Employing a combination of speed and a lightning-quick release, Adam Marsh has been an impressive free agent find for the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs.
It makes sense, then, that the still-growing winger considers Los Angeles Kings superstar Jeff Carter his favorite player. What doesn’t make the most sense – or, at the very least, confused his father – is the fact that Marsh took a liking to Carter during the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals, when the latter was a member of the Philadelphia Flyers. Marsh, then 14 years old, went to a few games during that series – in his hometown of Chicago.
“He has a pretty good wrist shot and is a good skater,” said Marsh of Carter. “I started to like him when he played for Philly and that’s when the ‘Hawks and Philly weren’t really, ah, friends.
“My Dad, he was kind of confused on why I liked him, but I’ve just been following him ever since.”
Marsh, 17, has some of the tools that might remind one of a young Jeff Carter, but he is nowhere near as polished. He’s listed at 6’0” and 160 pounds and, admittedly, knows he must get stronger to further his hockey career. Though, through two-thirds of his first season in the QMJHL, he’s off to a decent start, so much so that he was recently listed NHL Central Scouting as the 42nd-best prospect among North American skaters for the upcoming NHL Draft. It’s a little surprising considering he was previously passed over in the OHL Priority Selection.
Because he grew up in the midwest, his CHL rights initially were up for grabs in the OHL, but when he wasn’t selected, Marsh sought a home in the QMJHL.
He was selected in the second round of the 2013 USHL Draft by the Indiana Ice, but had decided collegiate hockey wasn’t for him, and the best development path would be a full schedule of games in major junior.
“They went dormant for a year or two and my rights went to the new team in Bloomington,” said Marsh of Indiana and his USHL opportunity. “But I wasn’t really interested in going to play in that league. I didn’t really want to play NCAA; I wanted to play major junior, so when I had the opportunity to come here I took advantage of it.”
In 48 games with the Sea Dogs, Marsh has 20 goals 18 assists to go along with 48 penalty minutes. His offensive production has been welcomed on a Sea Dogs team that struggled offensively last season, but is now one of the top-producing teams in the league.
As is often the case in sports – and the real world – professional relationships are forged through connections. Darrell Young, the general manager of the Sea Dogs, owes a stick tap to his brother, Wendell, the general manager of the Chicago Wolves, who spotted Marsh through minor hockey in the Chicago area.
The acquisition has particularly made life a little easier for Sea Dogs’ head coach, Ross Yates, who has used Marsh as a top-six forward all season long.
“We heard he was a highly-skilled kid, and that was true,” said Yates. “He came in and started off on fire. He’s got really, really good skills. He’s been in a little bit of a funk here in the last little while, but he’s showing signs of coming out of it again.”
In his first 17 games in the league, Marsh had recorded 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) and, along with linemates Nathan Noel (2015) and Spencer Smallman (2015), was carrying the charge offensively for the Sea Dogs. In the next 26 games, however, Marsh posted just 10 points. He was a +13 at the end of 2014, but after a forgettable month of January, is now just +4 on the season.
“I don’t think he’s shooting as often as he did early on in the year,” offered Yates. “It seems to me he’s waiting that extra half second before he shoots now, whereas early in the year he would just turn and fire it, (and) I think he sort of hit a wall there about three weeks ago. He’s not used to the grind in the league and the number of games – and he only weights 160 pounds.”
But Marsh is in the right place to succeed. From the moment he arrived in Saint John he has been put in a position to excel, which is a plus for both player and organization as his continued development helps both parties.
“I knew I could score goals and everything, but I didn’t know if I was going to get a lot of ice-time, being a rookie and a 17 year old,” Marsh said. “So when I got my chances early in the season, I made sure to take advantage of them.”
Despite any recent struggles offensively, Marsh has remained on the top power-play unit and continued to see top-six minutes. He’s a talented kid, and for a team building toward a league championship in the coming years, slumps are okay – for now.
“We’re about developing the young guys here … As long as you’re working and committed to getting better, we’re going to put you back out there,” Yates explained, noting that the team’s top power-play unit is comprised of three 17 year olds, a 16 year old and an 18 year old.
It has been a “slower pace of life” in Saint John compared to Chicago, said Marsh, but that certainly hasn’t affected his comfort level. It helps that Saint John is one of the few English-speaking cities in the QMJHL. But a pair of Sea Dogs division rivals might be wishing Marsh played somewhere in Quebec – of his 19 goals this season, 13 have come against Cape Breton and Halifax.
It’s a statistic that Marsh is aware of, but one that caught Yates a little by surprise.
“It’s a good thing we’re playing Cape Breton today,” he quipped.
Marsh picked up an assist in that game, adding to his two-point performance two days prior, also against Cape Breton.
“I don’t know what it is,” he said, with a laugh. “I seem to come to play whenever we’re playing them. Sometimes when I get a goal early, I can get hot during the game and just seem to score a few more.”
His three points in his last two games (Jan. 23rd and 25th) might be a sign that he’s close to replicating his early-season success. In those two games, he was back on a line with Noel and Smallman, a line that has the potential to stay together for two more seasons following this one, and perhaps, a line that could eventually help lead the Sea Dogs back to the Memorial Cup.
That’s the plan, Marsh agreed.
“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Hopefully this team can stay together and someday win a Memorial Cup.”
Follow Chris Roberts on Twitter via @ChrisRoberts_7