On Saturday, I took in the Marlies 4-2 win against St. John’s with McKeen’s Hockey pro scouting coordinator Gus Katsaros. First off, he’s an excellent hockey guy who you should follow on Twitter @KatsHockey, if you aren’t already. More relevant to this piece, we discussed numerous Marlies and Leafs-related matters that I’ll go over here as points of discussion and analysis.
It’s worth noting that, when it comes to the game itself, it wasn’t the greatest. The Marlies and IceCaps both played the night before, and each team was noticeably tired. On a good day, St John’s isn’t the most exciting team to watch as there really isn’t much talent there – the IceCaps two leading scorers are both D-men who have 17 and 16 points respectively. Add in the fact that Alex Burmistrov wasn’t playing on top of the aforementioned note of both teams looking tired, and well, you can imagine what kind of game it was.
The Marlies are simply a much better team than the IceCaps, and even though they didn’t play their ‘A’ game, they took care of business. That’s what good teams do.
Anyways, here are some talking points from recent Marlies games I’ve taken in:
- It’s always interesting watching Joe Colborne. He’s so big, and he has a noticeably high skill level considering his size, plus he can move more than adequately. In the IceCaps game, he made two high end passes; the first was on a 3 on 3 rush, where Colborne brought the puck below the hash marks, both forwards charged the net and were guarded accordingly, and he recognized Korbinian Holzer trailing the play and hit him for a pass that allowed the defender to walk in for a semi-breakaway. Holzer’s shot didn’t hit the net. Then in the third period, Colborne was at the top of the circle on a power play and hit a streaking Mike Kostka backdoor, but he wasn’t able to convert. If you were to go through a bunch of game tape on Colborne for the year, you would obviously see things he needs to improve, but you would also see quite a few scoring opportunities he’s created that haven’t been buried. In this game alone, there were two prime scoring chances he created that at the end of the day went undetected.
- Gus actually charted out on-ice goals performance here. At the time of that piece, he had only been on for seven goals against, while the team average was 14. So in essence, he’s not on for many goals against, and he’s been creating. I’m not going to defend Colborne to the bitter end – I’m not even sure if I’m defending him right now – as he only has 9 points in 25 games in a year where he should be doing much better. He’s stopped going to the dirty areas, he has only 33 shots on net for the year, and he’s turning 23 in January. But, there are little positives that can be gleaned from his game. Maybe the chances he creates start getting buried in the second half? That could quickly change the current perception of him.
- One more note on Colborne. There was an instance in the second period where he attempted to cut in and shoot the puck off the rush, but a defender got his stick on it and deflected the shot wide. It was a pretty nondescript play, but I thought about it a lot. In pretty well any sport, most people know that competing against a guy that is bigger than you is exponentially more difficult because they can leverage their body and create space for themselves that makes it nearly impossible for someone with a smaller body to guard them. Joe Colborne is listed at 6’5, and there just aren’t many players bigger than him out there. So when you think of him trying to cut in and simply get a shot on net, it should be relatively easy for him. At 6’5, with his reach and skill, in the AHL, he should be able to effortlessly put pucks on net pretty well whenever he wants, yet he was guarded with ease. This brings me back to Poulin’s interview with Lindy’s Leafs Magazine over the summer in which he told us that Colborne grew another inch over the summer. In that sense, he’s still very much a kid growing into his own body and learning how to use it. Now, how long you can stay patient with a kid and hope that he puts it altogether, I don’t know. But there’s enough there to make you want to wait at least a little longer. As mentioned, the pieces are there, he’s creating chances and isn’t scored on very often. You’ve got yourself a player if he could ever learn how to leverage his body, control the puck, and fend off defenders in the dirty areas of the ice. It’s just a matter of how long the Leafs will be patient with him now, and obviously if Colborne can start producing results.
- This is a bit of good timing, as Kyle Cicerella just wrote an excellent piece on Abbott learning from Aucoin. I was going to comment on the fact that it’s pretty clear the Leafs are playing Abbott with Aucoin because, with Kadri out, nobody else up front can really think the game the way Abbott does. He’s 5’9, so he obviously isn’t very big, he’s not the fastest skater, nor does he have the best shot, but he thinks the game at a very high level. In fact, during the IceCaps game, in the first period, Abbott whipped a pass to Aucoin in the slot, and he wasn’t ready for it. Abbott is fighting an uphill battle because 5’9 undrafted forwards don’t get very many chances to stick in the NHL, but he’s throwing up a point per game now in his first AHL season, and is seeing consistent power play time at the moment. If he’s able to keep up his point totals, Abbott is going to force the Leafs to eventually take a look at him at the NHL level. But it’s only been 12 games, and it’s very hard to predict how smaller players will react to playing against NHLers. At the very least, he is getting everyone’s attention.
- During the IceCaps game, Gus pointed out an excellent play in which D’Amigo knew he was going to get flattened, but did so in order to make a play to advance the puck. This was something that I noted during the Marlies playoff run last year as he is a guy who will sacrifice his body to make plays. D’Amigo’s inconsistent game to game, but he’s been playing on the Marlies shutdown line for most of the year and has been killing penalties, which is what the Leafs will want him to do. You kind of wish D’Amigo was bigger than 5’11, but he’s a solid and bulky 210+ pounds and will get dirty. Of the many unfortunate effects of the lockout, one is that the Leafs can’t take a look at a guy like D’Amigo at the NHL level. Maybe he only would have played five games, but at least there would have been something to gauge him on at that level. Otherwise, are the Leafs going to feel confident throwing a rookie in on their shutdown line to play against the NHL’s elite night-in and night-out for 82 games come next year? That’s risky, to say the least.
- One of D’Amigo’s shutdown line mates, Will Acton, should be getting a lot more attention than he currently is. Acton has been playing against other teams top lines all season more or less. Meaning, when Rochester comes to town, he’s the one who lines up against Marcus Foligno, when it’s Grand Rapids, he plays against Gustav Nyquist, and so on. That right there speaks to the responsibility he’s being trusted with on a team that is expected to compete for a championship again this year. Acton’s 6’2, he finishes all of his checks, drops the gloves on occasion and can be depended on for a regular shift. Yes, the Leafs have Steckel and McClement as their 3C and 4C, but neither of them offer the physicality Acton does, plus Acton can play wing. Simply put, he plays Randy Carlyle hockey, and there aren’t many players on the Leafs or Marlies you can honestly say that about. Acton may or may not be playing himself into a spot on the Leafs, but he is playing himself into the conversation, and that’s a feat in itself. This is a kid whom many thought was signed because of his last name. Now he’s becoming an important player on a good Marlies team.
I’m going to cut off the player notes here. I’ll be reading the comments if anyone wants to discuss other players there. I didn’t want to write too much and overwhelm.
On a more important note, I hope everyone has an excellent holiday and/or Merry Christmas.
On Wednesday morning the Leafs announced that they have called up forward Carter Ashton with their most recent plethora of injuries from last night’s game. We can all breathe a sigh of relief as the “savior” to our playoff dreams has now come. All kidding aside, Leaf fans will get to watch one of our youngest prospects play in his first NHL game of what hopes to be a long and successful career.
Since being acquired for defenceman Keith Aulie at the trade deadline, Ashton has looked great with the Marlies putting up a goal and an assist, as well as 8 penalty minutes in 3 games played. It is not known yet where the 20 year old will suit up in terms of line arrangements, however it is speculated that a 2nd line role alongside centerman Mikhail Grabovski is where he may be suiting up. Some may wonder why Nazem Kadri or Joe Colborne failed to get the call instead; but the matter is simple, they had their shot and Ashton has had a wonderful year in the AHL, so it is his turn. Not to mention, Ashton brings a physical dimension to his game which Burke and Carlyle love.
Puck drop tonight is at 7:30 pm et as the Leafs visit the Pens. Lets hope Ashton can spark the team as these next few games are essentially playoff games and must win scenarios in order to get back into a playoff position. GO LEAFS GO.
Listening to Maple Leafs’ Vice President of Hockey Operations, Dave Poulin, brought about some interesting thoughts as we wind our way toward this year’s edition of the NHL Trade Deadline. During his conversation, Poulin talked about building a team and an organization as you would a house and property. The analogy is one that speaks to patience and careful planning, something that is necessary for any successful front office staff, when it comes to building a winning product.
Looking at the foundation upon which the house that Burke and Co. has put together, it’s easy to forget that before Burke was brought to Toronto to lead the organization, it would have been difficult to look through the organizational depth chart, and find a solid pillar for the future. Since his arrival, Burke has made a number of moves to improve a talent pool that was on serious life support in terms of young talent. Through drafting alone (something that Burke has taken heat for in his time here), Burke has added first round picks in the likes of forwards Nazem Kadri and Tyler Biggs, as well as the smart, economical defenseman, Stuart Percy from the Mississauga Majors. He supplemented those selections with picks from rounds 2-7 with promising youngsters such as Gregg McKegg, Sondre Olden, Josh Nicholls, and Bradley Ross. Burke and Co. have approached the draft with a clear strategy, adding size and skill to the prospect pool, and for better or worse, fans of the organization are soon to see these selections given the chance to show their stuff at the AHL level.
The most important thing that Burke and his team of executives have done in his 4-year tenure with the Blue and White is add cornerstones through trade. The much-debated trade for Phil Kessel was the first major move that Burke made, adding a cornerstone talent to the organization, in a move that divided the fan base. Kessel’s talent is not in question, and shouldn’t be at this point, given that he currently sits among the top-5 in league scoring. In landing Phil, Burke surrendered two first round selections, and a second round selection to the Boston Bruins, and allowed the Bruins to land Tyler Seguin, Jared Knight and defenseman Dougie Hamilton. The miscalculation of the team’s ability at the time of the trade is well known, and is the subject of the on-going argument among fans as to whether or not the trade was beneficial to the club’s long term success. Whether or not you believe in the move, Burke added the missing piece from the Sundin era, the high scoring winger.
The second pillar that was added was Captain Dion Phaneuf. In a trade that sent pieces like Matt Stajan and Jamal Mayers to Calgary, Burke was able to not only pry Dion, but talented young defenseman Keith Aulie. The addition of Aulie is what sweetened the pot. Calgary was looking to shake up their roster, and Burke was able to turn a mole hill’s worth of talent into a mountain-esque return. In Dion’s time here, we’ve seen the return of his offensive game, as he struggled in the early stages of his Leaf career. Keith Aulie remains one of the organizations top prospects, as he has seen time with both the Leafs and the Marlies, and continues to round out his trade to become a full-time NHL defenseman.
The last player to discuss, in terms of pillars, is one that is currently cementing his status as just that. Young defenseman Jake Gardiner, acquired as the incentive in the deal for Joffrey Lupul, has stepped into the spotlight this season, and is making his case for being a future top pairing defender. Gardiner has the ability to take over the play from the back-end, and on a number of occasions this season, has been the best player on the ice in Blue and White. His skating is some of the best on the team, and at times, Gardiner has displayed poise and patience beyond his years. As is the case with any young player making the transition to pro hockey, Gardiner has had problems with turnovers, and getting caught on the pinch, but increased trust and TOI awarded to him by the coaching staff has certainly paid off.
Honourable mentions would go to talents like Matt Frattin, who at times, has shown NHL ready ability on both the rush and the back check. Joe Colborne is yet another, added in the Kaberle trade, as well as Jesse Blacker, a defenseman chosen 58th overall in the 2009 draft.
Although not all of the young talent made this article, the point of the matter is this: Burke and his team have made great strides to not only build a foundation, but build pieces around it. Leading up to the deadline, in one week’s time, there will be a lot of pressure on management to acquire a key piece to help get the club into the playoffs for the first time since the lockout. As Poulin stated this morning, the key to the process is patience and poise, knowing that a move cannot be made unless it improves your house going forward in the long term. Given this model, it’s hard to imagine Burke mortgaging the future for Rick Nash, even if bringing home the GTA native would see his statue built in the front yard.
Darren Dreger reported last night that the Toronto Maple Leafs have received an offer from an unidentified team for UFA to be, Mikhail Grabovski. He went on to say that the proposed deal included a second round pick and a prospect. Today, Dreger expanded upon the topic, noting that the prospect is currently at the AHL level. Everyone already knows my thoughts on dealing Grabovski, if not, you can read them here. There are many components the team should seek to add in order to become better, but subtracting Grabovski – at the price of a second round pick and a prospect – would set the team back in many ways. Unless the team has a deal to bring in another center immediately, they would probably be forced to call up Joe Colborne, unless they plan on promoting Matthew Lombardi or Darryl Boyce up in the lineup. Tim Connolly still has a year left on his deal, but his uninspiring play as of late has me hesitant to pencil him in any higher than the third line. To set the record straight, I don’t think the Leafs will pull the trigger on this deal. If they liked it, it would have been done already. It’s no secret Brian Burke and Grabovski’s agent are probably negotiating, but at this point we’re not privy to the negotiation status or direction. It’s at best a guessing game whether Grabovski will stay with the team, or if his demands will force him out. Right now, here’s where I think we are down the middle:
- Grabovski is our best center, but similar playing styles to Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul has him playing on a different line. Grabovski is a playmaker primarily, but can find the net if given the chance. He’s diligent defensively, and he checks effectively.
- Tyler Bozak has developed nicely into a dependable center, and has had the luxury of playing with Kessel and Lupul. Like Grabovski, he’s primarily a playmaker, but can find the net on occasion. Bozak is also considered a defensive asset, and checks industriously. Grabovski is the better center option, but Bozak has found a niche for the time being on the top line.
- Tim Connolly is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. We all know he has the capability to put up some serious numbers, but when you watch him play, his decision making and work ethic makes you sit there and wonder ‘why?’. Why, as in, why we ever signed him. He’s currently playing on the third line, but brings nothing to the line that a prototypical third liner would bring. He’s not overly physical, and his lack of work ethic sets his linemates back.
- Matt Lombardi is the most predictable player in the world. Having watched him closely for most of the season, his only ‘moves’ are driving wide with speed and going five-hole. Seriously, watch highlights of him scoring: he’s in alone, or driving wide, and he scores five-hole. As a checking option, he’s decent but commands a hefty price tag. He’s decent for spot duty in the top six, but I wouldn’t be confident placing him there for an extended time.
- Darryl Boyce is your standard thirteenth forward / fourth line center / AHL call-up kind of guy. I like his work ethic, his physicality, his speed and willingness to battle. For all these reasons, he’s great to have around for the spots I listed above. Any higher, and your just shooting yourself in the foot or being delusional about his skill.
Moving out Grabovski without acquiring an adequate center in return would require Connolly, Lombardi or Boyce to move up into the top six. There’s a big issue with that happening, and thus, at this point its really not ideal to be discussing a Grabovski trade. In an ideal world, I’d look to deal any of the other centers first. Too bad this world isn’t ideal.
It’s not a surprise that the Leafs are trying to upgrade their lineup in anticipation of (finally) pushing for a playoff spot this season. It’s been constantly noted that the Leafs would like to add some size in the top six, while still searching for that elusive number one center.
They often say that when you make a trade ‘you have to give to get’. That’s why many rumours and trade proposals this season have included names like Luke Schenn, Clarke MacArthur and Mikhail Grabvoski, amongst others. Brian Burke often states that no player on the roster is ever untouchable (as they should be) and that’s why, naturally, we see the names of better players appear in these trade rumours.
You could spend countless hours dissecting all the rumours, but today we’re looking at Tyler Bozak and Mikhail Grabovski, two centers who both have some value in trade discussions.
You’ll often hear Grabovski’s name appear in trade rumours involving elite-level talent: Bobby Ryan, Eric Staal, Ryan Getzlaf, to name a few. The consensus is that the other team will want a decent center in return in order to fill the void. This would be the logical starting point of any deal.
Grabovski is a very tradable asset. He’s only 28 years old, he’s a pending UFA, and he currently clocks in at a modest $2.9 million cap hit. He’s a consistent offensive threat, he’s durable, and he plays with an edge. All this makes him very attractive in trade discussions.
That’s why Brian Burke should be pushing hard to keep Mikhail Grabovski. He brings so much to the table, it becomes immediately difficult to replace his output. Joe Colborne and Nazem Kadri are both center prospects in the system, but neither look primed to fill Grabovski’s shoes and equal his scoring output quite yet. Tim Connolly is signed through next season, but hasn’t made as much of an impact as desired.
Mikhail Grabovski is a tradable asset, but taking him from the lineup would set the team back no matter who the club acquires in return.
This is why Burke should lobby hard to trade Bozak instead, including supplemental assets to cover the talent-gap. Bozak is a young player who many teams would love to add to their roster. He’s defensively tenacious, can hold his own offensively, and is signed through next year at an affordable $1.5 mil cap hit. He doesn’t hold as much value as Grabovski, but he would perk the interest of quite a few teams.
To cover the talent-gap the Leafs would likely be required to send an additional pick (anywhere from a third to a fifth round pick) and a prospect, in addition to the rest of the package. In the end, a deal for an elite level player could end up costing the Leafs a top draft choice (first round), Tyler Bozak, top prospect, additional prospect, and a mid round pick.
It would be a steep price to pay, but I’d gladly pay it before dealing one of the best second line centers in the league away.
There were plenty of drama surrounding the Leafs AHL affiliate this past week.
Working on six night’s rest, the Marlies were raring to go Saturday afternoon against the Rochester Americans. Although faltering early in the game, Joe Colborne continued his hot start to the season, scoring 2:28 into overtime to give Toronto a flying 5-4 come-from-behind victory. Colborne’s overtime marker came after Ryan Hamilton and Darryl Boyce scored 34 seconds apart late in the third period to tie the game 4-4. Joey Crabb and Kelsey Wilson had the other goals for Toronto, and goaltender Ben Scrivens stopped 22 shots for the win.
The Marlies were right back at it on Sunday afternoon, although the scoreline wasn’t in Toronto’s favour, falling to the Lake Erie Monsters 5-4 in overtime. It was the second straight night that the Marlies fought back from a two-goal third-period deficit to claw their way into the extra frame. Joey Crabb had two goals to lead the Marlies, while Joe Colborne and Mike Zigomanis also scored. Jussi Rynnas stopped 27 shots, taking the loss.
There are some major positives to draw from the Marlies so far this season:
- Marlies scoring leaders Joey Crabb (6G, 6A) and Joe Colborne (5G, 7A) are second and third, respectively, in the AHL scoring race. They sit one point behind Chris Bourque of the Hershey Bears. Crabb and Colborne are also tied for fourth in league in plus/minus, each with a +6 rating.
- One other Marlie has made it to the Top 20 in AHL scoring: Mike Zigomanis (2G, 7A), sitting 16th.
- Marlies defencemen Matt Lashoff and Marcel Mueller have both started the season strong for their club, each with a goal and four assists to lead all Marlies blueliners.
There are some question marks surrounding the play of few of the Marlies:
- Keith Aulie, who seemed to have a bright future with the Maple Leafs after partnering with Dion Phaneuf for the majority of the second-half of last year’s season, has started this campaign flat. He’s recorded zero points, is a team-worst -5, and only has three shots on goal in six games. He is far from the form Leafs fans grew accustomed with last year.
- Luca Caputi, who at one point was a Leafs top-six forward following the trade which sent Alexei Ponikarovsky to the Pittsburgh Penguins, has only recorded one point with the Marlies this season (1G, 0A).
- In four games played, Ben Scrivens has seen his save percentage slip to .889, well below the .924 he displayed in last year’s campaign.
The Marlies now sit atop their division with a 4-1-1 record, taking points in five of six games played. They pick things up this Wednesday at home against the Abbotsford Heat.
Yes, the season is a long one, but through six games, it looks like the future is bright on The Farm.
I welcome your thoughts.
Yesterday the Toronto Maple Leafs announced that they had cut 14 more players from their training camp roster, assigning them to the Toronto Marlies of the AHL. The most significant of the cuts was forward Joe Colborne, who was considered to be in contention for a roster spot.
The full list of cuts is as follows. All players were assigned to the Toronto Marlies (AHL).
Assigned to Toronto (AHL) : Luca Caputi, Joe Colborne, Jerry D’Amigo, Ryan Hamilton, Marcel Mueller, Kenny Ryan, Greg Scott, Mike Zigomanis, Jesse Blacker, Jeff Finger, Simon Gysbers, Korbinian Holzer, Juraj Mikus, Mark Owuya, Jussi Rynnas.
The Leafs also announced that they had returned forward Greg McKegg to the Erie Otters of the OHL.
Luca Caputi, Ryan Hamilton, Mike Zigomanis and Jeff Finger will all have to clear waivers to be assigned to the AHL.
While there are still more important cuts to be made, you can tell that the Leafs roster is beginning to take shape. The following players remain in camp:
I’ve predicted who I personally think will be cut once the season rolls around, based on keeping two defenders and one forward scratched.
- Matthew Lombardi either slots in the lineup as a center or winger, which effectively forces Matt Frattin and Nazem Kadri to the minors. If he’s injured to start the season, Darryl Boyce plays in his stead.
- The Leafs will opt to go with 8 defensemen. My guess is that Keith Aulie and Mike Komisarek will sit.
- Phillipe Dupuis will win fourth line center duties. He’s a fearless shot blocker, speedy and throws his weight around. He’ll be flanked by Mike Brown and Colton Orr. If Brownie is a no-go opening night, look for Boyce to play in that hole.
- The Leafs third line will eventually be Lombardi with Tyler Bozak and Colby Armstrong.
- If both Lombardi and Brown are both injured to start the season, the Leafs will keep Jay Rosehill around. He’ll patrol the ice with Orr until Brown is healthy. Boyce will play on the third line. Notice how Boyce is very versatile.