TORONTO- Transitioning from major junior to pro hockey isn’t going to be as easy as some players originally thought.
“It’s going to be tough for them to make our line up,” said Toronto Marlies’ head coach Dallas Eakins. “I’m not saying they can’t do it, anything can happen over the next couple weeks, but there is a possibility that these players may have to start somewhere else because of the lockout.”
Because of the NHL lockout the Marlies, as well as every other AHL club, have much more depth to pick from when putting together their roster this season.
Toronto’s roster had very few holes to begin with after signing Keith Aucoin, Mike Kostka, Dylan Yeo and Paul Ranger in the off season. But, spots that would have been open to the junior graduates are no longer there with players such as Leo Komarov, Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner and Korbinian Holzer being returned to the AHL instead of playing with their parent-club Toronto Maple Leafs.
“These young men have played well enough in junior probably to come in and show well enough in camp to make the team because there were spots there,” said Eakins. “But, because of the lockout and because we have some guys in our locker room who probably wouldn’t be here, those spots are filled. And now they have to not only fill a spot that was open before but now they have to take a job from a guy.”
Greg McKegg, Brad Ross, Andrew Crescenzi, Jamie Devane and Sam Carrick are all moving on from their junior programs this season and have spent the past week in training camp trying to prove to Eakins that they deserve to stay in Toronto and not be sent to the ECHL’s Fort Wayne Komets.
Eakins mentioned McKegg has impressed him perhaps the most out of any of the newcomers, but the coach has also had a chance to work with him in the past. Along with Crescenzi and Devane, McKegg has appeared with the Marlies at some point over the previous two seasons when his junior year had ended.
Ross and Carrick, on the other hand, have yet to experience a pro game, although the AHL experience they lack they are quickly picking up at camp.
“There is great competition for those young men and I think if you asked them honestly, they’re probably taken back a little bit with the pace and the commitment here,” Eakins said about the entire group.
Toronto has a core of veterans including Aucoin, Kostka, Ranger, Mike Zigomanis, Mark Fraser and Ryan Hamilton who will be guaranteed a heavy chunk of playing time.
The junior-hockey graduates’ best opportunity to find time on the ice will be to bump another prospect or youngster.
Spencer Abbott, Tyler Brenner, Kenny Ryan, and Will Acton all have a year or less of pro-hockey experience and only Acton played the majority of last season with the Marlies.
“You’re being watched every second and it’s gonna be real important for the guys who haven’t established themselves yet to have great practices, show what they can do in scrimmages. show what they can do in one or two of the exhibition games and try to squeeze a guy out of a spot,” said Eakins.
With no cap on AHL rosters Eakins won’t be rushed into sending players anywhere and said he’s open to starting the season with extra bodies. He did the same last season before sending Ryan and Brenner to the ECHL in December.
Toronto played the Hamilton Bulldogs on Saturday and will have its final exhibition game on Monday, also against Hamilton.
Then it will be a week of practices as Eakins decides who he dresses for their season opener on October 13th.
“The one thing I love about our young guys is that they’re working as hard as they can and we’ve had no problems with their work ethic in practice.”