TORONTO– Dallas Eakins has been pleased with some of his players, and disgruntled with a few others, through the first quarter of the AHL season.
But, there are a couple members of the Toronto Marlies who have stuck out to him a little more than the rest.
“There are two guys that have surprised me,” said Eakins. “One is Jussi Rynnas. He did a lot of work this summer and was really rolling before he got hurt. The second guy, we knew a lot about but he’s exceeded my expectations with his production, is Mike Kostka.”
Kostka, an Ajax, Ont. Native, signed with Toronto this off season after five full seasons in the AHL with four different organizations. Eakins knew that the 27-year-old would be a welcome addition to the Marlies blue line, however his impact has been bigger and more consistent than the coach could have imagined.
He’s tied for second in scoring for AHL defencemen with three goals and 18 points in 21 games and, along with Jake Gardiner, has quarter-backed the power play for much of the season.
“We knew what we were getting but he’s played far better than I thought he was capable of and he continues to improve,” added Eakins.
Rynnas, who’s in his third season with the Marlies, started the year with some of his best work, since winning AHL player-of-the-week honours back in November of his rookie season, as he went 3-0-1 with a 1.98 goals-against average and .938 save percentage in four games.
The Finnish netminder outplayed starter Ben Scrivens through the first month of the season, collecting two shutouts in his first three games, however he tweaked his groin in practice on Nov. 16th and has been out of action since. Considering how well the 25-year-old was playing at the time, Eakins plans to get him back in goal as soon as he’s cleared to play.
“Jussi’s such a competitor,” said Eakins. “He gets hurt right at the end of practice and it wasn’t an hour later that he was in my office looking me in the eye going, ‘I want back in that net.’ He didn’t want to lose his status and I assured him you don’t lose your status when you get hurt. You’ll get right back in the net and have a chance to prove yourself.”
Unfortunately for Rynnas, part of what he’ll need to prove when he comes back is his durability. Last season Rynnas had two separate injuries that cost him time in goal and any chance to build consistency was taken away from a broken finger in training camp and a concussion mid-season.
“(Injuries) seems to be the pattern and hopefully that pattern eventually dies,” said Eakins.
Kostka has had the fortune of staying healthy all season, which has turned him into a key piece of the Marlies blue-line core and allowed him to show the Toronto Maple Leafs organization he wants more than an AHL career. Rynnas, however, has not been as lucky with his health. But, the impact he made before going down still bodes well for a guy on a team carrying three keepers fighting for playing time.
Rynnas skated on Tuesday alongside Scrivens and Mark Owuya in drills put forth by goaltender coach Rick St. Croix. He put in about 45 minutes of work, which is the most ice time he’s seen in two weeks, and could be ready to go on Dec. 8th when Toronto hosts the Rochester Americans.
“He’s not quite there,” said Eakins in terms of health. “Hopefully he’ll be ready for next weekend.”