TORONTO-The Maple Leafs organization has spent the off-season altering the identity of the Marlies by letting go of veterans and turning their attention to the development of younger prospects.
In comparison, the average age from last season’s playoff roster was 25.1 while this season’s expected team will be just 22.8 years old. The biggest change in age comes on the blue line with the 2013-14 club being three full years younger at 23.2. Furthermore, goaltender Drew MacIntyre will be the only player on the team 30 years or older whereas last season there were five guys over 30, including the eldest Mike Mottau at 35.
In the transition the AHL club has lost an abundance of experience and leadership that will be difficult to replace, most notably captain Ryan Hamilton. But, Leafs VP of Hockey Operations Dave Poulin believes the players will be just fine without the veteran influence.
“I don’t look at chronological years. I look at what a player’s been through,” said Poulin, who also serves as the Marlies General Manager. “Carter Ashton and Jerry D’Amigo have been through a lot the last couple years. Spencer Abbott has four years college experience. Then you just look at guys who are leaders. Sam Carrick’s a leader. Andrew MacWilliam was captain at North Dakota. On the back side you (also) have Kevin Marshall. Young doesn’t mean there’s no leadership.”
Poulin suggested he would like to carry 14 forwards, eight defencemen and two goaltenders on the Marlies to start the AHL season. However, there is no clear favorite to take over the captaincy from Hamilton at this point.
“You’d look to a maybe younger type of leader,” said Poulin. “Not knowing exactly who’s going to be there, Trevor Smith could be that guy, Troy Bodie could be that guy.
“A lot of these kids have worn letters at some point in their careers. Don’t underestimate the leadership from the goalie in the locker room (too).”
Defenceman Dylan Yeo could also be that guy after being re-signed to an AHL contract. The 27-year-old is the most experienced player other than MacIntyre returning from last year’s club.
The Marlies will have up to 17 players this season on entry-level contracts, which goes to show how raw the club will be. Each of them will be fighting for playing time and with all of them so close in age, hopping each other on the depth chart for a sniff with the big club is highly possible.
“Now that we’ve established some things over the last couple years in terms of setting the bar, it’s now up to the players,” said Poulin. “Nothing drives that like internal competition.”
While only being early August, the likelihood of the Marlies roster changing from where it stands right now is minimal, especially with the Leafs still needing to finalize their team, which won’t happen until training camp.
“I think you’re always exploring but right now we’re status quo until the big team’s settled,” said Poulin. “We’re going to wait and see how that plays out because the numbers up there will determine the trickle down to the Marlies.”