TORONTO– Last season Toronto Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins had his roster in place heading into the AHL playoffs, however this year it’ s a little different.
With the Maple Leafs clinching a post-season berth on Saturday the farm team won’t be the only one playing hockey in May, so Eakins’ lineup can change anytime.
“That’s something we have to watch out for this year,” said Eakins. “If (the Leafs) get injuries we get tagged right away. (But) if guys go up and guys are hurt, we have a very deep pail to pull players out of.
Right now the Leafs are relatively healthy and carrying extra bodies, which means the Marlies losing anyone isn’t likely. But the AHL club is already without Ryan Hamilton and Joe Colborne and could benefit from their return. Both players are eligible to re-join the Marlies and would bring the club much needed offence, however Eakins doesn’t know if they will be available.
“I don’t ask for those guys,” said Eakins. “They’re in the NHL. I want them to stay there. We’ll welcome them with open arms, but for me their focus should be solely on that team and the playoffs.”
Hamilton and Colborne are the Marlies top two scorers and the club has struggled at times in their absence. Eakins did note, however, that he is impressed with a select few players that have stepped up in their absence.
“Especially since the lockout, and more importantly since we lost Ryan Hamilton and Joe Colborne, you could argue that between Greg Scott, Jerry D’Amigo and Mike Zigomanis, they’ve taken this team on their shoulders,” said Eakins.
Scott, who spent the majority of the season as a bottom-six, penalty killer, was bumped up in the lineup when Eakins needing some added scoring and he’s produced seven goals and 14 points in his last 17 games. In terms of leadership, the 24-year-old has also been a mentor to rookie Morgan Rielly off the ice, taking him in as a roommate and showing him around the city of Toronto.
“A couple of our amateur scouts were talking about players and they were commenting on Greg Scott. He’s a hard working guy, lives his life right, and he’s done our organization a great favor by taking in Morgan Rielly and teaching him to be a pro. It’s encouraging for him to get offence.”
The Marlies roster currently has 13 Leaf draft picks that were selected between 2009 and 2012. Some, like Jesse Blacker, have been developing with the Marlies for two seasons already while others, like Rielly, are here for the first time getting a feel for the pro game. As someone who has been part of Toronto’s development since 2005, Eakins says the amount of draft picks in the system right now is a positive sign for the organization.
“That shows these guys are earning their contracts,” said Eakins. “They’re just not being drafted and fading away. You want to keep restocking the cupboards and the other thing (depth) does is creates good competition.”
One of those draft picks who’s caught Eakins eye is Joshua Leivo. Taken in the third round, 86th overall, in 2011, the Innisfil, Ont. native got one pro game under his belt last season with the Marlies and this year has suited up in three more.
“(Leivo’s) shown in a couple games he’s got skill and can shoot the puck,” Eakins said. “He’s smart. I think it’s been a year since I’ve seen him and it’s amazing how much he’s grown. The last time I saw him you could sneeze and knock him over. Now he’s gotta be close to 200 pounds, he’s fit and he’s strong. Good on him for doing that work.”
The Marlies wrapped up their regular season with back-to-back games at home against the St. John’s IceCaps this weekend and came away with three of four points, despite resting the majority of their main roster.
Eakins club looked more like prospects camp against the IceCaps as eight regulars got some needed rest while 14 rookies, including Andrew MacWilliam, got to show the coach what they offer.
“These are auditions,” Eakins said. “We’ll see who may get a sniff in the playoffs.”