Despite middling season, AHL prospects for Toronto Maple Leafs show promise

By John-Eric Iannicello
Photo: Acquired in a mid-season trade, defenseman Jake Gardiner brings a solid two-way style to the Maple Leafs depth charts. (photo courtesy of www.mynhldraft.com)

The Toronto Marlies found themselves on the outside of the AHL playoffs for a second-year in a row finishing fifth in the North Division with 85 points – an improvement from 78 points in 2009-10. A major reason for the Marlies lack of success was due to their divisional play. The Marlies only won 19 out of 48 divisional games this season. The lack of power play conversion was also a debilitating factor as they were 25 overall in the league at 15 percent. On the positive side, the Marlies were tops in the league in penalty killing at 86.1 percent.

For the second season, the Marlies were hit by major injuries. They lost a number of key players to a variety of lengthy injuries including Christian Hanson, Luca Caputi, Jeff Finger, Justin Hodgman, Ryan Hamilton, Marcel Mueller, and Brayden Irwin. They were also victim in losing key players to recall such as Darryl Boyce, Joey Crabb, Nazem Kadri, and Jay Rosehill.

The Maple Leafs had 11 forwards, four defenders and three goaltending prospects that played in the AHL and ECHL this past season. Defenseman Jake Gardiner (trade with Anaheim) and forward Tyler Brenner (free-agent) are two a college signings who also appeared in a handful of games at seasons end.


Forwards

Luca Caputi, RW, 22

There isn’t much to report on Luca Caputi due to a season-ending sports hernia that limited him to 13 AHL games. He started the year strong with the Maple Leafs in camp, but a numbers game saw him start the year with the Marlies. In his first six games with the Marlies, Caputi only managed to record one goal and one assist.

In late October he was recalled by the Maple Leafs for a seven game stint, but failed to make a strong enough impact. In late November he was re-assigned to the Marlies, but only managed to squeeze in five games before succumbing to a lower body-injury. He attempted to make a comeback in mid-March, but it only lasted two games and he was shutdown for the remainder of the season. He finished the year with one goal and five assists in 13 games.

The 22-year-old Caputi is still young enough to make a name for himself in the NHL, but his injury problems this year have affected his development. He’s up for contract renewal this summer, and should be re-signed.

Joe Colborne, C, 21

The big 6’5 center spent the majority of his season playing of the Providence Bruins before a trade saw him join the Toronto Marlies. With the Bruins, Colborne appeared in 55 games and scored 12 goals and 14 assists for 26 points. It was when he made his move to the Marlies that Colborne began to impact the score sheet. He immediately was thrown into top-six situations with the Marlies and he impressed. Through his 20 games with the Marlies he tallied eight goals and eight assists and was also a plus-two. He was also impressive during the shootouts, showcasing his silky smooth hands. He finished his rookie season with a solid 20 goals, 22 assists for 42 points in 75 games.

While he appeared in one game with the Maple Leafs at season’s end, expectations should be for Colborne to return to the Marlies to start the 2011-12 season. He has great natural tools at his disposal including size and skill, but he is still raw (as most players his size are). He’ll likely garner call-ups throughout the year should his game continue to evolve.

Jerry D’Amigo, LW, 20

The Binghamton-native took on a bottom-six role with the Marlies and appeared in 43 games with the club before being re-assigned to the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL. For most 19-year-olds, playing in the AHL against grown men is a challenge. D’Amigo more than held his own most nights playing a feisty, two-way game, but at times the physical nature of the pros got the better of him. He was also snake bitten throughout the majority of the season scoring only five goals as a member of the Marlies.

Prior to his re-assignment, D’Amigo had tallied 15 points in 43 games, but Maple Leafs management believed there was more offensive ability than what the first-year forward was producing. Joining the Rangers for the final 21 games, D’Amigo quickly made his impact offensively. He ended his OHL tenure with 12 goals and 16 assists in 21 games, while also being clutch in the post-season scoring six goals and three assists in seven games.

D’Amigo will rejoin the Marlies next season and will look to make a more distinctive impact offensively. The experience he gained through the first-half of the year was immeasurable, but it’s up to D’Amigo to take what he’s learned into application. He doesn’t project as a big-time scorer, but he should be able to hold his own offensively next season.

Richard Greenop, RW, 22

The 22-year-old enforcer played sparingly this season with both the Marlies and the Reading Royals (ECHL). As is the case for most enforcers, he saw limited ice-time in a fourth-line role and was a healthy scratch at points. He also suffered a concussion which kept him out a few months at the end of the season.

He did manage to play 30 games this year, 11 of which he dressed for the Marlies. In his 11 games with the Marlies he had three assists and racked up 28 penalty minutes – which included two fighting majors. In the 19 games he played with the Royals, Greenop scored one goal and assisted three times. He also had 24 penalty minutes – four fighting majors.

Depending on his recovery over the off-season, Greenop should return next season as he’s under contract with the Maple Leafs. He’s likely to split time again between the AHL/ECHL.

Christian Hanson, C, 25

Hanson hasn’t been able to find his role with the Maple Leafs over the last two seasons, and with his contract up in the summer it’s unclear whether the Maple Leafs will re-sign him. He was a standout of the Marlies last season, but this year he failed to raise his offensive game.

The plan was to groom him in a defensive role at the start of the year, but Hanson’s contributions were needed in all areas. His offensive production in 2010-11 was down from a year ago when he hovered around a point-per-game. In 58 games with the Marlies, Hanson scored 13 goals and 21 assists. He also saw a short six game stint with the Maple Leafs and was held pointless. In the final 12 games of the season, the 25-year-old only managed to tally four assists and was a minus-four.

Hanson is still a big-body who may find a niche in a fourth line role, but it could be time for the Maple Leafs to cut-bait with him depending on his contract demands.

Brayden Irwin, C, 24

The college free-agent signing from last summer had an injury plagued first pro season with the Marlies. Coming in as a big-bodied, bottom-six rookie expectations weren’t particularly high for Irwin, but he was looked on to provide some supporting offense due to his big shot.

He played in 45 games with the Marlies before being shut-down in late January with an upper-body injury. In his first 45 games Irwin scored seven goals and added eight assists. He looked particularly effective early in the year scoring two goals and four assists in the first eight games of the season, but his production slowed to a snail’s pace over the next 13 games where he only tallied two points.

He’s a restricted free-agent this summer, and although he’s been injured for half the season he may find his way back with the club next season in a similar role.

Nazem Kadri, C, 20

Former seventh overall selection Nazem Kadri only played in 44 games with the Marlies this season, yet still managed to finish second in team scoring with 41 points. He was among the league’s top in rookie scoring when he was a member of the Marlies, and his offensive creativity was very apparent in each game. He played in a top-six role with the club, and was a key player for the Marlies power-play unit before joining the Maple Leafs full-time.

Kadri is expected to take a full-time role with the Maple Leafs next season, but could see time with the Marlies next season if he fails to secure a spot with the parent club.

Dale Mitchell, RW, 22

The 22-year-old forward made his pro debut this season suiting up for 49 games with the Marlies. He was primarily used in a depth role throughout the year and chipped in with five goals and eight assists on the year. He also played in a handful of games with the Royals scoring two goals and two assists in five games. In the ECHL playoffs, Mitchell was also used sparingly and suffered an ACL injury which required surgery in the spring.

Next season Mitchell will look to secure a full-time spot in the bottom-six with the Marlies. He’ll have his work cut-out for him though as the Marlies are expected to return a number of forwards.

Marcel Mueller, LW, 22

The Maple Leafs free-agent signing from Germany had a very inconsistent season that dealt with pro-longed offensive draughts, injuries and healthy-scratches. Mueller started out of the gate very slow for the Marlies, only scoring two goals and four assists in his first 17 games. In the final 40 games of the season he began to pick up his game offensively scoring 12 goals and 14 assists.

He was scratched at various points, and was a disappointment through the month of February when he recorded only one goal. In March, Mueller missed the entire month due to a concussion. However, Mueller did finish the season on an extremely high note. In his last three games Mueller scored a total of seven points, which included a five night in the final game of the season.

Mueller will return to the Marlies next season in hopes of becoming a more consistent and dangerous forward.

Greg Scott, RW, 22

Scott continued to be a ‘glue’ player for the Marlies this year. His versatility, speed and work-ethic proved to be very valuable at various points of the season. The second-year forward appeared in only 55 games with the club, after being healthy for 71 games in his rookie-season. He suffered a leg injury which kept him out almost two-months prior to the New Year.

In the 55 games he did suit up for, Scott tallied ten goals and 21 assists for 31 points. He had scored 32 points in 71 games the year prior.

Scott may never be a big-time scorer, but he’s proven to be a key player for the Marlies as a second-year forward. He’s an RFA this summer, but should be brought back next season.

Robert Slaney, LW, 22

Slaney spent his second pro-season with the Royals playing 61 games with the club. The 22-year-old scored seven goals and 17 assists on the year. In the playoffs he scored one goal and added three assists in four games. He saw limited action with the Marlies in a depth-role playing only nine games and notching one assist for his efforts.

Under contract for the following season, unless he’s dealt or released Slaney will return as a depth player for the Marlies.

Defensemen

Keith Aulie, D, 21

Keith Aulie‘s play this year with the Marlies was one of the reasons why the Maple Leafs shipped Francois Beauchemin to the Anaheim Ducks. Aulie forced his way onto the Maple Leafs roster after playing a pivotal top-four defensive role with the Marlies over the course of 36 games. He tallied three goals and six assists with the farm club.

It looks as if the Aulie has established himself a spot on the Maple Leafs roster, but it’s not for certain. There is a possibility that Aulie finds himself on the Marlies if the 21-year-old starts slow out of the gate.

Simon Gysbers, D, 24

The 24-year-old free-agent signee Simon Gysbers had a very strong season for the Marlies. The 6’4 defender came into the season as a bit of a dark horse looking to crack the Marlies top-six, but proved to be one of their most productive defenders. He missed time with a small injury in November, but still managed to play in 60 games.

In those 60 games with the Marlies, Gysbers scored seven goals and 24 assists which was tops amongst Marlies defenders. His play earned him a full-time role with the Marlies in a top-four position.

Gysbers is under contract next season and will return to the Marlies. He’ll look to build on his rookie-season success, but will need to fine tune his overall game in order to make the NHL jump.

Korbinian Holzer, D, 23

Arguably one of the most dependable players for the Marlies this season has been defensive stalwart Korbinan Holzer. The German defender was one of the team’s go-to players defensively leading defenseman in plus/minus with a plus-10. He contributed little offense scoring three goals and 10 assists in 71 games, but his bread and butter was his defensive acumen. He was relied on heavily in key defensive situations and took on a spot in the Marlies top-four.

Holzer will be looked on to play a key role with the Marlies next season. He’s not expected to crack the Maple Leafs roster, but will be one of their primary call-ups if a defenseman falters.

Juraj Mikus, D, 22

With the added depth to the Marlies blue line, Mikus has had to battle for his ice-time. He’s been a healthy scratch in the defensive rotation at times and also dealt with minor injuries along the way. The 22-year-old played in 56 games with the Marlies this year and scored four goals and 12 assists.

Mikus displays great offensive capability, but still needs to find the next level in his game if he wants to see NHL action. At 22-years-old and 6’4, the Maple Leafs can afford to be patient with him, but with new additions such as Jake Gardiner and Jesse Blacker joining the fold next season he’ll have to battle for his ice-time again.


Goaltenders

Jussi Rynnas, G, 24

Rynnas was another Marlie who faced an extremely inconsistent first-season in North America. The 24-year-old, 6’5 goaltender was yet another highly-touted European net minder that the Maple Leafs signed last summer.

Rynnas started the year shaky losing his first three games in October. In November, Rynnas rebounded and was one of the most dominant players in the AHL. He posted a 5-2-2 record and had a sensational 1.33 goals against average to go with a save percentage of .957. In December, Rynnas hit a slump again with a goals against average of 3.44 and a save percentage of .893. In the New Year, Rynnas suffered a broken finger which kept him out approximately two months. He returned in April and finished strong with a shut-out in his final game.

On the year, Rynnas posted a 2.71 goals against average and sported a .911 save percentage. He also finished with two shutouts. Rynnas will return next year in hopes of finding a more consistent game between the pipes. He’ll have to battle both Ben Scrivens and newly signed free-agent netminder Mark Owuya for the starter’s role.

Ben Scrivens, G, 24

Free-agent signing Ben Scrivens is one of the reasons the Marlies were even in consideration for a playoff spot late in the season. The 24-year-old took over the goaltending reigns after Rynnas was sidelined with a broken finger to injury.

In 13 games with the Royals, Scrivens posted an impressive 2.23 goals against average, and a .938 save percentage. With the Marlies, Scrivens had suited up in 33 games and had continued his solid play with a 2.33 goals against average and a .924 save percentage. He also had a winning record of 13-12-5. In the ECHL playoffs with the Royals, the wheels started to come off on Scrivens who went winless in three games and had an ugly 5.04 goals against average and a .873 goals against.

Coming into the season Scrivens was seen as the depth goaltender, but stellar play at the ECHL level and AHL has established Scrivens as a legitimate NHL prospect. Like Rynnas, he’ll need to battle for his spot as the Marlies top netminder next season.