Toronto Maple Leafs AHL and CHL prospects flourished in the 2013-14 playoffs

By Ed Dermit

Sam Carrick - Toronto Maple Leafs

Photo: Forward Sam Carrick was a big part of the Toronto Marlies postseason success in 2014, posting five goals and four assists in 14 games. (courtesy of John Rivera/Icon SMI)

While the Toronto Maple Leafs may have underachieved by not making the NHL playoffs in 2013-14 season, their AHL affiliate the Toronto Marlies, completed a deep run in the AHL Calder Cup playoffs. In addition, all seven of their CHL prospects made it to their respective league playoffs, including three who went on to play in the 2014 Memorial Cup.

AHL

The Marlies were dominant in the first two rounds of the AHL playoffs, sweeping the Milwaukee Admirals and Chicago Wolves in seven straight games. They eventually lost a hard-fought, seven-game series to the Texas Stars in the Western Conference final. While AHL veterans Peter Holland and Jerry D'Amigo led the way, the Marlies have seen significant contributions from a young group of recent Maple Leafs draft picks as well. The 'Kid Line' of right winger Sam Carrick, left winger Josh Leivo, and centered by Greg McKegg, have played much of the playoffs on the same line.

The unsung hero for the Marlies during these playoffs has been Carrick. The Leafs fifth round pick in 2011, Carrick is a former captain of the OHL's Brampton Battalion who has always had a reputation for strong defensive zone coverage and a willingness to battle for loose pucks. Carrick's modest 35 points in 62 games for the Marlies during the 2013-14 regular season does not accurately depict the strength of his overall game. Although he stands only 6'0, Carrick had 115 penalty minutes which included nine fighting majors, a testament to his combativeness and character. When you also consider that despite his modest point totals, Carrick finished with a plus-17 rating, the highest among Marlies forwards, one begins to understand how well his game rounds out.

It was in the first two rounds of the 2014 AHL playoffs that Carrick's offensive game began to have a major impact. In the first series against the Milwaukee Admirals, Carrick managed three goals in the first two games, generating the type of offensive scoring depth the Marlies needed at a time when Holland and Spencer Abbott were not in the lineup due to injuries. Another indication of Carrick's evolution in the offensive zone during these playoffs is that he led all Marlies forwards in shots on goal by a wide margin – 40 shots after 12 games scoring five goals and four assists.

Honorable mention during 2013-14 AHL playoffs goes to Marlies rookie defenseman Petter Granberg. Despite registering only two assists in 14 playoff games, Granberg earns praise for his tough brand of defensive hockey which will earn him a legitimate opportunity to win a role with the Maple Leafs in the 2014-15 season. 

OHL

All four Maple Leafs prospects in the OHL made it to the playoff round in 2014 with their respective junior teams which included Connor Brown, Matt Finn, Ryan Rupert, and Carter Verhaeghe.

Defenseman Finn, team captain of the Guelph Storm, and the rest of his teammates enjoyed a dream season by winning the 2013-14 OHL regular season and 2014 OHL playoff championship. They entered the Memorial Cup championship as the team to beat only to lose the final game of the Memorial Cup to the Edmonton Oil Kings.

Despite the team's inability to win that final game, Finn did everything expected of one of the top OHL defenseman in the playoffs by scoring five goals and nine assists in 20 OHL playoff games, then registering four assists in four Memorial Cup games. More importantly, Finn continued the strong defensive zone coverage and one-on-one play that defined his 2013-14 season. Following the OHL playoffs, Finn was also named winner of the Mickey Renaud OHL Leadership Award.

Brown, the OHL's 2013-14 regular season MVP and Erie Otter team captain, continued with a strong postseason by scoring eight goals and 18 points in 14 playoff games after winning the scoring title during the regular season with 128 points. The Otters lost in the Western Conference final to the eventual OHL champions, Guelph Storm.

QMJHL

When the Maple Leafs used their sixth round pick and the 172nd selection overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft on goaltender Antoine Bibeau, they knew they were getting a goalie who was very raw. Nonetheless, Bibeau took an important step in fulfilling that potential by playing a starring role for the Val-d'Or Foreurs on the way to winning the 2014 QMJHL Championship, and then again during the Memorial Cup tournament.

Bibeau was at his best for the Foreurs when they needed him most during the 2014 QMJHL playoffs by winning two game sevens, first against the favored Halifax Mooseheads in the semi-final. Then he made 40 saves in game seven of the championship final by defeating the 2013-14 regular season champion Baie-Comeau Drakkar on the road, to claim the President Cup. Bibeau averaged over 40 shots per game over that seven game series, which earned him the Guy Lafleur Trophy as the 2014 MVP of the QMJHL playoffs.

Bibeau only got better on a bigger stage. In the first round-robin game of the Memorial Cup, Bibeau was named the first star by stopping 51 shots in a 1-0 shutout victory over the London Knights. He gave up six goals in game two on 36 shots against the Guelph Storm, but bounced back strongly in game three with a double-overtime 4-3 win against the Edmonton Oil Kings.  He stopped a penalty shot in the first period, faced 50 shots overall and was named the game's second star. The Oil Kings would get their revenge however by firing 54 shots on Biebeau in the semi-final game and scoring the winning goal in triple overtime. He finished the tournament with a .934 save percentage and was named the Most Outstanding Goaltender for the tournament. Incidentally, the only two other Toronto Maple Leafs draft picks to have won the Memorial Cup outstanding goalie award were both from the QMJHL, and both went on to have significant NHL careers – Felix Povin in 1991 and Eric Fichaud in 1994.

Frederik Gauthier, the Maple Leafs first round pick in 2013, had three goals and six assists in 11 playoff games for the Rimouski Oceanic, who lost in the second round of the QMJHL playoffs.

Notes and Signings

The Maple Leafs signed five previous draft picks to entry-level contracts in late March and early April.

Biebeau, the star of the 2013-14 QMJHL playoffs and the Memorial Cup, was signed to a three-year entry-level contract.

Defenseman Eric Knodel, 23, a fifth round pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, was signed to a one-year contract. Knodel was team captain of the NCAA New Hampshire Wildcats in 2013-14 and finished the year with a nine game audition for the Marlies where he registered two assists.

Defenseman Viktor Loov, 21, the Maple Leafs seventh round pick in 2012, was signed to a three-year entry-level contract. Loov played for MODO in 2013-14 as a rookie in the SHL.

Rupert was signed to a three-year entry-level contract. The 20-year-old managed 10 points in nine playoff games with the London Knights.

Verhaeghe was signed to a three-year entry-level contract. The 19-year-old forward registered one assist during a one game stint for the Marlies after the Niagara Falls IceDogs were eliminated from the 2014 OHL playoffs.

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