April 15, 2015
TORONTO— When the Toronto Marlies started the season, mixed into their opening night roster were two players on American Hockey League contracts. Many more players on AHL deals were assigned to their ECHL affiliate in Orlando.
Centre Byron Froese wasn’t one of them– although the club wishes he was.
Froese, who started the campaign with the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage before being demoted to the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones, was eventually given a shot by Toronto on an amateur try-out agreement in December when the Marlies were struggling to produce any sort of offence.
Since then he has become one of the club’s most relied on forwards—so much so that he earned an AHL contract for the remainder of this season and another for 2016.
“I was put in a good situation where they wanted me to succeed, wanted me to be an offensive player,” said Froese.
“It’s always good when a coach believes in you and gives you ice time.”
Froese, six-foot-one 190 pounds, scored Tuesday night in a 5-2 win over the Iowa Wild that moves the Marlies one win away from clinching a playoff berth.
He has five goals and 14 points in his past 11 games—a span that Toronto has gone 8-3-0 to steal the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
“I think my game’s at a good level where I’ve been consistent with my defensive play, which is most important and it translates to offence. I get a lot of offensive chances most nights,” said Froese.
The 24-year-old bounced on different lines as he adjusted to Toronto but has found stability with wingers Matt Frattin and William Nylander—which has been a positive for all three forwards.
Frattin has six goals and 15 points in his last 11 outings alongside Froese while Nylander has five goals and 11 points. The trio has been Toronto’s top-scoring line.
“Anybody who plays with him seems to pop,” said Marlies coach Gord Dineen. “He and Matt Frattin have some chemistry together and whoever we put on that left side does well. When we put Willy Nylander there it’s a totally different thing and he’s a guy that makes others better.
“The three are feeding off each other and I think it’s Byron who’s been a catalyst for all of it.”
The Winkler, Man. native, who was originally selected by the Chicago Blackhawks in the fourth round of the 2009 NHL Draft, was offered a try-out by the Rampage at the beginning of the season and made the roster out of camp, but lasted only three games before being sent to Cincinnati.
In December, Froese received a call to come show the Marlies what he could do for them. At the time he was atop the ECHL leaders with 24 points in 17 games.
“I was pretty excited to come up,” said Froese.
Froese wasn’t unknown to Toronto, spending last season playing under Marlies assistant coach Ben Simon, who was the head coach of the Cyclones then. He also played parts of two years for Simon with the Rockford IceHogs organization when he was first selected by Chicago.
By January Toronto made sure to make him its property and signed Froese for the remainder of the season. Then in March they locked him up for 2016 as well.
The day after signing his extension, he solidified the agreement with a pair of goals in a 3-2 win over the Oklahoma City Barons.
“It’s always good to get it off your mind and know where you’re going to be next year, today was just a good game all round,” he said after the win.
Froese has 17 goals and 38 points in 46 AHL games this season, which gives him a 0.83 point per game rate—best on the Marlies ahead of both his linemates and leading scorer Connor Brown.
Dineen has played him as a regular in a top-six spot for most of the calendar year and on both sides of special teams.
Toronto, no doubt, has been a better team since he was acquired — producing goals at a much higher rate and winning more games in the process.
“He’s been a great addition,” said Dineen. “Not only as far as scoring timely goals, but on the defensive side, winning face-offs, and killing penalties. Basically doing everything for us, and he’s opened up a lot of people’s eyes.”