Oct. 9th, 2013
TORONTO– Having success as a prospect in the Maple Leafs organization starts with understanding what your role is for the club’s future.
Toronto has 15 prospects this season with the AHL’s Marlies that are on entry-level contracts and each of them have been asked to develop into a specific type of player best suited for the organization’s priorities.
Based on your skill-set, if the club sees you as a top-six forward then the focus will be on developing into just that. If you’re best suited to kill penalties or bring energy as a fourth liner, then that is what you will do.
“I think there’s a vision that starts with (Leafs GM) Dave Nonis that each of these players have an area that they can contribute to the Maple Leafs and it’s our job to bring those traits out,” said Marlies coach Steve Spott.
“I think a players play and make up determines his role and we simply help him develop it and understand it,” added Leafs VP of hockey operations, Dave Poulin. “Certain skill sets define a role. The majority of players at the AHL level have excelled all the way along, and yet at the highest level they may not be able to play the role they had at various levels growing up.”
One of the biggest concerns Toronto has with its depth chart is a lack of bonifide centremen who can produce as a top-six. However one prospect that has been pegged by management as being able to do so is Greg McKegg.
The 21-year-old is in his second season with the AHL’s Marlies and Spott currently has him as the club’s top-line centre at even strength on the power play*. McKegg proved enough to Spott at the junior level that he has the offensive tools needed to succeed. It’s just a matter of rounding out his pro game like former Marlie Nazem Kadri.
“Greg’s got to continue working towards being a top-six forward in the National Hockey League,” said Spott. “Very much like Naz did where he refines his game down here, becomes a complete player and gets quicker. But ultimately he has to be a top-two centreman in the National Hockey League.”
Behind McKegg on the depth chart at centre are Sam Carrick and Andrew Crescenzi, who are both training to be bottom-six centres.
“I think in pro hockey that’s where (Carrick) will be, along with Crescenzi,” said Spott. “They have to make sure they understand they’re detail players. Limited minutes in the NHL, but can come off the bench with energy, strong five-on-five and kill penalties.”
With the template designed to develop players for specific roles, there is a thought that a player could be short changed on an opportunity or be type-cast into a role below their abilities. However, Poulin says that a player won’t be held back from various roles if he shows he’s capable of more and that this is best for the prospects.
“No I don’t think we’re limiting people,” said Poulin. “Nothing is set in stone. If a potential third-line winger shows increasing offensive abilities he can certainly grow into another role. Jay McClement was a big scorer in junior and is one of the game’s preeminent defensive centres. David Bolland was perceived by some as more of a defensive centre, but are seeing more of an offensive side than perhaps thought. He is also a player who scored 130 points his last year of junior….As an organization, we are simply trying to put a player in the best possible situation to succeed.”
As the season progresses and injuries hit, the Maple Leafs will rely on Marlie call-ups to fill the void. And whatever hole needs to be filled, the plan is to replace it with a similar style player, as already seen with the re-call of forward Jamie Devane, who has carved out the role of being a fourth-line enforcer.
Other prospects on entry-leve deals with the Marlies are forwards Tyler Biggs, Jerry D’Amigo, Josh Leivo, Brad Ross, Kenny Ryan and David Broll, defencemen Andrew MacWilliam, Stuart Percy, Petter Granberg and Jesse Blacker, along with goaltenders Garret Sparks and Christopher Gibson.
* Editors update. McKegg played second line on the power play not first
* Updated with quotes from Leafs VP of hockey operations Dave Poulin on Oct. 10th, 2013 at 9:57pm