The Marlies will look to bounce back from a poor, injury riddled 2009-10 season that saw them finish third last in the Western Conference. Key free-agent depth additions such as Joey Crabb, Mike Zigomanis, Marcel Mueller, Danny Richmond, Ben Scrivens and Jussi Rynnas should help the Marlies trend towards the playoffs in 2010-11.
If the Marlies are to be successful this season, they’ll need to find the back of the net more often. The Marlies only scored 193 goals last year, which was good for last in the league. Losing three of their top point producers to the NHL in Tyler Bozak, Viktor Stalberg, and Christian Hanson seemed detrimental to the team’s offense, but they also missed secondary offense from their injured veterans. Ryan Hamilton, Alex Foster, Tim Brent and Darryl Boyce all missed significant time with injuries which played a large factor in where the Marlies finished last season.
With their leading scorer in Andre Deveaux (41 points) signing elsewhere this past summer, the Marlies will need strong offensive numbers from the new faces. Mike Zigomanis and Joey Crabb were two free-agent signings that will look to bolster the offensive punch. Zigomanis began last season with the Marlies registering 13 assists in seven games, but left for Europe shortly after. With an NHL contract this season, Zigomanis is likely to play the entire season in North America.
Tim Brent, who is making a case for himself at camp with the Maple Leafs, is also likely to spend his year with the Marlies and should produce around a point per-game clip. Although, there is the potential for John Mitchell to take Brents role with the Marlies, if Brent is able to secure the third-line center spot with the Maple Leafs.
With Zigomanis and one of Brent/Mitchell in the top-six it should add significant depth to the Marlies center position. Healthy seasons from Hamilton, Boyce and Foster should also see a steady stream of secondary scoring from these players.
The youth will also be served on the Marlies. Jerry D’Amigo, Brayden Irwin, Marcel Mueller and returning forward Greg Scott should all see significant time in the top-nine this year. Scott saw marked improvement offensively over the course of the year and finished third in team scoring with 31 points. Mikhail Stefanovich and Dale Mitchell are also back to take a run at a roster spot after being sent back for their overage seasons in junior last year. Both players may see their seasons start in the ECHL, as they will be in tough to win a top-nine spot with the club.
Nazem Kadri is also likely to join the farm team at the start of the season. After an inconsistent training camp, and Burke’s history of developing players Kadri will have time to fine tune his game in the AHL. With the Marlies depth at the center position, Kadri may see time on the wing in the top-six, which may prove to be the best place for his development.
Luca Caputi is also AHL eligible, but proving to be one of the more impressive Maple Leaf forwards through training camp may have secured his spot with the parent club. Due to Caputi’s waiver exemption status it shouldn’t come as a shock if he is assigned to the Marlies at the start of the year in an effort to protect other players who are eligible for waivers (such as Tim Brent and John Mitchell).
The Marlies defense will be represented by ‘the big four’ in Keith Aulie, Korbinian Holzer, Juraj Mikus and Simon Gysbers. All four of these defenders had strong training camps and will provide great depth not only to the parent club, but on the Marlies.
Danny Richmond, who also carried himself well through training camp, will be a key ingredient in the top-four with the Marlies. At 26-years-old he will be looked on to play in all-situations and be dependable as the rookie-defenders adjust to their first year.
Mike Brennan will also play a similar role to Richmond. Brennan was an invite to the Maple Leafs training camp, and was consequently assigned to the Marlies after the first set of cuts. He’s played the last two seasons with Rockford and should take a top-six spot with the Marlies this year.
Two names who could join the Marlies soon are Matt Lashoff and Jeff Finger. Both players should add significant wallop to the Marlies defence. Lashoff (a former first-round pick in 2005) was acquired in a trade that saw Alex Berry and Stefano Giliati head to Tampa Bay this summer. He is a capable offensive-defender who should spark the Marlies powerplay; he’s currently sidelined with an upper-body injury. Jeff Finger may be the causality of a numbers game with the Maple Leafs (both due to cap and roster space). If he is sent down, he can be a key two-way defenseman for the Marlies and has the ability to play in all-situations. Both players will first have to pass through waivers as they are both waiver eligible.
Rounding out the defensive-depth will be Josh Engle, and Drew Paris. Both are likely to rotate in and out of the line-up and between the AHL/ECHL. Engle was with the Marlies for 70 games last season, but due to the added depth he’s likely to be pushed down the depth chart.
Another key area that was addressed this off-season was the goaltending depth. The Maple Leafs added two solid goaltending prospects in Jussi Rynnas and Ben Scrivens. Considering goalie James Reimer was also a standout for the Marlies in his 26 games last year, the team should have healthy competition between the pipes.
Although Scrivens was arguably the better goaltender through training camp, it seems Rynnas will be given every opportunity to secure a spot with the Marlies. This means Scrivens is likely to start the season in the ECHL or loaned to another AHL team. With Reimer’s injury history, Scrivens is likely to see a few AHL games throughout the year.
Down the depth chart is Andrew Engelage who isn’t expected to see much AHL action unless something disastrous happens to the three goaltenders ahead of him.
Dallas Eakins returns as Marlies head coach and should have a bit more to work with in terms of talent within his group. He has a good mix of veterans and young prospects at his disposal that should get the Marlies into the playoffs barring significant injuries.
Associate coaches Derek King and Gord Dineen are also returning for their second year with the club.
Luca Caputi and Christian Hanson seem to be two players who have come to camp ready to battle for spots. Both players look as if they’ve added significant strength and it’s shown in their ability to win battles along the boards. Luca Caputi specifically has shown much more ability offensively then he did in his 19 games with the Maple Leafs last season. He’s handling the puck with more confidence and it’s resulting in multiple scoring opportunities for him and his line mates. Caputi currently has one goal and four assists through five games.
For Hanson, he’s battling for a bottom-six center spot and so far it seems as if he’s secured it. At 6’4, Hanson fits the ideal criteria of center in Burke’s line-up. Centering a line with Mike Brown and Colton Orr flanking his wings should create a ton of energy for the Maple Leafs.
As for Maple Leafs top prospect Nazem Kadri, it’s been a bit of a bumpy training camp. Kadri has not played nearly as well as he did last preseason, but the immense pressure this year could be a factor. Last year, Kadri wasn’t expected to win a spot on the Maple Leafs and it allowed him to play a fun and relaxed game. This year, expectations were extremely high on the soon-to-be 20-year-old forward and his game has tightened up considerably. Kadri did play exceptionally well against Ottawa on September 29th scoring two goals and one assist, but it’s unlikely enough (at this point) to win a roster spot.
Other players who impressed through both the rookie camps and main training camp are Simon Gysbers, Korbinian Holzer, Jesse Blacker Sondre Olden, and Greg McKegg. Gysbers, Holzer and Blacker all played solid defensive games and worked well under pressure. Holzer played three games in the preseason with the Maple Leafs, and was solid through all. Blacker saw action in two games and was a noticeable offensive threat. He registered two assists and five shots. Olden and McKegg were two of the more promising offensive players for the Maple Leafs at their Kitchener Rookie Tournament, and for his efforts McKegg was awarded a game in his hometown London. He made good in his debut scoring a goal. Crescenzi (a training camp invite) played a solid physical two-way game and earned himself an entry-level deal with the Maple Leafs after a successful camp. He played one game in the pre-season against the Buffalo Sabres."
Prospect Jerry D’Amigo is OHL eligible with the Kitchener Rangers (who hold his CHL rights), but is looking more and more likely that he’ll stick with the Marlies for the 2010-11 season. Because he was signed out of college he’s eligible to play in the AHL, even though he’s only 19 years old.