Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe, being challenged to manage prospects and playing time

Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe has had to balance the playing time of 15 forwards and eight defencemen to start the AHL season - Image courtesy of Christian Bonin at TSGPhoto

Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe has had to balance the playing time of 15 forwards and eight defencemen to start the AHL season – Image courtesy of Christian Bonin at TSGPhoto

October 30, 2015

TORONTO – Having to manage the playing time of prospects is not the simplest of tasks for Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe.

The Marlies have carried extra bodies through the beginning of the AHL season and Keefe has been cycling players in and out of the lineup so that everyone sees the ice.

Toronto had 15 forwards and eight defenceman on its roster Thursday and only five of those players have suited up in every game.

“That’s a challenge, it’s been a challenge right from the start,” said Keefe after a 3-1 loss to the Syracuse Crunch on Wednesday.

Forwards Sam Carrick, Nikita Soshnikov and Rich Clune and defencmen Justin Holl and Andrew Campbell are the only players to see action in every game.

Every other player has seen at least one healthy scratch already, including William Nylander and Connor Brown, who was just one-of-two players last season to dress in all 76 games for the Marlies.

Right-winger Casey Bailey watched the first four games of the season and has slotted in at centre at times to fit.

Forwards Kasperi Kapanen, who skipped the first two games of the year with a virus, and Josh Leivo (undisclosed) are the only skaters to miss any time because of health.

“Everybody wants to play and in some cases people deserve to play but we can’t get them in for various reasons,” said Keefe.

“We’ve made decisions each day that we felt were best for that moment. Sometimes it’s for the best of the team, sometimes for the best of the player and we’re just trying to manage it day to day.”

Keefe has also used various line combinations routinely, requiring the majority of the players to skate with different linemates on a regular basis. Being early in the season, though, it’s not uncommon for a coach to be mixing it up.

Nylander, who leads the team with three goals and six points in seven games, centred a line Wednesday with Leivo on the left and Bailey on the right. He’s also seen time with wingers Richard Panik, Matt Frattin, Zach Hyman, Clune, Brown and Kapanen.

The one line to have some consistency to it so far is Clune and Soshnikov, with Frederik Gauthier at centre. The trio have been together the past four games and have combined for six goals and 13 points.

Toronto already has 13 players on its ECHL affiliate, the Orlando Solar Bears, and it’s unclear if Keefe plans to assign anymore any time soon.

The Marlies will lose defenceman Frank Corrado to the Maple Leafs next week when his conditioning assignment expires. It also looks like centre Byron Froese could be up for some time, and Clune turned his AHL contract into an NHL deal with the Leafs on Thursday. It’s unclear where he will play in the near future. The big club did, however, waive centre Mark Arcobello the same day and he is expected to join the Marlies by Friday if he isn’t claimed by another organization.

The Marlies return to action on Friday when they host the Grand Rapids Griffins.

KYLE CICERELLA

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