Maple Leafs AHL update

By Leslie Treff

The Toronto Maple Leafs have 12 prospects currently on the roster for their new AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies. The Marlies are new to the American Hockey League this year, having been relocated from St. John’s, Newfoundland after last season. The team has gotten a new look, including a new head coach, Paul Maurice. Currently, the team has a record of 24-18-3, 51 points, which places it fourth in the North Division of the Western Conference. After getting off to a slow start, the Marlies are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games, and have a good chance to make the playoffs, if call-ups to the NHL club don’t decimate the Marlies defense corps.

In the past week, two of the Marlies best defensemen, Andy Wozniewski and Jay Harrison were called up to the NHL club. The Maple Leafs prospects presently on the Toronto AHL roster include six forwards (Jeremy Williams, Kris Newbury, Ben Ondrus, Martin Sagat, Chris St. Jacques, and John Mitchell), four defensemen (Ian White, Brendan Bell, Dominic D’Amour, and Tyson Marsh), and two goalies (Jean-Francois Racine and Todd Ford). The following is review of the performance of each player still on the roster who has actually seen time with the Marlies thus far this season.

Forwards

Jeremy Williams
Center, 7th Round, #220 overall, 2003 NHL entry draft
Height: 5’11, Weight: 184; Date of Birth: January 26, 1984

Williams is a second-year professional who is putting up big numbers. The Saskatchewan native, who had a very successful junior career with the Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League, went undrafted in his first year of eligibility. Toronto took a chance on him in the seventh round in 2003, and after he had a stellar year with Swift Current in 2003-04 (68 games, 52 goals, 49 assists), signed him to a professional contract. He played four games with the St. John’s Maple Leafs in 2003-04 and did not generate any offense, but he really established himself offensively with the team last season (75 games, 16 goals, 20 assists). During the season, he solidified his reputation as a playmaker with an edge.

This year, his offensive production is up (32 games, 13 goals, 23 assists), including one goal and three assists in last night’s game. He currently ranks second in the team in scoring, despite being sidelined for almost three weeks with a shoulder injury. As Williams has grown more comfortable with this level of play, he has shown more and more of his speed and shotmaking abilities. He should be ready for the jump to the NHL whenever the call comes.

Kris Newbury
Left Wing, Unrestricted Free Agent, signed on October 2, 2003
Height: 5’10, Weight: 200; Date of Birth: February 19, 1982

Newbury, a native of Brampton, Ontario, was originally selected by the San Jose Sharks in the fifth round (139 overall) in the 2002 NHL entry draft. After Newbury was unable to come to an agreement with San Jose, the Maple Leafs signed him as a UFA and assigned him to St. John’s at the start of the 2003-04 season. He led the team in penalty minutes (153) that year, but only had modest offensive numbers. The hard-working, quick skating winger did not improve his production last year, registering 13 points (4 goals, 9 assists) and 103 PIM in 55 games with the Marlies. But this season, Newbury has registered a respectable 13 goals and 14 assists in 41 games with the Marlies (the fifth highest point total on the team), and accumulated 102 PIM. Although one of Newbury’s strengths is his toughness and the ability to intimidate the opposition, he is an emotional player and will need to become more disciplined to be successful in the NHL.

Ben Ondrus
Right Wing, Unrestricted Free Agent signed May 27, 2004
Height: 6’0, Weight: 185; Date of Birth: June 25, 1982

Ondrus played junior hockey with Marlies center Jeremy Williams and defenseman Ian White at Swift Current in the Western Hockey League. After going undrafted, and playing impressive hockey at the Maple Leafs rookie camp in 2003, Ondrus was signed to an AHL contract by St. John’s. Ondrus continued to impress and was signed as a UFA by the Leafs after the 2003-04 AHL season. In 2004-05, Ondrus played 78 games for St. John’s and accumulated 18 points (7 goals, 11 assists) and 137 PIM.

This season, Ondrus has improved his offensive production (9 goals, 11 assists in 37 games), while keeping a positive plus/minus (+2). Ten of his points have come this month, including a two-assist game against Grand Rapids last weekend and one goal last night. Ondrus is a gritty forward, who likes to finish his checks, and play rough (67 PIM thus far this season). He crashes the net well and has good wheels. If he keeps improving and cuts down on his penalty minutes (which he has this past month), Ondrus should make the NHL team by next season.

Martin Sagat
Left Wing, 3rd Round, # 91 overall, 2003 NHL entry draft
Height: 6’3, Weight: 211; Date of Birth: November 11, 1984

Sagat, a native of Prievidza, Slovakia, played his first North American hockey in 2003-04 for the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League. Sagat had a very respectable 2004-05 (72 games, 17 goals, 46 assists) and an outstanding playoff performance last spring (22 points in 16 games). Thus far this season, Sagat has registered 10 points (6 goals, 4 assists) in 33 games and is +7. The hard-working forward sees the ice well, and knows how to carry and protect the puck. He is used extensively on the penalty kill, where his long reach and balance are put to good use.

Chris St. Jacques
Center, Unrestricted Free Agent signed May 2004
Height: 5’8, Weight: 190; Date of Birth: January 22, 1983

The diminutive St. Jacques played junior hockey with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League. After a stellar overage year in 2003-04 (64 games, 92 points), the Maple Leafs signed St. Jacques as a UFA. During most of 2004-05, he was assigned to the Pensacola Ice Pilots (ECHL) where he garnered 47 points (18 goals, 29 assists) in 66 games. This season he has split his time between the Ice Pilots and the Marlies. In the 14 games St. Jacques has played with the Marlies, he has registered four points (1 goal, 3 assists).

John Mitchell
Center, 5th Round, #158 overall, 2003 NHL entry draft
Height: 6’1, Weight: 182; Date of Birth: January 22, 1985

Mitchell is in his first full season in the AHL after getting a taste of professional hockey in St. John’s last year (2 games, 0 points). In 2004-05, he played a full season at Plymouth of the Ontario Hockey League and registered 75 points (25 goals, 50 assists) in 63 games. Expected to bring his big offensive game to the Marlies, Mitchell got off to a rather slow start this season (24 games, 2 goals, 1 assist). Then he injured his knee and has not played since December 21, 2005. Mitchell’s progress is uncertain at this point, as he needs more experience playing at this level.

Defensemen

Ian White
Drafted: 6th Round, #191 overall, 2002 NHL entry draft
Height: 5’10, Weight: 185; Date of Birth: June 4, 1984

White is another product of Swift Current of the Western Hockey League. After playing four years of very successful junior hockey for the Broncos, White ended the 2003-04 season playing eight productive games (4 assists) with St. John’s. He has continued his offensive prowess from the blueline since this debut two years ago. White played 78 games for St. John’s last season, scoring 4 goals and registering 22 assists. Thus far in 2005-06, he has accumulated 25 points (4 goals, 21 assists) in 36 games. He also has an admirable +6 rating. A quarterback of the Marlies power play, White plays bigger and tougher than his size. In the new NHL, his stature should be less of an issue as it might have been in the past, so barring injury, he should get a shot at moving to the next level in the near future.

Brendan Bell
Drafted: 3rd Round, # 65 overall, 2001 NHL entry draft
Height: 6’1, Weight: 210; Date of Birth: March 31, 1983

Bell played four years of junior hockey as a member of the Ottawa 67s (OHL). In 2002-03, his last year with the team, the big defenseman registered 53 points (14 goals, 39 assists) in 55 games. Although the offensive defenseman has put up some points in his two previous AHL seasons, he has not as yet had a breakout year. In 2005-06, his third year of professional hockey, Bell has garnered 19 points (2 goals, 17 assists) in 44 games. Defense is an area that Bell has worked hard on these past three years, and he has made significant improvements in this part of his game. He is currently +1.

Dominic D’Amour
Drafted: 3rd Round, #88 overall, 2002 NH entry draft
Height: 6’3, Weight: 212; Date of Birth: January 28, 1984

D’Amour is a second-year professional who split his time in 2004-05 between Pensacola (ECHL) and St. John’s. In the 26 games he played with St. John’s, the big, very physical defenseman registered 2 points (1 goal, 1 assist) and 60 PIM. This year he has not picked up his offensive production much (28 games, 3 assists), but D’Amour is showing more discipline by taking many fewer penalties (28 PIM) and doing fairly well defensively (+4). As D’Amour matures in his game, he needs to add better skating and puckhandling skills to his tough, physical play.

Goalies

Jean-Francois Racine
Drafted: 3rd Round, #90 overall, 2000 NHL entry draft
Height: 6’3, Weight: 206; Date of Birth: April 27, 1982

Racine, who previously played in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the Central Hockey League, has become a proficient goaltender for the Marlies this year. He has won 11 games in 21 starts this season, with a 3.17 GAA and a .903 save percentage.
Racine’s size and lateral movement are excellent attributes, but he is weak in his stickwork and needs to work on controlling rebounds. He needs to continue working on his skills prior to moving to the NHL.

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