Maple Leafs AHL/ECHL prospects season review

By Matt Peters

You could be forgiven if you accidentally confused the 2005-06
Toronto Marlies and Maple Leafs. After all, they play in the same
city and for much of the season shared many of the same
players.

This season marked for the first for the Leafs’ AHL affiliate playing
in Toronto. The team previous played in St. John’s under the Maple Leafs moniker. The Marlies play in Ricoh Coliseum, which was
previously used by Edmonton’s AHL affiliate, the Toronto
Roadrunners.

When the Maple Leafs restocked on veterans like Eric Lindros and
Jason Allison during the summer, it looked like most
of the Leafs prospects would be kept out of the NHL. But as injuries mounted at the NHL level, the Leafs began to look more like the Marlies. Eventually, several of the call-ups sustained injuries themselves, leading to even more call-ups.

Former Carolina Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice had been hired on as
the Marlies coach at the beginning of the season. Recently he was hired to coach the Leafs next season, succeeding Pat Quinn. Maurice’s no-nonsense style has worked well with several players who
previously had not lived up to their billing within the Leafs
organization. With a new speed-driven NHL, Maurice is expected to employ a more up-tempo style than his predecessor.

The Marlies began their inaugural campaign slowly. They
went 7-13 during the first two months of the season, including two
four-game losing streaks.
However, the team regrouped and went on a tear through most of
December. After their slow start, the Marlies reeled off nine wins in
their next 11 games. After a 4-2 win against Hamilton Dec.
18th, the Marlies were back to .500 for the first time since the fourth
game of the season.
The Marlies finished the regular season 41-29-6-4 in the Western Conference North Division. Their fourth place finish
matched them up against the first place Grand Rapids Griffins in
the first round of the playoffs. The Griffins disposed of the Marlies
in five games.

Defense

The Marlies defensemen received a lot of compliments throughout
the season. It just so happened that most of them were for their
play in the NHL. Still, defensemen appear to be the strength of the
Leafs minor league system. Carlo Colaiacovo, Brendan Bell, Ian
White, Staffan Kronwall, Andy Wozniewski
and Jay Harrison all
made contributions in both the NHL and AHL this season. Those
six also showed they can provide some offense from the blue line
as well. As a group they totaled 150 points in 247 games played
for the Marlies. Make no mistake about it, there will be an all out
battle for defense positions during Leafs training camp and some
of that group will be headed back to the Marlies.

Perhaps none of the Marlies defensemen progressed further than
Harrison, who had been overlooked previously. Maurice couldn’t figure out why Harrison had gotten such a bad rap in the first place. Harrison gained more confidence as the season went
on and finished nine goals and 20 assists in 57 games. In
playoffs he added four points in five games.

Colaiacovo led the way early for the Marlies after being
returned to the AHL at the beginning of the season. Colaiacovo
scored 11 points in 14 games in the AHL. He made it back on the
Leafs roster by late November, but his season was ultimately cut
short by a concussion Jan. 23 against Ottawa.

After Colaiacovo was called up and subsequent injury, the Leafs
soon learned they had another offensive defenseman waiting in
the wings. White showed promising playmaking ability and good
power play instincts on his way to a 29-assist and 37-point
season. White also appeared in 12 games with the Leafs.

Forwards

Forward is an area the Leafs can afford to upgrade, and it
showed with the Marlies. With Kyle Wellwood and Alexander Steen
making quick transitions to the NHL level, the Leafs list of
prospects grew considerably shorter. There is help on the way
with Robbie Earl signing with the Leafs shortly after winning an
NCAA National Championship with the Wisconsin Badgers. Earl, the Final Frozen Four MVP, managed to appear in one regular season game and three playoff games after signing.

The success the Marlies did have at forward this season came
mostly from overachievers. While that certainly isn’t a bad thing for the players, it’s not as promising for the future.
Offensively the Marlies were not lead by prospects. Career minor
leaguer Johnny Pohl and NHL veteran Bates Battaglia scored
75 and 67 points a piece.

Kris Newbury was the Marlies third leading scorer but first among
Leafs prospects. Newbury had a breakout season and regained
the scoring touch he flashed in his final two seasons in the OHL
when he finished with 104- and 92-point seasons. Newbury
finished with 22 goals and 60 points in 74 games and upgraded his role from on-ice pest to scorer. However, along with the increasing point
total came an increasing penalty minute total, finishing with 215. At one point early in the season, Maurice benched him for taking too many bad penalties.

Jeremy Williams was a significant offensive presence for the
Marlies in his second full season in the AHL. The 2003 draft pick,
produced 23 goals and 56 points despite only playing in 55
games. He also led all Marlies forwards in plus/minus with a +13.
The highlight of his season surely came in his lone appearance in
the NHL though. Williams earned a last minute call-up for the
Maple Leafs last game against Pittsburgh and managed to score
a goal on his first NHL shot.

When the Leafs made a trading deadline deal to ship Ken Klee to New Jersey for Aleksander Suglobov, it certainly helped the Marlies for the immediate future. Suglobov added a need offensive presence. Although he still has a reputation for taking nights off, Suglobov added eight goals and 10 points in 15 games with the Marlies. He upgraded the
performance in the playoffs with five goals and seven points in five
games.

Goaltenders

In terms of goaltenders, the Leafs prospects being groomed at the AHL or ECHL level this year are not highly rated. Veteran backup Jean-Sebastian Aubin helped at the AHL and NHL level for the Leafs, but is not a long-term solution.
Jean-Francois Racine went 19-13-2 with 3.15 GAA and a .903
save percentage with the Marlies. Former third round pick Todd
Ford
struggled throughout the season between stops with the
Marlies and the Pensacola Ice Pilots. Help may soon be on the
way for the Marlies though with Tuukka Rask and Justin Pogge
looking ready to make the jump to pro hockey next season.

Pensacola Ice Pilots

The Leafs organization shows its lack of depth at the
ECHL level. The Leafs had a handful of prospects
playing with the team, but none have much potential. Of those, Shaun Landolt and Chris St. Jacques put up the best offensive numbers. Landolt, picked in the eighth round during the 2003 draft, had 28 points in 57 games. He played four games with the Marlies. St. Jacques scored 27 points in 34 games and played 20 games with the Marlies, posting four points.

The Ice Pilots had a rough season, finishing with a 21-44-7 record,
49 points and the third-worst record in the ECHL. They gave up the
most goals in the league with 293. The new year was particularly
brutal for the Ice Pilots as they won just six games from Jan. 16
until the season ended April 8.



Shop for Toronto Maple Leafs Men’s Apparel at Shop.NHL.com


Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.