Toronto Marlies 2011-12 season preview

By John-Eric Iannicello
Photo: One of the best player in collegiate hockey last year, Matt Frattin will start the 2011-12 season in the NHL because of an injury to forward Nazem Kadri and a suspension to forward Clarke MacArthur. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

The Toronto Marlies failed to make the playoffs yet again during the 2010-11 season, finishing fifth in the North Division with 85 points and a record of 37-32-1-10. To see playoff action this spring, the Marlies will need a fix a few pressing issues.

One of the most important factors in finding their way into the playoffs will be finding a way to collect more wins against their division. The Marlies only won 19 out of 48 divisional games in 2010-11. Also, they’ll need to do a much better job in shootouts where they lost vital points finishing with 10 shootout losses.

The power play and general lack of a primary offensive catalyst is also an area that will have to establish itself this season. The Marlies finished 25th overall in the league at 15 percent on the man advantage with their leading scorer, Mike Zigomanis, tallying 47 points. The team had scoring by committee, finishing with 228 goals scored (tops in their division), but their leading scorer will have to be better than 84th in league scoring if they intend to be contenders.

Health will also be a deciding factor, as the Marlies had to deal with a handful of injuries again in 2010-11. Not only did they lose players to injury, but also lost key players to the Maple Leafs such as Darryl Boyce, Joey Crabb, Nazem Kadri, and Jay Rosehill.

The Marlies will have another good mix of youth and veteran presence heading into the 2011-12 season. Gone from last year’s team are Christian Hanson, Alex Foster, Justin Hodgman, Danny Richmond, Jeff Cowan, Fabian Brunnstrom, Mike Brennan, and Aaron Voros. Joining the Marlies this season are Jesse Blacker, Kenny Ryan, Mark Owuya, Jamie Devane, and Kelsey Wilson.

Forwards

After failing to secure spots on the Maple Leafs, veterans Boyce, Crabb, and Zigomanis are expected to play key roles with the club. Both Boyce and Crabb will first have to clear waivers in order to play in the AHL. Other AHL veterans including Ryan Hamilton, Greg Scott, Luca Caputi, and Kelsey Wilson will be looked on to provide strong secondary offense and grit to the forward group.

21-year-old Joe Colborne will look to improve on a strong ending to his season with the Marlies that saw him score 16 points in 20 games. He’s expected to be one of the clubs leading point producers as he should spend the majority of the season in the team’s top-six and primary power play unit.

Returning forwards Jerry D’Amigo, Marcel Mueller, and Dale Mitchell will also look to take steps forward in their offensive game. The 20-year-old D’Amigo was sent down to the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL after spending the bulk of the season with the Marlies. Mueller was sidelined with injuries and inconsistencies throughout the season and managed 14 goals and 33 points in 57 games. Pesky forward Mitchell had a limited role with the club and also saw time in the ECHL.

Rookies Tyler Brennar, Kenny Ryan, and Jamie Devane are expected to round out the teams bottom-six. Brennar had a short stint with the team last season and could be a surprise player offensively. He was a sniper at the NCAA level and with his large frame and nose for the net; he could provide solid secondary offense for the club. Devane and Ryan are both eligible to return to their OHL teams for one more season, but both are primed for positions on the Marlies.

Defensemen

With the glut of defenders competing for spots, a few quality defenders were assigned to the Marlies, making for an interesting battle for ice-time.

Keith Aulie, who appeared in 40 NHL games last season, will start the year with the Marlies again. Not a total shock as the Maple Leafs added depth over the summer in John-Michael Liles and Cody Franson. The emergence of Jake Gardiner also made Aulie (who’s exempt from waivers) the easier choice to be sent down.

He’s joined by the returning core of Juraj Mikus, Korbinian Holzer, and Simon Gysbers. All three players have played various roles with the club. Holzer played in crucial defensive situations and is expected to do the same this season. Gysbers surprised offensively with 31 points in 60 games (leading the Marlies defensive scoring) and will look to build on those numbers. Mikus was rotated in and out of the lineup at points last season and also battled through a few minor injuries, but should be able to secure a spot in the top-six this season.

Veterans Jeff Finger and Matt Lashoff are also returning to the Marlies. Finger will look to find a role with the team after sitting out the year with an injury. Lashoff was a consistent top-four defender with the club and is expected to have a similar role if he clears waivers.

Jesse Blacker may see himself in a top-four role before long, as he possesses a unique blend of physicality, skating and offensive awareness. A strong showing through the exhibition schedule won Gardiner a position with the Maple Leafs out of camp, but he could find himself on the Marlies if his play slips.

Goaltending

There will be competition in net yet again this season as Ben Scrivens and Jussi Rynnas return for a sophomore season. They’ll be joined by Swedish free-agent signing Mark Owuya.

Scrivens was a standout for the Marlies last season in 33 games and is expected to be the clubs number one goalie heading into the season. With Jonas Gustavsson‘s inconsistencies at the NHL level, it may open the door for Scrivens to make the jump if he gets off to a strong start.

Rynnas and Owuya will battle for the backup position, but it’s likely that Owuya will ultimately see ECHL time. The Marlies could rotate three goalies to start the season, as Rynnas has already battled a minor lower-body injury during training camp.

Coaching

No changes happened to the Marlies coaching staff even though they’ve missed the playoffs in consecutive years. Dallas Eakins returns as Marlies head coach and will have a good mix of talent to work with. Like last season, health will be a large factor in the success of the team. Eakins has a coaching record of 70-67-23 with the Marlies

Associate coaches Derek King and Gord Dineen are also returning for their third year with the club.

Prospects

Gardiner was the biggest surprise at camp this past September. While many expected him to push for a spot on the team, few expected him to be the best defenseman on the ice most nights. The originally plan was to have Gardiner play a good chunk of the season with the Marlies, but his poise, puck control, and speed made large impressions on Maple Leafs brass. Like many young, offensive defenders, there are holes in his defensive game. How long he remains on the Maple Leafs will depend on his contributions offensively and how long the coaching staff will tolerate rookie mistakes.

Rookie forwards Matt Frattin and slick offensive forward Nazem Kadri were in heated competition for the vacant left-wing position throughout camp. Kadri brought more dazzle to his game, while Frattin was quietly effective. The two players have a very different style of game, which made the decision difficult for the left-wing spot – that is, until Kadri fell to injury. An MCL sprain has sidelined Kadri for 2-4 weeks and opened the door for Frattin to start in the Maple Leafs top-nine. With Clarke MacArthur serving a two-game suspension, it will give Frattin a small window to display more of his offensive talent.