From the coaching staff to the starting goalies, the Marlies are icing a new lineup with a slew of question marks.
The Marlies finished fourth in the North division of the Western Conference last season with a 39-29-5 record. They also took an early exit from the Calder Cup playoffs after a series with the Manitoba Moose.
Like the Maple Leafs, the Marlies are in for a culture change this season as they look to find the on-ice success they were missing last season.
The Marlies will depend on the offensive strengths of AHL veteran Tim Brent this season as he looks to replace the production of former Marlie Tim Stapleton. Key returning forwards Alex Foster, Ryan Hamilton, Darryl Boyce, Ben Ondrus, and Andre Deveaux will be looked on to provide leadership and grit for the team as well as some timely offense.
While the Marlies expect Tim Brent to be an offensive catalyst for the season, rookies such as Mikhail Stefanovich, Dale Mitchell, Robert Slaney and Christian Hanson will be looked on to provide solid secondary scoring. Stefanovich is a dangerous offensive threat, but his on-ice consistency will be tested in the AHL this season. At only 19 years of age, he won’t be expected to carry the offensive load but to complement it. Dale Mitchell provides the Marlies with solid speed down the wing and has a heavy shot. Slaney, an unrestricted free-agent signing late last season will be expected to open up the ice for his teammates and play a power forward game. Hanson was a late cut from the Maple Leafs training camp and will be looked on to become a two-way leader for the Marlies as he works his way back up to the NHL.
Unknown at this point are the immediate futures of young forwards Tyler Bozak, Nikolai Kulemin and Jiri Tlusty. All three could see their season start with the Marlies but as of now, none have been reassigned. Should they be sent down, it will give the Marlies a much-needed boost to their offensive depth.
The Marlies checking unit will encompass a selection of Alex Berry, Kyle Rogers, Richard Greenop, Greg Scott and Stefano Giliati. Berry, Rogers, and Giliati are returning Marlie forwards while Greenop and Scott are fresh faces to the group. Greenop is a pure enforcer who works the boards well. He’ll provide the Marlies with another weapon in their physical arsenal. Scott is a solid checking forward who can also chip in with some offense.
One of the major question marks heading into the season will be the performance of the Marlies defenders. The losses of both Anton Stralman and Jamie Sifers will be hard to fill, but the Marlies hope that a strong committee of defenders will close the gap that both these talented defenders left behind.
Key members of the Marlies blue line will consist of stay-at-home defenseman Phil Oreskovic who is expected to become a leader on the back end this season. Recently-waived Jonas Frogren should bring experience while European prospects Juraj Mikus and Carl Gunnarsson acclimate themselves to the North American game.
Tom Galvin, Eric Werner, Brennan Evans are the new veteran faces to the Marlies line-up. Other returning defenders such Joey Ryan, Todd Perry, and Josh Engel will look to become mainstays on the back end.
Both MacDonald (should he clear waivers) and Reimer will look to battle for the Marlies starting job this fall while Memorial Cup champion Engelage is expected to start the year in the ECHL.
Dallas Eakins comes in to replace former bench boss Greg Gilbert. Eakins, a former Marlies assistant coach, was the Director of Player Development for the Maple Leafs last season.
Joining the coaching staff is former Leaf Derek King and former Iowa Chop head coach Gord Dineen.
Prospects in training camp
The prospects attending Maple Leafs camp had various degrees of success. Viktor Stalberg, Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri, Carl Gunnarsson, Jonas Gustavsson, Christian Hanson, Jesse Blacker were the standout prospects this preseason.
Stalberg wowed fans with his blazing speed and offensive abilities while Bozak impressed with his quick tempo and smart two-way play. The two NCAA players formed an impressive unit in preseason action. Christian Hanson, the other member of the ‘frat pack’ had a good showing away from the puck using his size along the boards to open up space for his linemates but wasn’t able to secure a roster spot.
Kadri displayed his slick offensive skills (including some highlight reel moves), but was recently sent back to the London Knights to add the strength needed to compete in an 82-game schedule. Fellow OHL colleague Jesse Blacker showed his speed and two-way ability in one preseason game with the Leafs before being sent back down to the Windsor Spitfires.
One of the more surprising players at camp was defensive prospect Gunnarsson. Gunnarsson came into camp under the radar but after an impressive stint of exhibition games, he’s made his mark with Maple Leafs management and is looking like a player. But due to the current defensive depth he’ll likely be sent down in the coming days.
While Jonas Gustavsson only appeared in a few periods, he was stellar stopping all shots. He garnered a standing ovation after stopping a two on none in a game with Detroit on Sept. 26. He’s scheduled to back up Vesa Toskala for the season opener against Montreal on Thursday, Oct. 1.