Toronto Maple Leafs minor-league system highlighted by depth and toughness

By John-Eric Iannicello
Photo: Nazem Kadri has been among the many Leafs prospects who has spent time in both the AHL and NHL this season. (Photo courtesy of www.ontariohockeyleague.com

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The Toronto Maple Leafs have a large contingent of prospects playing at the pro level. There are 15 prospects currently suiting up for the Toronto Marlies, while three have spent the majority of their seasons with the Reading Royals. Injuries and various NHL call-ups have seen certain players rewarded for a strong first-half to the 2010-11 season.

AHL

Keith Aulie, 21, D

Keith Aulie has been a great addition to the Maple Leafs organization, providing them with a pillar of defensive consistency on their farm team. The 6’5 defender has played 14 games with the Marlies recording one goal and three assists. He’s seen top-four ice-time on the Marlies blue line and has been paired with rookie Korbinian Holzer and Mike Brennan through the first quarter of the season. Aulie was recalled to the Maple Leafs on November 12th and has remained with the team since, appearing in 11 games and averaging 13:11 minutes of ice-time. While he’s likely to return to the Marlies in the coming weeks, Aulie has shown that he has the ability to compete at the NHL level.

Luca Caputi, 22, LW

Failing to capture a roster spot during camp, Caputi was assigned to the Marlies and was expected to take a primary scoring role with the club. While he’s been an offensive threat in the AHL so far in his career, Caputi has had set backs offensively this season scoring only one goal and assisting five times in 11 games. He’s also bounced up and down between the NHL and AHL at the start of the season and did appear in seven games for the Maple Leafs earlier in the year. He was also held pointless in those contests. Caputi will have to find his scoring stride quickly if he hopes to catch the eye of Maple Leafs management this season.


Jerry D’Amigo
, 19, LW

Coming over from the NCAA to the pro level at 19-years-old there was an expected adjustment period for Jerry D’Amigo. He started the season in a bottom-six role, but quickly found himself playing alongside veteran forwards Joey Crabb and Mike Zigomanis at the start of November. While he hasn’t lit the lamp consistently, he has shown great determination and speed at the AHL level and has garnered praise from coach Dallas Eakins. D’Amigo has scored three times and recorded six assists through his first 29 AHL games. D’Amigo will have no rest over the holidays as he joins Team USA once again for the World Juniors.

Simon Gysbers, 23, D

A relatively unknown commodity coming into the season, Gysbers has asserted himself well as a rookie in the AHL. He started the year with a strong pre-season and was a depth player for the Marlies at the start of the season, but was able to find himself a spot in the rotation as the year progressed. He was sidelined a few games throughout November with injury, but has been solid in December for the Marlies and is second on the team in defensive scoring. He’s played in 16 games this season and has recorded four goals and four assists. At the start of the season he was paired with Matt Lashoff, towards the end of November he’s been seeing time with Danny Richmond.


Korbinian Holzer, 22, D

Korbinian Holzer has been solid in his transition to the smaller ice. The German-born defender keeps his game simple and non-flashy, and it’s effective. He was paired with Keith Aulie at the start of the season, but was recalled by the Maple Leafs in early November where he appeared in two games with the club. After being returned to the Marlies, he found a new defensive partner in Matt Lashoff. Holzer has recorded one goal and four assists in 22 games this season. He also dropped the gloves on two different occasions.

Christian Hanson, 24, RW

Like Caputi, Hanson failed to earn a bottom-six center spot with the Maple Leafs out of camp and was assigned to the Marlies. The 24-year-old forward has been used primarily in a defensive center role in an effort to find him a niche at the NHL level. The second year AHL forward has recorded five goals and eight assists in 22 games this year and has played with more bite in his game. He saw three games with the Maple Leafs earlier in the season, but has since been a mainstay with the Marlies. He has formed an effective grinding line with Marlies captain Alex Foster and first-year forward Dale Mitchell.

Brayden Irwin, 23, C

Brayden Irwin started his pro career very strong recording six points in five games, but has since only recorded four points through the last 17 games. Irwin, like most free-agent forwards coming from the NCAA, will take time to adjust to the high-tempo AHL game. He’s not as highly touted as previous NCAA free-agents the Maple Leafs have acquired and will likely take a bit longer to carve out a pro career. The 6’5 forward has been teamed with Justin Hodgman and Marcel Mueller for most of the season.

Nazem Kadri, 20, C

The Maple Leafs poster boy came as advertised in his first few games with the Marlies, but his AHL career didn’t last long. Needing an offensive jumpstart the Maple Leafs recalled the 20-year-old on November 11th. Kadri was far and above the most dangerous of Marlie forwards scoring at a point-per-game clip through the first 14 games of the sea
son. While his game hasn’t been without criticism, Kadri has shown special ability with the puck. He has recorded six assists in 15 games with the Maple Leafs and there are no plans (at the moment) to return the forward to the Marlies.

Matt Lashoff, 24, D

Matt Lashoff has been what most expected him to be for the Marlies this season. He’s led the team offensively from the blue line and has even challenged Hodgman for the team scoring lead at times. While this may speak more to the fact the Marlies have no top-end AHL stars, it’s also a testament to Lashoff’s ability to move the puck. In 29 games Lashoff has scored three goals and tallied 12 assists. He’s been a top-four defenseman for the Marlies this season paired with rookie defenders.

Juraj Mikus, 22, D

Juraj Mikus had a very strong first pro season in the AHL in 2009-10. This year, he’s had to battle minor injuries and added pressure due to the depth on the Marlies blue line. Like Gysbers, Mikus has rotated in and out of the line-up through the month of November because of nagging injuries. He’s dressed in 17 games with the Marlies and has recorded five assists. He’s played primarily with veteran defenseman Jeff Finger in the Marlies top-four.

Dale Mitchell, 21, RW

Starting the year as a depth forward, Dale Mitchell has earned himself a position among the Marlies bottom-six due to his gritty style of play. The first-year forward rotated into the lineup fulltime in November when forward Ryan Hamilton was sidelined with a knee injury. To his credit, Mitchell has produced. He’s been a sparkplug on the Marlies grind-line with Hanson and Foster and has contributed offensively. Through 21 games the 21-year-old has scored four goals and added seven helpers while also being a plus-four.

Marcel Mueller, 22, LW

Marcel Mueller has had a very inconsistent season with the Marlies after a very successful season in Germany last year. At the start of the season he was extremely snake bitten in the goal department, and then his game started to become inconsistent to a point where he was a healthy scratch. To his credit, Mueller has stepped up his game recently recording a hat-trick on December 11th. He’s played on both wings and has been paired with Irwin and Hodgman for most of the year. On the season, Mueller has five goals and five assists in 27 games. He’ll be looked on to provide more consistent offense in the second half of the season.

Jussi Rynnas, 23, G

Like Mueller, Rynnas has had an inconsistent season with extreme highs and extreme lows. The Finish netminder was shaky in his first three starts going 0-3 and allowing 11 goals through those games. In November, Rynnas was one of the most dominant players in the AHL. He posted a 5-2-2 record and had a sparkling 1.33 goals against average and a save percentage of .957. He failed to give up more than two goals throughout the month. In December, Rynnas has hit a slump allowing 13 goals in his last three games. In 17 starts Rynnas has a 2.49 goals against average and a .921 save percentage.

James Reimer, 22, G

James Reimer has also been putting together another solid season with the Marlies, even though he’s only been limited to 11 games. The 22-year-old has 7-3-0-1 record with the Marlies and has posted a goals against average of 2.73 to go along with a strong .920 save percentage. For his work at the AHL level the Maple Leafs recalled the net minder to backup Jonas Gustavsson when Jean-Sebastien Giguere was sidelined with a groin injury in November. He didn’t appear in any games.

Greg Scott, 22, RW

One of the surprise Marlies of last season, Greg Scott’s second year with the club has seen his role decreased due to the added depth and healthy lineup. He’s been a part of one of the more successful Marlie lines – paired with Daryl Boyce and Jay Rosehill (prior to Rosehill being recalled by the Maple Leafs). He’s scored four goals and added seven assists in 22 games this season. He’s been sidelined since early December after suffering an injury during practice.

ECHL

Richard Greenop, 21, RW

Enforcer Richard Greenop is plying his trade at the ECHL level, but has recently been recalled to the Marlies to fill in for some of the injuries to their forwards. Greenop has recorded four fighting majors in the ECHL this season, and has squared off once in his recent stint with the Marlies against Jimmy Bonneau. Greenop has played 17 games with the Royals and has scored once, assisted twice and recorded 24 penalty minutes. He’s dressed in three games with the Marlies playing on the fourth line with Daryl Boyce.

Ben Scrivens, G, 24

Ben Scrivens has been spectacular at both the ECHL and AHL level this season. He’s ranked fifth in the ECHL for goaltenders through 11 games. He has a record of 8-3-0 and he’s posted a goals against average of 2.18 and a strong .936 save percentage. With James Reimer recalled to the Maple Leafs, Scrivens appeared in three games with the Marlies. He was solid with a goals against average of 2.20 and a .934 save percentage in his short appearance with the club.

Robert Slaney, 22, LW

Robert Slaney has been unable to translate his success in the QMJHL to the pro level. After failing to establish himself last season with the Marlies, he hasn’t developed his offensive game much in the ECHL this season. He’s only scored once and has seven assists in 24 games which is one of the worst point-per-game performance among the forward group.

d="HFlink" class="HFlinkstyle">Mikhail Stefanovich, 21, RW

Mikhail Stefanovich’s stint in the pros was short, at least in North America. The Maple Leafs loaned the 21-year-old forward to Dynamo Minsk at the end of November. With the Royals, Stefanovich scored three goals and two assists in four games, and went pointless in two games with the Marlies. With Minsk, he’s gone pointless in six games. It should also be noted that Dynamo Minsk drafted Stefanovich second overall in the 2009 KHL draft, which will fuel speculation that he’ll remain there for his career.