After wrapping up their first three games of the 2018-2019 season, starting the year out with a 1-2-0 record, the Toronto Marlies looked like a shell of the team that hoisted the Calder Cup last June.
But of course, that’s to be expected.
In the AHL, where immense roster turnover is a common occurrence, teams are bound to see their elite AHL talent move on to the NHL. But for the Marlies, who last year were among the best team’s in AHL history, seeing the team’s top forwards, defenceman and goaltenders depart is a tough pill to swallow.
Both Garret Sparks and Calvin Pickard, who combined for the AHL’s best goals against average last season, are in the NHL now. The Marlies two top defenceman from last year, Martin Marincin and Justin Holl, along with the team’s top two forwards, Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapnanen, have graduated to the Leafs, too.
While the Leafs still have plenty of talent brewing with the Marlies–such as Trevor Moore, Carl Grundstrom, Adam Brooks, Jeremy Bracco, Timothy LIlijegren etc— it’s going to take some time before those players get to the level of what players like Holl, Kapanen, Johnsson etc were at the peak of their AHL tenures.
It doesn’t happen overnight.
And this weekend foreshadowed the growing pains that the Marlies could endure this season.
“A lot of [the AHL] is about development. Thats what the AHL is, it’s a developmental league. So, I think right now, guys feel good about themselves skill wise. Our systems just need to work a bit better. That’s what practice is for,” Marlies forward Colin Greening told reporters on Monday.
Over the thanksgiving long-weekend–where they defeated Utica 7-4, fell to both Binghamton, 7-5, and Cleveland, 5-3—the Marlies looked sloppy. Now, in all fairness to the Marlies, that can certainly be attributed to the fact that the club has only held one practice with their current roster. But even with that into account, the team’s performance in the defensive zone was simply dreadful.
And the players know it.
“We’re letting in too many goals and [allowing] too many shots against every game,” said Marlies defenceman Calle Rosen. “That’s something we need to clean up,”
Last year, the Marlies were a juggernaut defensively, surrendering a mere 2.21 goals against per game and allowing, on average, 28 shots against per game. But In their first few contests this year, the Marlies averaged 5.33 goals against per game while averaging 36 shots against per contest. They struggled mightily to break out of their zone effectively, and they were a turnover machine in the D-zone and the neutral zone.
Three games is a small sample size, but by watching this Marlies team it seems that there’s going to be some growing pains with this years baby Leafs.
Gagner Dominating AHL Competition
In his first three games with the Toronto Marlies, Sam Gagner recorded five points, playing on the right wing of the team’s top-line, alongside Chris Mueller and Carl Grundstrom.
Since the Canucks loaned Gagner to the Marlies, the 29-year-old forward has been dominant at the AHL level, serving as a great complimentary piece to the team’s young-guns.
“From our perspective, it was a no brainer to grab Sam Gagner,” said Marlies general manager Laurence Gilman. “He can play as a number one centre, a number one distributor here. And really, bringing in a veteran of this calibre is really an extension of our player development program. He’s there to make the young forwards on our team—like Adam Brooks or Jeremy Bracco—better.”
Sam Gagner's offensive production has really helped a #Marlies team that can't seem to keep the puck out of their own zone, and the back of their own net. A slick wrist shot from him cuts it to a 5-2 game. pic.twitter.com/ERxpc4GgZ6
— Jacob Stoller (@JLStoller) October 8, 2018
“The veterans that comprise your roster, are so critically important to the culture of your organization. And if you can add guys that are not just great in the room, but great on the ice. It will, in turn, make everybody better and it lifts your whole organization up.”
Moore taking next step in development
If one of the Leafs forwards were to get injured, I think it’s pretty clear who deserves to get the call-up;
After a monstrous 2018 Calder Cup playoffs that saw him record 17 points in 20 games, Moore has looked like an elite AHL player in the early stages of this season.
“I think his confidence is really high,” said Keefe. “[He] believes in himself. He knows this is a big year for him and he’s an important piece of our team. To see him come through and play the way that he did today, is a real good sign for both he and us.”
Thus far into the season, Moore is scoring at a point-per-game pace.
Moore’s abilities to create offence, forecheck and protect the puck would suit the Leafs’ bottom six well, and I’d be surprised if at least get a trial there at some point this season.
Leafs head coach Mike Babcock seemed to like what he saw from Moore in the preseason, even giving him an opportunity to play alongside John Tavares and Mitch Marner in an exhibition game. But, if Moore wants to become a regular in the Leafs lineup, he’s going to have to fulfill Babcock’s prerequisite for joining his bottom six–being a bona fide penalty killer.
All quotes courtesy of Marlies TV