With the Toronto Maple Leafs roster dropping like flies to injuries, potential suspensions, and actually playing with a lack of results, a lot of people have asked me over the past week or so who from the Marlies deserve a look at the NHL level, either by lack of depth or by earned play.
Why He Should Be Called Up: While he asn’t been scoring at as torid of a pace as he was to open the year, Brennan is still probably the best offensive defenceman in the American Hockey League right now. With 10 goals and 7 assists in 17 games, he’s been an elite threat on the powerplay, and the biggest reason why that extra-man unit isn’t near the bottom of the league at the moment. The Leafs are lacking scoring from the point, and his six even strength goals double the total amount scored in all situations by defencemen on the big club.
Why This Is Problematic: Simply put, there’s a log jam of defencemen at the NHL level. There are eight healthy defencemen currently on the roster, and every single one of them is also deserving of playing at the NHL level. The Leafs also have an issue with allowing shots just as much as they do taking him, so they may be considered about his reputation as a defensive liability. Even with that said, at this point, I’d be willing to legitimately consider having him play forward.
Why He Should Be Called Up: Abbott is in the midst of the longest point streak in Toronto Marlies history right now, scoring points in all eleven games that he’s played in this season. He only has one goal, but a whopping sixteen assists shows that he’s got an eye for the open man. He’s already half way to his point totals of last year in a fifth of the games played, and is just five assists away from setting a career high.
Why This Is Problematic: Abbott is a winger, and the Leafs are full of them right now. Kessel, Clarkson, and Kulemin are all healthy on the right, and Van Riemsdyk, Lupul, and Raymond are all healthy on the left. Odds are, he would bump Kulemin to the fourth line, or be there himself with limited powerplay minutes. He wasn’t particularly impressive in his first game with the Leafs, so he may need to keep up his play for a little longer yet before he gets serious attention.
Why He Should Be Called Up: Jay McLement is potentially the Leafs top natural centre at the moment, conditional on whether or not Nazem Kadri gets a suspension for either of his questionable hits last night. Tyler Bozak is at least a week and a half away from returning, David Bolland coming back any time soon is a pipe dream. Jerred Smithson is also a shutdown forward, and James Van Riemsdyk should really be playing his natural position. McKegg is the most gifted natural forward that can be called up right now.
Why This Is Problematic: There’s a very glaring issue here, and that’s that Greg McKegg isn’t very good yet. I feel like all the minutes he’ll get on the Marlies over the next year, maybe two, will develop him into a solid mid-ranged centre, but at this moment, he still needs to develop. Even if you take this as a "quick fix and back down" situation, he’s only put up five points in twelve games this year. and that’s with a 20% shooting percentage thus far. Its a move that makes sense in theory and could be worth trying, but I really wouldn’t expect much if it happens.
Why He Should Be Called Up: He’s doing that thing again where he stands on his head and wins games. While his save percentage is down from the out-of-this-world 0.931 he posted last year, it’s also dragged down by two off nights (EARLY SEASON SAMPLE SIZES!). As well, while he’s a major part of the Marlies success from a "winning games" perspective, he may be getting in the way a little in the development sense. Early performances seem to indicate that Garret Sparks isn’t entirely used to not starting 36,000 games per season, and I’m sure the team would like to have more involvement with Christopher Gibson’s growth. MacIntyre is playing like an NHL level goalie for the second straight year, and it would be nice to see others get the chance to get to that quality.
Why This Is Problematic: The Toronto Maple Leafs employ James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier, two hockey-playing robots developed by MLSE scientists to make us all forget about Andrew Raycroft, Vesa Toskala, and every other failed goalie of the post-lockout era. It’s kind of hard to bring up a "probable NHLer" when he has to beat two guys playing at an elite level. I wouldn’t be surprised if a team in desperation ended up giving him a close look eventually, though.
BONUS – John Michael Liles
Why He Should Be Called Up: Well, he technically is, but hasn’t played yet. Liles was the best two-way defender on the Marlies in his eight game stint, serving as T.J. Brennan’s puck distributor on the powerplay and shutting things down with Petter Granberg at even strength and on the penalty kill. His skating ability seems to be back in full form and he was more than capable of carving through AHL opponents on long rushes.
Why This Is Problematic: Why hasn’t he played, then? Well, it’s not even as simple as the "too many bodies" issue. From my own perspective, Liles is a second pairing defenceman on this team, even with all the names involved. With that said, the Leafs are looking to rid themselves of his contract, and it’s safe to assume that he’s up to get to his 30 calendar days before being re-eligible for waivers. An injury would delay the process and make teams weary, though, so they wont’ play him in NHL games. It’s an odd scenario, because playing him would likely strengthen his value to a team that needs a defenceman, but that’s the reality of the current situation.
Photo courtesy of Christian Bonin / TSGPhoto.com