April 9, 2014
TORONTO- Head coach Steve Spott led the Toronto Marlies to a North Division title and a post-season berth with home-ice advantage. But, those accomplishments weren’t at the top of his to-do list when he took over the team at the beginning of the season.
Coming in to coach a much-younger squad than what former bench boss Dallas Eakins had to work with, Spott’s top priority was to get the most out of the incoming prospects and prepare them for their future with the Maple Leafs.
Seventeen players that started the season with Toronto were 23-years-old or younger and on entry-level contracts—the most ever to open a campaign.
“My job is very simple,” said Spott at the beginning of the season. “Get (the prospects) to the National Hockey League.”
Majority of the prospects were never expected to see time this year with the Leafs, and veterans like Trevor Smith, Troy Bodie and Jerred Smithson were chosen first on many occasions when Toronto needed a body. But four made an appearance in some sort of limited role.
Many are considered to be part of a long-term development plan. Some, however, could push to be full time Leafs come next season.
Now that the Leafs have been eliminated from playoff contention, it’s worth looking at who Toronto has internally that could battle for a roster spot with the big club out of training camp in the fall.
C Peter Holland
Holland was acquired in a trade with Anaheim for fellow prospect Jesse Blacker early in the season when the Leafs were in desperate need of a centreman. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound forward played a total of 38 games in various stints with the Leafs, but found himself back in the AHL when David Bolland returned to action in March. In a limited role, he produced five goals and 10 points.
Used by Randy Carlyle in a bottom-six setting, Holland has been most effective with the Marlies on the top two lines as well as the power play. He is strong with the puck, can create offence and is much cheaper to dress than what Bolland is reportedly requesting for the same position. The Toronto native has 10 goals and 18 points in 22 AHL games this season and is a .87 points per-game player over three AHL seasons.
“Let’s be honest, he’s an NHL centreman,” said Spott. “Certain players make other people better, he’s that guy.”
The 23-year-old, who was drafted by the Ducks 15th overall in 2009, could give the Leafs third-line minutes and provide another option on the power play.
LW Jerry D’Amigo
D’Amigo’s been a work-in-progress ever since leaving college early to play in the AHL as a 19-year-old.
In three full seasons with the Marlies, since a disappointing rookie campaign that saw him sent to junior, the Binghamton, NY native has carved out a role as an “energy” guy who kills penalties and can be relied on to preserve a one-goal lead late in a game. The 5-foot-11, 210-pound winger has also improved his offensive output each season and this year has a career-best 19 goals in 46 games.
“He’s fearless, plays extremely hard,” said Spott. “Sometimes we underestimate how good of a goal scorer he is.”
Having great foot speed and work ethic, D’Amigo, who was drafted 158th overall in 2009, could be a viable option on the third-line playing left-wing. Given the chance, he could play both sides of special teams too.
LW David Broll
Broll took some time to get going in his rookie season with the Marlies—with a foot injury from blocking a shot costing him three weeks of action—but the 21-year-old has come a long way in just one season of pro hockey.
The 152nd pick from the 2011 draft is known for his ability to enforce, leading the Marlies with 11 fights this season, but his hands can do more than just punch faces.
“I think when you look at the NHL and the fourth lines now, they have to play minutes,” said Spott. “David Broll is a strong physical player. When you see him forecheck and backcheck, he’s a big man that can skate and play the game. He’s a prototypical fourth liner in the NHL today.”
Broll can play both wings and is an automatic upgrade on what the Leafs are dressing as a fourth line right now. The Mississauga, Ont. native is great with puck possession and has three goals, 13 points and 113 penalty minutes in 56 games with the Marlies. While listed at 6-foot-2 and 216-pounds, he’s actually closer to 240-pounds.
RW Carter Ashton
Ashton has played 46 games with the Leafs since being acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2012. But it’s hard to truly understand his potential because of the limited minutes he’s always been given.
While last season he showed regression offensively with the Marlies, this season the Winnipeg native has been dominant and has 16 goals and 23 points in 24 games. The 23-year-old is a great skater for his size—6-foot-3 220-pounds—and is best when playing a “north-south” game, which is what’s asked of the bottom-six forwards.
“He has to find that same confidence and swagger with the Leafs,” said Spott. “Here he does a nice job maintaining the puck, uses his body, he uses his speed and it becomes a weapon for him.
“He’s an NHL player.”
Ashton, who was taken 29th overall in the 2009 draft, has the potential to be an everyday fourth liner that can contribute some offence with the right line mates.
D Andrew MacWilliam
Toronto’s best depth with prospects is on the blue line, however many are not ready to compete for an every spot with the Leafs just yet.
While MacWilliam has to continue to work on his skating, advantages he has right now are his size, maturity and ability to play in his own zone.
Spott has used him on a shut-down pairing since Day 1 and the 6-foot-2, 230-pound defenceman has held his own. Once thought of as the “future Mark Fraser”, the 24-year-old plays a similar game but with higher upside.
“(MacWilliam) is a man who plays like a man,” said Spott. “He loves the physicality, shutdown role, killing penalties and blocking shots. He does a lot of dirty work”.
Toronto’s had major issues this season defensively and it’s evident they need to upgrade their support for captain Dion Phaneuf. MacWilliam will not be that guy. However, he could slide into a five-six pairing at a much cheaper price than the current options.
Forward Josh Leivo and defenceman Petter Granberg have had solid rookie seasons in the AHL and will likely make appearances as call-ups at some point next year. Making the club out of camp, though, will be a tough task.
The Maple Leafs will miss the post-season, but the prospects will get a taste of playoff hockey when the Marlies wrap up their regular season, which bodes well moving forward. Both Ashton and D’Amigo, who are currently up with the Leafs, will be sent down for the experience.
“Winning is a big part of development,” said Spott. “When players learn how to win it serves them better when they play for Randy and the Leafs. It’s a skill and they have to understand what it takes day in and day out at the pro level.”
Toronto will have to make major decisions in the summer—including what to do with its coach, who it will re-sign and how much those players will cost to keep, and what pending free agents it believes can help its cause.
The prospects listed are not only an upgrade in talent compare to what the Leafs currently have, but on the business side they have a combined cap hit of $4.01 million per season, which is an added bonus for a team that will battle with the cap ceiling again next year.