Springtime success for Toronto Maple Leafs prospects in AHL

By Matthew Stamper
Photo: Tobias Lindberg's six goals since joining the Marlies at the trade deadline are above his production with the Binghamton Senators through the rest of the season. Graig Abel/Getty Images)

Photo: Tobias Lindberg’s six goals since joining the Marlies at the trade deadline are above his production with the Binghamton Senators through the rest of the season. Graig Abel/Getty Images)

 

 

The high-flying Marlies have a stranglehold on the league’s top spot and will get some of their best players back in time for the Calder Cup playoffs. Although many of the team’s top prospects are showcasing their talents with Mike Babcock right now, there’s still a full cupboard of talent suiting up in the minors.

With the big club toiling at the bottom of the standings, the Toronto Maple Leafs have called up the farm to give them a taste of the NHL. William Nylander and Nikita Soshnikov have impressed and will stay up in the bigs for a little while longer before rejoining their former teammates at Ricoh Coliseum

AHL

Kasperi Kapanen, RW, 19

Kapanen joined the Leafs in late February after posting great numbers with AHL Toronto, including a streak where he had points in eight of ten games. He hasn’t been as impressive since, but that might have to do with all of his teammates being called up to the NHL.

That being said, Kapanen is a fantastic skater and doesn’t turn the puck over much, which got him some time at the Air Canada Centre. The gold medal-winning Finn has tons of talent, and it’s only a matter of time before he’s with the big team for good.

Connor Brown, RW, 22

The OHL’s leading scorer of two years ago has put up very respectable numbers in his first two pro seasons. After a perfect attendance record last season, Brown’s season came to a temporary halt when he blocked a shot in late October, cracking a bone in his ankle. Since his return in January, he has 20 points in 20 games, supporting the Marlies offense while they’re without some key players.

Tobias Lindberg, LW, 20

Lindberg had to cross the border for his latest assignment, but it wasn’t to the nation’s capital as he might have expected. Lindberg was one of the pieces the Leafs acquired in the Dion Phaneuf trade.

When Lindberg joined the Leafs junior crew, he was sat on a line with top prospects Kapanen and Nylander. Since joining the Marlies, Lindberg has gone off for five goals and seven points, good for a point every other game. Those six goals have already matched his Binghamton amount, where he played 34 games. 

Frederik Gauthier, C, 20

Gauthier has a talent for playing a 200-foot game, something that can definitely get him bonus points with coach Mike Babcock, if that comes to fruition. His success on the penalty kill with the Marlies is something that makes him useful down there, but not likely to crack the big club just yet.

The 2013 21st overall pick is a big, tall center and he’s never been able to throw up tons of points, even in the QMJHL where defense is not really their forte. He’ll do the small things well, though: faceoffs, backchecking and penalty killing.

Colin Smith, C, 22

A small center may not be exactly what the Leafs need at the moment, but Smith will definitely fill holes in the Marlies lineup, possibly playing as high as a second-liner. He produced well in San Antonio, before he came over in the Shawn Matthias trade, playing second-line center there as well.

Brendan Leipsic, LW, 21

The 21-year-old Winnipeg, Man. Native has the skill and speed to be able to succeed. But like many other prospects, size will continue to be a concern. The upside with Leipsic is the scoring touch he’s shown this season. He’s already eclipsed last year’s goal total of 14, with 20 in just 59 games. He’s also six points from matching his career-high of 54 points, which he also hit last year, albeit in 74 games.

He also plays with a chip on his shoulder which makes it difficult to say whether he will slot into the top-six or the bottom-six in the future.

Viktor Loov, D, 23

Loov has already played amongst men, and he was only 20 years old. His experience in the SHL transferred over to the Marlies well. Loov is a great skater and can do it all, chipping in 15 points with the Marlies while still playing sound defense.

The 2012 pick may not be too far from the NHL due to his seasoning in the AHL. He’s already handled top-line minutes in the American League and his ability to get things done quietly is a huge asset, as future partners like Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly take opportunities to skate.

Scott Harrington, D, 23

Although Harrington is done for the season, it doesn’t mean he hasn’t made big strides. Harrington, who was shut down in late February with an upper-body injury, started the season with the Leafs, playing 15 games before a move to the AHL. He only played 17 games with the Marlies before a nagging injury forced him to hang it up for the year.

He’s neither an offense-minded or hard-hitting defenseman, so he’ll need to continue to play a puck-moving game, while limiting his mistakes.

Stuart Percy, D, 22

After a good look at him last year, management decided to keep Percy down with the Marlies, to work his skating and maybe even add some edge to his game. Now, Percy is back in Toronto, and is one of the young guys battling for a spot on the team next year.

The young defenseman is in his final year of his entry-level contract and the team should continue to give him a look to decide his worth and value for next year. Percy has found himself sitting in the press box at times and it’s not because he is in the wrong place on the ice, it’s just the potential that he can live up to is more than he’s playing to.

Rinat Valiev, D, 20

A third-round pick in 2014, Valiev has also made his NHL debut, playing in back-to-back games on March 12 and 13. In his first full pro season, Valiev has seen his scoring decrease from his junior days in the WHL, which was expected, but his play in the defensive end has stayed.

His plus-32(!) ranks fifth among players in the AHL, and his pairing with Marlies captain Andrew Campbell made them one of the most consistent and relied-upon pairings in the league.

Antoine Bibeau, G, 21

After a rough start to the year, he regrouped to post very respectable numbers in December and January. If all goes according to pattern, Bibeau will turn things around in April and May. Since the James Reimer trade, Bibeau has played in six of the team’s last eight games, and the only reason he didn’t play those two is likely because the team had two triple-headers.

After starting the month of March with a shutout, Bibeau posted two games with sub-.900 numbers in two losses where he allowed a combined nine goals. He’s bounced back since with three wins in his last three games, including a shutout, but his save percentage in both February and March sit at .903 and .911, a far cry from his .923 and .931 in December and January. If the Marlies want to make a serious run at the Calder Cup, Bibeau will have to ensure he can handle the playoff pressure.

Zach Hyman, C, 23

Hyman was part of the crop that was called up on Feb. 29 to debut against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and it’s definitely clear why. Hyman has the heart of a lion, working harder than everyone else on the ice, and playing like he has something to prove. He was a point-per-game player in December and January, and just missed that pace in February, but the hometown native earned his call-up. He could definitely use work on his skating, as it looks a little sloppy at times. Improving those first few strides can really give his game a boost.

Garret Sparks, G, 22

Even more so than Bibeau, Sparks has benefited from Reimer’s trade to the Sharks. He’s seen the crease far more often, outplaying Jonathan Bernier at times, and even starting consecutive games. He won consecutive games for the first time in 2016 in mid-March, and helped the Leafs put together a strong end-of-season stretch.

He’s a big guy who plays the angles well, but he desperately needs to work on his consistency. His 2.34 GAA and .925 SVP in the AHL are very respectable until you look at a game-by-game basis. In his 20 games this season, there were only three instances where he recorded consecutive .900 starts. Other than that he’s been above and below, flip-flopping and even recording two games with six goals allowed, which were actually both lost in overtime.

William Nylander, C, 19

The player Leafs fans have been waiting for has finally made his debut, and with two goals to his name, fans have reason to be excited. Like fellow prospect Nikita Soshnikov, Nylander possesses a wicked shot, as demonstrated here on March 5.

Nylander is also a strong skater, and is very tough to knock off the puck despite his smaller stature. He needs to get bigger still, but that can be argued about most young prospects. Nylander is reportedly a gym rat so his growth could be much sooner than later, although the way he can handle himself on the puck may already be due to that work in the gym.

‘Big Willie’ led the AHL in scoring before departing for the World Juniors, where he scored a goal on his first shift before being knocked out of the tournament with a vicious hit. He then missed most of January. Nylander is by far the Leafs’ most talented prospect, and with a 1.21 point-per-game average in the AHL, the team is just not waiting to see his potential. It’s already been proven.

Nikita Soshnikov, RW, 22

The young Russian is known to fans for his wicked shot, but what those fans may appreciate even more in a few years is how hard Soshnikov backchecks. Soshnikov is a complete player and like Hyman, has received great feedback from Babcock.

The 22-year-old earned his call-up with his consistent play and his hard work at both ends. He’s not a big guy (see a pattern emerging?), but he’s quick and uses those bursts to keep control of the puck in tight spaces.

Connor Carrick, D, 21

Carrick, the young defenseman who joined veteran Brooks Laich in the trade from Washington to Toronto, has jumped straight into the Leafs lineup, after not really earning any time in the Capitals system.

Carrick showed huge improvement between last season in AHL Hershey and this year’s stint. His former career-high eight goals in 73 games last year was shattered in the first week of January this year, but the biggest change is his discipline. He’s been able to produce offensively, while also turning around his plus/minus and spending less time in the penalty box.

Sam Carrick, C, 24

The other Carrick in the Leafs system, Sam, plays up front and fills the checking line role very well. Carrick missed some time in January and early February, but is still on pace to hit 100 penalty minutes for the third straight year. The best part about Carrick? He doesn’t let his hard-nosed play stop him from scoring. While he’s on pace for 100-plus PIMs, he’s also on pace to eclipse his career mark in points, set two years ago.

Josh Leivo, LW, 22

Leivo has built upon his past success in his third full AHL season, sitting at nearly a point-per-game. Leivo has been far more consistent in 2015-16, and part of it is due to his versatility and flexibility. Leivo is a right-handed shot playing left wing, but he can slot in anywhere on the first three lines. His ability to play a tougher game as well as show off his natural goal-scoring touch is a huge asset to AHL Toronto.

Top performing non-AHL prospects

Mitch Marner scored 14 points in 9 games last month, only being held pointless in one, to finish his season in London with 39 goals, 77 assists and 116 points. Video game numbers. Now, as the Knights take on Owen Sound in the first round of the playoffs, Marner has put up over two points per game, through the first four of the series, taking his team to a three-to-one series lead. Marner has shown flashes of brilliance with his playmaking skills this year, most notably his between the legs drop pass to Arizona Coyotes prospect Christian Dvorak. Marner was also voted the OHL’s top playmaker, according to the league’s coaches. Pretty impressive stuff from the 2015 fourth overall pick.

Andreas Johnson finished his great season with three points in his final four games with Frolunda in the SHL, and followed that with three points in their five-game series against Djurgardens. Johnson has flashed some serious skill this year, finishing second in team scoring as a 20-year-old. His skating ability is supreme and he’s made some highlight reel plays in his time in Frolunda.

Tony Cameranesi finished out his college career with points in ten straight, with eight of those games coming in March. University of Minnesota-Duluth’s loss to Boston College in the quarter-final was heartbreaking, with Cameranesi, clearly upset. But Cameranesi, along with fellow Bulldog and Leaf prospect Dominic Toninato have nothing to be sad about. Cameranesi played a huge role in their double-OT win over heavily-favored Providence, with a goal and an assist. It looks like it’s paid off already. Cameranesi was already handed an ATO along with teammate, goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo, while Toninato has a year to decide whether he wants to return to UMD.

Prospect of the Month: Nikita Soshnikov

Nikita Soshnikov - Toronto Maple LeafsThe young Russian is known to fans for his wicked shot, but what those fans may appreciate even more in a few years is how hard Soshnikov backchecks. Soshnikov is a complete player and like Hyman, has received great feedback from Babcock. Soshnikov is in the NHL to stay, as he can do it all. He plays Mike Babcock’s hardworking, backchecking, grinding games, but can also put them in the net too. Look at his first and second NHL goals—both beauties. The kid can snipe as well as do it on the back end.