This is the first of a monthly report on the baby Leafs for Hockey’s Future. The chief focus of this report will be on the top prospects within the Leafs’ system who are currently playing with St. John’s.
To say that the St. John’s Maple Leafs, the AHL affiliate of the Toronto club, is off to a slow start is a bit of an understatement. As Chris Schwartz, St. John’s media director states, “We have lost 4 of our top 5 scorers from last year’s team and it will take a while for some of the current players to pick up the slack.” St. John’s is currently last in the Atlantic Division with 6 pts. with a 2-5-2 record.
Despite the slow start, there have definitely been some bright spots, starting with Ukrainian second year pro, Konstantin Kalmikov. The left-winger scored just 3 goals and 4 assists last season in 52 games and has already surpassed that total with 4 goals and 4 assists in his first 9 games. “It’s a night and day difference with Kalmikov this season. He has always had the skills, now he has the confidence,” states Schwartz. “He has clearly been our best forward,” he adds. Kalmikov has gone from only 2 or 3 shifts per game last season to a regular spot on the top scoring line this year. He has also seen a good amount of powerplay time as well.
Kalmikov’s linemate for most of the young season has been AHL rookie, Adam Mair. “Adam has certainly shown glimpses of his talent, but like many youngsters, consistency has been his problem,” says Schwartz. “He brings a real physical element to the ice,” he adds. Adam has 1 goal and 5 assists in 9 games.
Kevyn Adams has already been disappointed twice this young season. First, he was one of the last players cut from the Toronto squad, this following an impressive playoff run last year and maybe an equally impressive training camp this year. Secondly, he had to stand by and watch as Nik Antropov was the first to be called up to Toronto due to Mats Sundin’s injury. Adams has the potential to be a very effective checking line center in the NHL, but for now he is more than biding his time at St. John’s. “His effort level never changes or wavers. He leaves it all on the ice, every shift, despite the fact he had to be disappointed to not get the callup,” states Schwartz Adams has 1 goal and 5 assists in his first 7 games.
Along the blueline, Marek Posmyk has shown considerable improvement since last season. His confidence is also on the rise and he has added more of a physical element to his game. “In his second year here, he is much more comfortable and it shows on the ice. Toronto is very high on this young 22 year-old,” states Schwartz.
Two defensemen who are off to slow starts are D.J. Smith and Dimitri Yakushin. “Both of these guys have struggled a bit early on, but we expect them to pick it up as the season wears on,” states Schwartz. Yakushin in particular, was impressive in the Leafs’ training camp, but does not have a point in 9 games. Smith has a single assist in the same number of games.
Marc Robitaille is also in his second year in the league and he is spending this season as the backup to veteran, Jimmy Waite. “Jimmy will be a good influence on Marc as he will help him along, teaching him the little nuances of goaltending,” says Schwartz.
“We’re depending on several players stepping up their offensive games this season in order to compete. It’s difficult to have to depend on young players to provide that offense, simply because of the lack of consistency that goes with the territory. We will have to get steady production from Bonsignore and Nemirovsky, among others. We feel the team will be fairly strong defensively, but we have to put more on the scoreboard,” assesses Schwartz.
In related news, Frantisek Mrazek tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the last preseason game against Quebec. Frank was perhaps the baby Leafs most impressive forward in preseason as he led the team in scoring with 2 goals and 3 assists in 4 games. He has been seen by team doctors in Toronto and should undergo surgery soon. He will most likely miss the entire season, but is expected to make a full recovery.
Young, second year pro, Jason Sessa suffered a serious shoulder separation in the preseason and is expected to miss 2-3 more weeks.
Bryan Fogarty’s much publicized comeback has come to an end as he was released after playing in just 3 regular season games. Defensemen, Hugo Marchand and Chris Bogas spent much of the preseason with St. John’s, but were assigned to the Louisiana IceGators of the ECHL. “Neither player would have gotten much icetime currently with us, so they were assigned there to gain much needed experience,” relates Schwartz. “Both have some potential,” he adds.
Gone are Lonny Bohonos, Jason Podollan and Ladislav Kohn. The immediate chance of a return by seriously injured center, Mark Deyell is still unknown. “Sometimes, it’s not an easy road to travel. We are committed to fielding the best and most competitive team possible on the ice. At the same time, we are also responsible for developing and nurturing the young prospects who come along too, sometimes at the sacrifice of that competitiveness. But all the other teams in the AHL are in that boat. This team will come along as the season wears on,” states Schwartz.