the Maple Leafs sent down 22-year-old rookie pro Nikolai Kulemin. He had 14 points in 40 NHL games, and has not yet scored in three Marlies games. But he scored over 20 goals the past two years in Russia, so he clearly has talent. He should help the Marlies play the kind of puck-possession style that coach Greg Gilbert wants to see.
The Nov. 26 hiring of Brian Burke by the Maple Leafs meant the Marlies lost second-leading goal scorer Andre Deveaux to the big club and two weeks later lost goal leader Jeremy Williams. Prospects Alex Foster, Stefano Giliati, Brent Aubin, Kyle Rogers and Robbie Earl received more responsibility with the promotions.
Foster, a 24-year-old undrafted free agent, picked up the offensive slack after the loss of Deveaux and Williams. The former Bowling Green standout now has 17 points in 39 games, most of them scored since his ice time increased. Giliati, 21, a responsible third line winger, has 11 points in 30 games and is tied for team-best plus/minus with +9. Aubin, scratched several times in recent games, has 11 points in 30 games. Rogers, a 6’4, 215-pound 24-year-old, has five points in 31 games and is even.
Unlike the other prospects, Earl has been disappointing. After scoring 47 points in 66 games last season, the 23-year-old Earl looked like he was on the cusp of consistent NHL duty. The speedy winger has one goal and seven points in 32 games and is -5. In a potential breakthrough year, Earl has laid an egg so far.
Aside from Phil Oreskovic, Jaime Sifers and Staffan Kronwall, the Marlie defense has been patchy and inconsistent. Oreskovic continues to play his typical, no-nonsense defensive game while Kronwall, 25, has finally shown some offense. Oreskovic, 21, is tied with Giliati with +9. Sifers’ solid defensive game was rewarded with a call up on Dec. 8, 2008. While only a -3 when promoted, Sifers drew the tough assignments for the Marlies. Sifers, 25, has played 11 games with the Leafs and has 2 assists to go with his -6.
Justin Pogge, who turns 23 in April, was given the Marlies starting job for the first time in his pro career. He has been mediocre at best and truly awful at times. With only 11 wins in 24 games and a woeful .891 save percentage, Pogge has been outplayed consistently by his backup Adam Munro. Munro and his .912 save percentage in 10 games puts Pogge’s numbers in perspective. Pogge still has a lot to prove, and could be quickly overtaken as the Leafs top goaltending prospect with an acquisition.
Reading Royals (ECHL)
Reimer, 20, a 6’3, 210-pounder has acquitted himself well with a 5-3-0-1 record and a .905 save percentage despite playing on such a woeful team. Reimer played well enough to be recalled by the Marlies in late December when Pogge was promoted briefly to the NHL. Reimer started and won a shootout victory over the Manitoba Moose on December 27. Reimer stopped 25 of 27 shots and was voted first star of the contest.
Reading will host the ECHL All-Star game on January 21.