A long time in the making, Andrew MacWilliam hopes to bring gritty, physical play to Marlies

Andrew MacWilliam (In White) has joined the Toronto Marlies after spending four seasons with the University of North Dakota- Image Courtesy of http://www.inforums.com

TORONTO- Andrew MacWilliam is the latest prospect to join the Toronto Marlies and head coach Dallas Eakins hopes to get out of him what he remembered seeing in the 23-year-old when he was first drafted by the Maple Leafs in 2008.

“I actually go back a little bit with Andrew to when I was doing the development job,” said Eakins, who served as head of player development with the Leafs organization before taking on the title of head coach with the Marlies. “I got to see him play in Alberta and I’m sure his style hasn’t changed, big and gritty.

“The great thing about Andrew is he plays a hard game and has been a leader everywhere he’s been, very high character. Players like that we like in our organization.”

MacWilliam just wrapped up his senior season at the University of North Dakota, where he served as team captain, and Monday signed an ATO contract with the Marlies, practicing with the club for the first time on Tuesday.

At 6-foot-2, 230-pounds, the Calgary, Alta. native is bigger than every Marlies blue liner except for Mike Komisarek. With college allowing his body to mature, he mentioned that while his road to pro has been long, he and Leafs management worked together patiently to get to this point.

“I’ve kept good contacts throughout the years, Leafs brass, Marlies brass. I couldn’t ask for more,” MacWilliam said. “They let me develop at school and I just hope I can bring those skills here.

“I kind of took it year to year,” he added with regards to when he thought he would have the potential to turn pro. “Even with North Dakota, they wanted me to come in after one year of junior and I didn’t feel ready then. It was about when I was ready. You know personally when you’re ready to make the jump and I didn’t want any regrets.”

While the city of Toronto is new to MacWilliam, as he’s only been here in the past for rookie camp, there are familiar faces within the organization to help ease his transition.

He spent two seasons playing alongside Matt Frattin at North Dakota and played junior in Alberta with Joe Colborne for the Camrose Kodiaks.

“I’ve actually played with Joe quite a bit,” said MacWilliam. “We started playing together when we were about 14. I know his family real well and he’s a hell of a player.”

Originally selected in the seventh round, 188th overall, the lefty was still with the Kodiaks when Toronto picked him and in that final season of junior he scored eight times and had 29 points to go along with 220 penalty minutes in 57 games. At North Dakota he scored just five goals in 183 career NCAA games, but he continued to develop his physical play and racked up 116 penalty minutes in 41 games this season, which was second most across the entire NCAA Division 1.

“It’s a combination of things,” said MacWilliam about how he collected so many minutes in the box. “College hockey’s changed. If you have a big hit it’s basically an automatic five (minute major). I play a physical style and that’s what I’m going to do here. I’m not the most offensive guy but when I can chip in I’ll try.”

Four seasons down south gave MacWilliams ample time to develop his hockey skills while also getting an education, which he says is important to his family. And in the near future, he will have a degree in business management.

“(It’s) in the works,” he said about graduating. “I’m only going be (in Toronto) a couple weeks actually then I go back and write my finals. I’m not quite done yet.”

MacWilliam joins a Marlies roster that has serious depth at the defensive position right now. Including Morgan Rielly and Stuart Percy, who also were added the club in recent time, Toronto has 11 blue liners with six regular-season games remaining on schedule.

KYLE CICERELLA

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