Marlies’ veterans eye open jobs with expansion Golden Knights
For some players on the Toronto Marlies, the future seems certain: Kasperi Kapanen looks destined for a role with the Maple Leafs. Travis Dermott seems on his way to a long look at training camp. Carl Grundstrom has jump-started his North American career.
The future for others seems murkier. Whether it is an expiring contract or the spectre of being lost in an expansion draft, the spring seems fraught with drama for those just a little further down the Maple Leafs’ depth chart.
“There’s 12 more forward jobs (in the NHL) for everybody. It will be interesting to see how things play out,” said winger Brendan Leipsic, a restricted free agent and a prime candidate to be exposed to the expansion draft. “I’d be lying if I said I don’t read some of the stuff. It’s going to be an interesting summer. A lot of stuff is going to happen, a lot of movement.
“All you can control is how you prepare for the season. You’ll see where you end up.”
Wingers Kerby Rychel, who led the Marlies in scoring, and 24-year-old Seth Griffith are two more young forwards at crossroads. They believe they have what it takes to be NHL regulars, but they haven’t made the breakthrough.
“Everyone wants to be in the NHL for sure,” said Rychel, 22, who played 37 games with Columbus over two seasons. “I’m sure everyone believes they can be in there. Next year is a big year for myself. It’s off-season now, and a lot of things can happen. I have to train for next year, no matter where I am.”
Griffith had an unusual season, getting NHL time with the Leafs and Panthers before settling in with the Marlies. He sees Vegas as a lifeline for players like him.
“You hope it works in your favour if things don’t work out in Toronto,” said Griffith, who has 58 NHL games to his credit. “I’m going to bear down this summer, and I want to stick in the NHL next year. That’s my main goal.
“I learned a lot this year that I can bring into next season. If it’s here in Toronto, I’m going to be really happy.”
Injuries have taken a toll on the development of young players. Leipsic’s season was interrupted by concussion. Goalie Garret Sparks had a lower body injury that opened up an opportunity for Kasimir Kaskisuo, who ran with the No. 1 job in the playoffs after a season in the ECHL.
“I’ve been here four years,” said Sparks, a restricted free agent on July 1. “I’m not one to rock the boat. I love being here. I love wearing blue and white. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I would guess after the season that I’ve had, I’d love to return.”
Frederik Gauthier’s season-ending injury in the playoffs will keep him out of action until possibly November, costing the youngster key development time and an opportunity to make the Leafs this fall as the fourth-line centre.
“It’s really unfortunate with how well he was playing to lose him at that time. It’s a real setback for him heading into next season,” said Marlies GM Kyle Dubas. “It’s going to be at a minimum five months. It’s going to be a big challenge for Freddie and his work in the off-season to really show extreme commitment. It’s a test of character.”
Here is a look at some of the Leafs’ top prospects on the Marlies:
The 20-year-old winger learned how to kill penalties for the first time in his career, using his speed to his advantage and didn’t look out of place at all with a late-season call-up to the Maple Leafs that included two big goals. He should be an NHL regular next season. “This year was a positive year. There were some setbacks. I’m excited to see what I could do next year,” said Kapanen.
- Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe: “Because of his pedigree, you forget the fact he’s in the development stage. He improved quite a bit. He took on a lot more defensive responsibilities, learned to play on the penalty kill. Those types of things are important.”
Built like a fire-hydrant, the 20-year-old defenceman is top of mind among a Maple Leafs management team looking to build the blue line from within. Dermott will get a real shot in training camp in September for a bottom-pairing job.
- Marlies GM Kyle Dubas: “He came back from injury really established himself as one of the best defence prospects in the league. It’s exciting to see him.”
The 19-year-old winger joined the Marlies after the Swedish league season ended, and showed off some offensive flair as as well as a gritty side to his game that should bode well for an NHL career. He might need another year in the AHL.
- Grundstrom: “It was a good experience to play here and in Sweden. I probably have to be more consistent in the defensive zone and minimize my mistakes. That’s the main things I need to improve for next season.”
The lanky and strong 20-year-old defenceman finished his first AHL season strong. He’s no sure thing but, if it he puts it together on a consistent basis, his upside is tremendous.
- Keefe: “He came a long way during the season. He was playing some of his best hockey at the hardest time of the year (the playoffs).”
Another player who got off to a rocky start this year but had a strong finish. He’s small — he’s listed at five-foot-10 — but he plays the game hard, he’s tough to play against and he can score.
- Dubas: “He flies under the radar a bit but had a great season in terms of development. He was one of the most dependable players on our club and ended up producing regularly. He doesn’t get a lot of attention, but he’s a real dependable guy who put himself on the map with a great year.”