TORONTO- The Toronto Marlies will open their 2011/12 American Hockey League season October 8th against the Binghamton Senators; which means it’s time for a season preview.
Last Season: 37-32-1-10, 85 Points, 5th in North Division, Missed Play-offs.
Goals For: 228
Goals Against: 219
Power Play: 27th, 14%
Penalty Kill: 1st, 86%
Leading Scorer: Mike Zigomanis- 64GP 14G 33A 47PTS
In: D Jesse Blacker, LW Jamie Devane, RW Kenny Ryan, G Mark Owuya, LW Kelsey Wilson, C Will Acton, RW Tyler Brenner
Out: C Christian Hanson, D Danny Richmond, LW Fabian Brunnstrom, C Justin Hodgman, RW Aaron Voros, LW Jeff Cowan, D Mike Brennan
Much has changed for the Marlies over this past summer including some new faces in the line-up and old ones that have moved on. In all, the Marlies will start the 2011/12 season with a 26 man roster and will dress 20 for games; alternating scratches.
Most of the movement with the roster involved adding more youth which is in large part due to Leafs GM Brian Burke and his ability to re-stock the organizations prospects.
D Jesse Blacker, 27: The 22 year old Toronto native finished up his fourth year of junior last season, winning the OHL championship with the Owen Sound Attack. Known to be an offensive defenseman, Blacker took time in developing his skills and should help the Marlies power-play. As one of the organizations top prospects, management will be watching him.
LW Jamie Devane, 23: Drafted in the third round in 2009, Devane is coming off his best season of junior where he scored 19 goals and added 131 penalty minutes for the Plymouth Whalers. He isn’t afraid to fight, as he showed during this year’s Leafs rookie tournament, and at 6’4” 220lbs he fits the Brian Burke mould for a bottom six hustler
RW Kenny Ryan, 25: Originally a product of the US National program, the native of Michigan signed on with the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL and notched 22 goals and 60 points in 63 games last season. A 2009 second round pick, Ryan has a major upside as he is comfortable at both centre and right wing. Plus, he brings a defensive side to the game and could potentially see time on the penalty kill.
G Mark Owuya, 1: Signed in the off-season, the product of Sweden led the Swedish Elite League in save percentage last season as a 21 year old. He is familiar with Leafs goalie coach Francois Allaire, as they worked together in the past, however he is currently lying third on the depth chart. He will start the season on the Marlies roster but could see most his time with the Reading Royals of the ECHL.
LW Kelsey Wilson, 7: The only acquisition that doesn’t fall into the prospect category, 25 year old Wilson already has five years of professional hockey under his belt as a league enforcer and has averaged 175 penalty minutes per season in the AHL. Primarily a fourth liner, the native of Sault Ste Marie will fill the hole left by Aaron Voros and Jeff Cowan.
C Will Acton, 14: Never drafted, 24 year old Acton took an alternative path to the pros, starting in Junior C as a 16 year old and working his way up through University at Lake Superior State. Voted twice as Most Improved Player of the Year at LSSU, the Stouffville, Ontario resident plays centre and the left side and is open to whatever keeps him on the roster as his contract is a two-way with Reading.
RW Tyler Brenner, 16: Signed after playing college hockey for RIT, Brenner suited up at the end of last season with the Marlies and scored two goals in his first game. In His final year of college, the native of Linwood, Ontario scored 26 goals in just 37 games. If he wants to see action with the Marlies, he will have to continue to be a scorer.
The player’s who left Toronto were veterans and although the leadership of former captain Alex Foster will be missed, this year’s team still has a solid core of experienced player’s to fill the void.
LW Ryan Hamilton, 12: If it wasn’t for injury, Leafs fans may have seen Hamilton as a call up last season. The Oshawa, Ontario native missed a significant amount of time with a knee injury but stated he is 100% to start the season. A power forward at 6’2” 220lbs, Hamilton leads by example with his work ethic and is a major contender to be awarded the vacant captaincy when the team decides to fill the hole.
LW Joey Crabb, 15: It wasn’t until the Leafs opened their season that Crabb found himself assigned to the Marlies. The 28 year old re-signed this past off season with Toronto and stated he was happy to play for either of the organizations clubs. Even though he spent a majority of last year with the Leafs, he was good enough as a Marlie in the early part of the season to be named an AHL all-star. Slotted as a top six left-winger, Crabb’s time with the Marlies will likely be based on injuries with the big club.
C Mike Zigomanis, 93: Last year’s leading scorer, Ziggy enters this season as a major leader within the dressing room and also qualifies as a potential captain. His skill set is simple; face-off specialist and penalty killer. Coach Dallas Eakins will also play him on the point on the power-play. Now a vegan, the 30 year old gave up number 17 to Luca Caputi and will wear number 93.
D Matt Lashoff, 21: Not a surprise to see him back with the Marlies after being sent down by the Leafs. He did have to clear waivers, but his two-way contract may have scared off other teams interest as it will pay him $250,000 to play in the AHL; 11th highest salary in the entire league. Playing with the Leafs last season assisted with his development and the club could recall him anytime an injury hits their back end. The Marlies will expect him to bolster a top four D pairing.
D Jeff Finger, 4: Forget about Fingers salary; fact is that he is a member of the Marlies for the second year in a row and will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. He will have to use this season as a showcase to other clubs so that he can move on with his career after his time with Toronto is over. Last season, Finger was limited to only 23 games after an ongoing back injury led to season ending surgery. If healthy, the Michigan native should see a lot of playing time.
Beyond the new faces and veteran players in this year’s line-up, the Marlies will be looking for impact from every player on the roster.
LW Marcel Mueller, 9: Entering his second season of pro hockey on North American ice, the young German will be looking to better his numbers and his luck. Injuries led to missed action and inconsistent play however 13 points through 12 games in January showed that when he’s healthy, he’s on. Standing 6’3”, the 23 year old shed some weight this off season and expects to be a big part of the team’s offence.
LW Jerry D’Amigo, 29: 43 games with the Marlies showed the 19 year old wasn’t ready for pro hockey. So when he was sent to the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers for some extra development, it was understandable. In 21 games with the Rangers the Binghamton, New York native scored 28 points and experienced a round of play-off hockey; something very important to play development. 10lbs lighter, D’Amigo is a speedster who rose quickly on the Leafs prospects chart but will have to produce more this season if he wants to move up with the club.
LW Luca Caputi, 17: Last season started with Caputi showing the Leafs in training camp he was aiming for the big show. However, after being sent down to the Marlies his season seemed to falter. A sport’s hernia surgery led to just 13 games played for the Marlies with another seven played with the Leafs. Last year being a basic write off for the 24 year old, this season he is on a one year deal hoping to prove his value to the Leafs organization.
C Joe Colborne, 22: The big return in the Tomas Kaberle trade, Colborne joined the Marlies last season and scored 16 points in 20 games. Comparing his game to the likes of Joe Thornton and Ryan Getzlaf, the former first round pick loves to control the puck and make plays with his lengthy reach. No reason to rush him to the NHL but expect him to see some action late in the season especially if the Leafs fall out of play-off contention.
C Brayden Irwin, 10: Originally signed after playing four years at the University of Vermont, Irwin has had injury trouble; most notably a concussion that caused him to miss the final 33 games of last season. He went to this year’s training camp on a try-out offer and showed he was healthy enough to earn a minor league contract with the Marlies. The centre position is the Marlies deepest position up front so the 24 year old may have difficulty finding an everyday spot.
C Darryl Boyce, 47: The crowded centre position in Toronto forced Boyce back to the Marlies after serving 46 games with the Leafs last year. Although he performed well with the big club, he’s familiar with the Marlies as he’s been on their roster since the 2007/8 season. No doubt he betters the Marlies at centre and he also falls into a category of players who could see time with the Leafs this season based on the situation.
RW Greg Scott, 8: Signed by Toronto in 2009, Scott is a two way player who earns extra game time on the penalty kill. But he too fell to injury last season and lost six weeks of action through December and January. Now healthy, the 23 year old native of Victoria, BC will get most his ice time in a bottom six role on the right side.
D Korbinian Holzer, 5: Drafted in 2006, Holzer spent three seasons in his native Germany before joining the Marlies last year for his first campaign with the Leafs organization. In all, it was a successful season as he played 73 games with the Marlies and led the team with a plus 10 rating. He also squeezed in an appearance with the Leafs mid-season; something he was thankful for. His responsibilities will be increased this year but that’s because he’ll likely be in the line-up most games.
D Josh Engel, 6: A role player, Engel is entering his third full season with the Marlies and last year he found himself being moved up to forward when his club had significant injuries. His 11 goals led all defence men on the roster and his 70 games played showed he was one of the few to stay healthy all year. His playing time this year may slow down with eight D men on the roster.
D Simon Gysbers, 24: Another graduate of Lake Superior State, Gysbers has taken the long road to professional hockey but last year he broke out as the Marlies top offensive defence men. He led all blue liners with 32 points in 60 games and is able to play both sides of the special teams. This year will be a big one for him to prove if he can move up the depth chart.
Juraj Mikus, 26: Mikus was limited to 56 games last season as he too fell to injury. At 6’4”, the 22 year old Slovak has potential to turn into an all round shut down defender and that’s exactly what the club is hoping for. The fifth round pick from 2007 is learning to use his body more and, if he continues to develop his puck control, re-signing when his entry level deal ends at the end of the year won’t be an issue.
D Keith Aulie, 3: The biggest surprise on this year’s Marlies roster, Aulie was sent back down in hopes of finding his confidence and some consistent play. Still only 22, the Saskatchewan native fit in on the Leafs roster last year, but he never was a stand out. Some more time in the AHL will benefit Aulie, as he will be a top line D man picking up lots of playing time so that when the Leafs recall him, he will be ready.
G Ben Scrivens, 30: Last season, Scrivens went from an ECHL all star with Reading to backing up James Reimer with the Leafs. He showed he was AHL ready and put up very respectable numbers, 2.33GAA and .929SV%. Down the stretch, Scrivens set the club record with 16 consecutive starts, however wins were hard to come by because of a poor offence. This season Scrivens will compete with Jussi Rynnas for the starter’s role but, if he continues to develop at the same speed, he will become the number one soon.
G Jussi Rynnas, 40: Early last season Rynnas went toe to toe with Reimer for the starting role. He was named AHL Player of the Week in mid-November, however after multiple injuries, the native of Finland found himself watching most games from the press box. He was the only goalie on the roster to lose more games than he won but with new equipment and a healthy body, he will be looking to show why he came across the ocean to play hockey.
Some of the biggest concerns for the Marlies last year were their special teams and keeping a consistent roster.
Although the Marlies put up the top penalty kill in the league, their power-play struggled much of the season and never got out of the bottom third in the standings. Jake Gardiner was expected to help that this season but his emergence with the Leafs may put more pressure on Blacker and Lashoff to run the point.
In total, 12 different players suited up for both the Marlies and Leafs last season. Add in all the injury troubles and Eakins had a very difficult task at keeping any consistency with his line-ups. With the Leafs looking to be a more secure roster this season, there may not be as many call-ups; but no one can predict health.
Even though there may not be as many call-ups, it doesn’t mean the Marlies won’t see different line-ups based on a few circumstances.
When healthy, Nazem Kadri will need a place to play and a few games back in the AHL to start may be where you see him. Matt Frattin is expected to stay with the Leafs for now but, whether he fades quickly or is outplayed by Kadri, his entry level contract makes it easy to send back down. And with the acquisition of David Steckel, Tim Connolly’s return from injury may mean Phillippe Dupuis goes down as well. Also keep an eye on Jake Gardiner and if his ice time decreases at all under head coach Ron Wilson. If that’s the case, he may come back for some more prepping as well.
The strongest part of this year’s roster is down the middle. In any order, the likes of Colborne, Zigomanis, Boyce, Irwin and Acton gives the squad a great presence on each line.
Add in Crabb, Caputi, Hamilton and Mueller on the left side, and the offence should improve this season in even men situations.
On the back end, the Marlies seem to be a solid crew. A good mix of vets and developing prospects has the Marlies rolling with eight D men on the roster so it’s expected that Eakins will rotate a couple early in the season.
Dale Mitchell and Richard Greenop are both injured and are not named to opening day roster. When they are both ready to go, it will likely be a rehab stint for Mitchell and an assignment to Reading for Greenop.
To be successful this season the Marlies have to change some old habits.
They must do better against their own division. Last season they won only 19 of 44 games against North Division rivals.
They need a better start in the month of October. Last year they started just 2-6.
They need a better finish in April, as they faltered down the stretch 6-8-1-2.
They were only 17-17-1-5 at the Ricoh Centre last year so it will be important to play better at home.
If they can improve on each of these categories and have some luck with health, this year’s team will be competitive and should make the play-offs.