Toronto Maple Leafs minor league prospects play to mixed reviews

By Ed Dermit
Matt Finn - Toronto Maple Leafs

Photo: Now in his first season of professional hockey, defenseman Matt Finn has struggled to adapt to the faster, more physical style in the AHL. Finn was picked in the second round of the 2012 NHL Draft. (courtesy of Mark Spowart/Icon Sportswire)

 

Toronto Maple Leaf prospects playing for the AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies are undergoing a baptism by fire, and playing to mixed reviews. With a lineup that has iced 22 Maple Leafs prospects during the 2014-15 season, the Marlies’ season has been a roller coaster ride. Over the first 10 games, the Marlies finished with a respectable five wins and five losses. They subsequently went on a nine game losing streak that saw them score only 13 goals in that nine game span. They have begun to right the ship however and have a 7-1-2 record in their last 10 games.

AHL

Brad Ross, LW, 22

Ross took a step back at the beginning of this third season as a pro when the Leafs assigned him to the Marlies ECHL affiliate, the Orlando Solar Bears. His stay there did not last long, as he scored six points in seven games before being recalled to the Marlies. Ross began strongly, scoring five points in seven games with the Marlies, but things quickly went south after that. Corresponding with players returning to the Marlies lineup, his playing time declined and his offensive production disappeared. In 21 games this season Ross has four goals and three assists.

Jamie Devane, LW, 22

Despite being a relatively high third round pick of the Maple Leafs in 2009, Devane’s role and potential path to the NHL is clearly defined as an enforcer. With 30 AHL games played this season and only one assist to show for it, Devane plays limited minutes given his limited skill set.

Sam Carrick, C, 22

Much like last season, Carrick has used his modest 6’0 size to play a much more abrasive style than his size might indicate. Although his 16 points in 31 games this season are on pace to match his totals of last year, Carrick’s season has mirrored that of the Marlies roller coaster record. In his first 15 games of the season, Carrick recorded no goals, two assists, and was a minus-10. Over the subsequent 16 games however, Carrick recorded three goals, 14 points and was a plus two. Although the dramatic rebound in his offensive production is noteworthy, Carrick’s 66 penalty minutes are more representative of his tenacious style of play.

Greg McKegg, C, 22

Early in the season, the third year pro was given the de-facto number one center role on a young and inexperienced Marlies team. McKegg is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer, but he also plays with a high compete level that makes him suitable for a bottom six forward role. McKegg has been paired with Connor Brown much of the season scoring a respectable 17 points in 27 games.

Ryan Rupert, C, 20

Rupert must be regarded as one of the most pleasant surprises during the Marlies season, despite the fact he spend the first two months in the ECHL. The Leafs sixth round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, Rupert began his pro rookie season with the Marlies’ Orlando Solar Bears affiliate, where he posted 14 points in 17 games and was a plus seven. Recalled to the Marlies on November 30th, Rupert made an equally smooth transition to the AHL. In 21 games, Rupert has 12 points, is a plus-12, and has been a minus player in only one of those 19 games.

Carter Ashton, RW, 24

Ashton is looking to re-establish himself on the prospect radar after a wasted first half of the 2014-15 season. After making the Maple Leafs roster out of training camp, he was later suspended by the NHL for 20 games for using a banned substance. When he returned from the suspension in January, the Maple Leafs decided to send him to the AHL, even though he had to pass through waivers to do so. Ashton has proved that he can be a dominant AHL player, yet the former Tampa Bay Lighting first round pick who the Leafs obtained in a trade during the 2011-12 season, has played in 54 career NHL games and registered only three assists. He will need to use the second half of the AHL season to re-establish his credentials.

Tyler Biggs, RW, 21

One of the Maple Leafs two first round draft picks in 2011, Biggs was looking to have a more impactful second season with the Marlies than he had as a rookie. Things did not begin that way as he began the season with the Maple Leafs ECHL affiliate in Orlando. That move paid off with a strong start during which he scored four goals and six points in the Solar Bears’ opening eight games. Recalled to the Marlies for good in early November, Biggs has not been able to carryover that early success in terms of offensive production with only four points in 31 AHL games.

Connor Brown, RW, 20

Brown entered the season with high expectations after a 128 point OHL season. The early signs are that he may be exceeding them at this stage. Brown led the Marlies in scoring after 39 games with 11 goals, 31 points and a plus-nine rating. He was named AHL Rookie of the Month in December and is second in AHL rookie scoring. His offense has been remarkably consistent, never going more than two consecutive games without scoring a point. If one were to find fault, it might be in that he has scored most of his points at home, but that trait would not be uncommon for a rookie player at any level.

Josh Leivo, RW, 21

Leivo began the season with the Maple Leafs out of training camp, was sent down to the Marlies in early October, was recalled again briefly as an injury replacement, before being returned to the Marlies in late November. Leivo was in the midst of a string that saw him score points in seven of nine games, when he suffered an injury on December 12th. He recently returned to action for the Marlies, posting a goal and two assists in his most recent two games. Leivo has 13 points through 17 AHL games this season.

Matt Finn, D, 20

Finn joined the Marlies for the 2014-15 season after completing a very successful OHL career. The Maple Leafs second round pick in 2012 however, has had a rough introduction to professional hockey. He sat out the Marlies opening six games of the season, was then sent to Orlando of the ECHL for an eight game stint in December, before being recalled to the Marlies in early January. Finn has struggled in winning one-on-one battles against pros and will need to get much stronger. He has displayed flashes his creative puck handling skills, even though he has only one assist to show after 17 AHL games.

Petter Granberg, D, 22

Granberg has made progress in terms of his offensive production this season. In 26 games with the Marlies, his seven points already equal the points he had with the Marlies in 2013-14 after 72 games. Regardless, Granberg’s effectiveness will be measured by his defensive zone play which is his strength. His progress was stalled in mid-November when he missed one month due to an injury, but he returned and has continued his strong play since then. Granberg is still very much on the Leafs prospect radar with his improved play with the puck.

Eric Knodel, D, 24

Knodel entered his first full season of professional hockey after a four year career at the University of New Hampshire. He began the season with Orlando of the ECHL, playing 18 games and scoring two goals and four points. He joined the Marlies on November 30 and has since played nine games with four assists. Knodel stands 6’6 and weighs in at 225 pounds. but is known more for his heavy shot, rather than for using his hulking size to his advantage. Knodel has been out of the lineup since the New Year and faces competition for playing time given the Marlies prospect depth on the blue line.

Viktor Loov, D, 22

Loov led Marlies defenseman in scoring after 38 games, albeit with a modest 11 points. Loov began the year well with seven points in the Marlies opening 16 games, but only has four points in their last 23 games. Loov is a little more mature than the other Marlies defense prospects but has moved up the depth chart with his combination of physical tools and his smooth transition to North American hockey.

Andrew MacWilliam, D, 24

The former seventh round pick in 2008 entered his second full season with Marlies, providing a strong physical presence for a team that is lacking in that department. MacWilliam remains an interesting prospect for the Maple Leafs in particular because his style of play is unique within the organization. Despite scoring only three points in 35 games this season, he has still managed a plus-11 rating.

Tom Nilsson, D, 21

A fourth round pick by the Maple Leafs in 2011, Nilsson was assigned to the Marlies after spending last season playing in Sweden. With only six points in 36 games this season, Nilsson’s offensive production is consistent with the low point totals he recorded playing in Sweden over the last couple years. Despite the low point totals however, Nilsson is effective at handling the puck, but chooses to play a more conservative, stay-at-home style.

Stuart Percy, D, 21

Percy was the surprise of Maple Leafs training camp when he made the Maple Leafs roster but he struggled in the early going with the Marlies after being demoted. He finished minus eight over six games with the Marlies in November, and did not register his first point until his eleventh AHL game. Percy’s play has improved of late with a return to form that makes him a highly regarded two-way defenseman with a high hockey IQ.

Antoine Bibeau, G, 21

The 2014 Memorial Cup standout began his first pro season by making the Toronto Marlies as a 20-year-old. Despite a mediocre 2-2 record in October, Bibeau played extremely well, posting a 1.68 goals against average and .943 save percentage. November saw him struggle badly with a 4.73 goals against average and an abysmal .837 save percentage, but he rebounded strongly in December with four wins against one loss. Overall, Bibeau has progressed ahead of schedule and has posted an 8-6-2 record, a 2.44 goals against average, a .919 save percentage, and four shutouts.

Christopher Gibson, G, 22

Gibson began the season splitting the goaltending duties with Bibeau but has slowly moved into the number one position with his consistent play. While his overall wins, losses, goals against average, and save percentage are very similar to Bibeau, Gibson has displayed greater consistency from game-to-game. The former second round pick of the Los Angeles Kings is slowly returning to the form that made him a highly touted junior and high draft pick.

ECHL

Garret Sparks, G, 21

Heading into 2014 training camp, it was Sparks who was arguably the frontrunner on the young goalie prospect depth chart. Sparks was the primary back-up on the Marlies in 2013-14. However when the 2014-15 season started, Sparks found himself with Orlando of the ECHL, having suffered an injury that kept him out of action for much of the Maple Leafs training camp. He played a total of five games in Orlando before re-injuring himself, and it was not until late December before he was re-called to the Marlies. He made an immediate impression in his first start by posting a shutout, but has only played two AHL games this season.

David Broll, 22, LW

Broll has regressed in his second pro season. Broll found himself demoted to the ECHL in early December 2014 after being held pointless in 21 AHL games. In 10 ECHL games, Broll has five points but only two penalty minutes which is uncharacteristic for a player who is known for being extremely physical and a willing combatant.

Toronto Maple Leafs Prospect of the Month

Toronto Maple Leafs Prospect of the Month - William Nylander William Nylander left his Modo Swedish Hockey League team to represent Sweden at the World Junior Championships in late December with great expectations. Despite only playing in 21 games for Modo, Nylander was second on the team in scoring with 20 points. The feat is more impressive when you consider he is still only 18 years old.

Nylander represented Sweden at the World Juniors and did not disappoint. Even though the team may have finished out of the medals, Nylander put his dynamic offensive skills on display with three goals, and 10 points in seven games. Having faced a January 16th deadline for Nylander to be recalled to North America or remain in Sweden, the Maple Leafs decided to re-assign Nylander the AHL Marlies, where he will make his North American debut in mid-January.