Success this season for the Marlies starts with their blue line

The Marlies will be relying on their blue line this season if they want to have any success

The Marlies will be relying on their blue line this season if they want to have any success

Oct. 4, 2013

TORONTO– When the Marlies finalized their roster on Thursday it became clear that the tea

m’s success this season will have to come from their back end.

The AHL club will have 10 viable options on defence including an experienced core, which bodes well considering they are lacking  up front and don’t have a proven AHL scorer except for veteran Trevor Smith.

“We’ll be looking to some of (our defencemen),” said coach Steve Spott.”We have a young core and skill up front could be a challenge some nights.”

The first-year AHL coach will lean on veteran netminder Drew MacIntyre, who brings stability in goal, while the depth on the blue line gives him an opportunity to make up for the club’s expected lack of offence.

On defence Toronto will have AHL veterans Korbinian Holzer, T.J. Brennan, Kevin Marshall and Dylan Yeo as well as recently demoted John-Michael Liles to bring stability and eat up playing minutes. They will also be looking to get prospects Jesse Blacker, Andrew MacWilliam, Stuart Percy, Petter Granberg and Zach Yuen into the lineup as well.

Only eight blue liners will likely be carried as the season progresses. However, Marlies GM Dave Poulin is pleased with the situation Spott is in with regards to the different choices he has to go with.

“When you get to this point with the organization you can’t be concerned with too much depth. I’ve never heard a coach say you’ve given me too many good players,” said Poulin.

While the Maple Leafs organization already knows what they have in their veterans, this year will be important for rookies MacWilliam, Granberg and Percy, each of whom are trying to push their way up the depth chart and be an option at the next level after a patient process to the pros.

MacWilliam, who was drafted in 2008 and is the eldest of the three at 23, pleased the organization in NHL pre-season and is expected to be a physical presence every shift. At six-foot-two and 230-pounds, the Calgary native knows he has to play the same way he did during his four years at the University of North Dakota.

“Being Physical is what I have to do to be successful,” said MacWilliam. “If I don’t bring that I’m no good, so I have to bring it every game.”

Granberg, who is listed at six-foot-two and 205-pounds, has been a valuable player to his club back home in Sweden since being drafted in 2010 and is hoping that after tasting North American hockey in training camp that he can continue his development with the Marlies. While having two seasons of pro hockey already under his belt, he’s still only 21 years old.

“It’s a long process and I’m still learning, but I’m looking forward to playing,” said Granberg before adding what type of player he wants to be. “I’m a physical player, I like it that way. I want to have a quick and strong first pass and be hard to play against.”

Percy is the highest drafted defenceman in the Leafs system next to Morgan Rielly after being selected 25th overall in 2011. Despite not being as physical as his counterparts, he’s listed at six-foot-one 193-pounds, he makes up for it with hockey sense and has developed well after four seasons on junior.

“My all round game has gotten better,” said the 20-year-old Percy. “I’m not over physical but I can be physical in certain areas. I try to be razor sharp. I think I’ve always been smart and able to make a good play. And that’s improved in the last two years.”

On the outside looking in for playing time is Zach Yuen. The 20-year-old entered Marlies training camp on a try-out basis but showed enough to earn an AHL contract. While he could see time with the Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL, Spott is pleased with the acquisition.

“I give him a lot of credit,” said Spott. “We didn’t know a lot. His feet are exceptional and he’s physical. You combine that, it’s just a matter of maturing for me. It’s great when you get the free ones like that, no draft pick involved.”

Jesse Blacker is entering his third year with the Marlies, which puts him on the verge of veteran material when you look at how young the club is, and his success will come from staying healthy. The 23-year old has had numerous injuries that have halted him at various times over the past two years, but is open to the competition within the club and accepts the challenge.

“You can’t expect the club not to draft defenceman and get better, that’s insane,” said Blacker.

Currently all 10 blue liners are healthy and available for Saturday.


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