TORONTO- Despite taking a step backwards in his career last season, defenceman Mark Fraserwants to prove to Toronto Maple Leafs’ management that he’s ready to return to the NHL.
“I’m going in to camp with confidence that there’s a spot open for me and given the opportunity I want to grab it,” said Fraser.
Originally drafted by the New Jersey Devils in 2005, the former third-round selection played parts of three seasons with the Devils’ AHL affiliate in Albany before finally cracking their NHL roster full time in 2009-10. His development earned him a one-way contract, and the impression that he was in the big league for good, but just four games into the 2011-12 season an injury forced him out of the Devils’ line up and, eventually, out of the NHL completely.
New Jersey shipped him to the Anaheim Ducks’ in December of 2011 and Anaheim immediately sent him to their AHL affiliate Syracuse Crunch on a conditioning assignment. What was only supposed to be a two-week stay eventually turned into him being put on waivers, clearing, and playing 25 games with the Crunch.
Then, at February’s trade deadline, the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired him for forward Dale Mitchell and assigned him to their AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies.
“My last season alone, four different teams and three different clubs, was difficult,” said the 25 -year-old.
As difficult as it was for Fraser to be shipped around so much in one year, landing in Toronto turned out to be a benefit as he instantly became an integral part of the Marlies’ blue line and found himself playing heavy minutes again for the first time since being in Albany.
“For the first time in a long time I was truly having fun while playing the game,” he said.
One of the players the Ottawa native will be competing for a spot against is Marlies’ teammate Korbinian Holzer. Despite only playing 37 games with Toronto last year, Fraser formed a unique relationship with Holzer and they were the top unit that Marlies’ head coach Dallas Eakins would use in almost every situation.
“We could very well be competing for a spot, but no means would that interfere with still wanting to help each other out,” said Fraser. “We developed so well together and it was so good playing with him through the playoffs. We developed some great chemistry here with this team and it would be great to transition that over.”
Even with his confidence high, Fraser knows his game still has holes and that’s why the Leafs signed him this off season to a one-year two-way contract. Since signing, he’s been spending time on the ice upgrading what needs to be fixed if he is to make the Leafs and not return to the Marlies.
“I definitely have an upside to my defensive part of the game but I want to continue and grow with my skating,” said Fraser. “My confidence is there backwards and forwards skating but I’ve always had to work on lateral movement. That’s the main doubt of my game I want to eliminate. I want to defend well and be able to move the puck well all over the ice.”
Currently, the Leafs are backlogged on the blue line and it won’t be easy for Fraser to crack their line-up, despite the fact he has 98 NHL games under his belt.
Improving his skating is a step towards once again playing in the NHL, but it’s the physical game the 6’3” 225 pounder brought every night with the Marlies through their Calder Cup run that has earned him a new contract with Toronto, and another shot, with the Leafs.
“I want to be a shut-down guy at the top level and so much of that comes from my physical play and just my willingness to get dirty. I try to make the opponent know it’s not going to be an easy night.”