While discussions run rampant of how the Leafs should dismantle their club, trading Sundin and bottoming out in the Eastern Conference seem to be the most approved tactic from fans of the blue and white. I am completely behind this plan, but many have overlooked some prospects in our own AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies.
The Marlies are enjoying a successful season unlike their big brother. They are 26-9-4, which is good enough for 1st in the North Division, 3rd in the Western Conference and 4th in the league (with games in hand over two of the teams – the Rockford IceHogs, and the Providence Bruins). Much of their success has little to do with the young guns, but rather the veterans who play the AHL game with tremendous poise.
However, there are a few points to consider here. For one, an important aspect of their success has been goaltending, a strong duo between Scott Clemmensen and -- most importantly-- Justin Pogge has shut the door on most nights, and this bodes well for the Leafs future between the pipes.
With a larger core to evaluate through defense and forwards, it is important to identity another aspect of an older Marlies club. While the veteran players are key to the Marlies success; their leadership and poise will rub off on some of the Leafs key prospects. Many of whom may get a shot at the Leafs because of this.
Let's take a look at some of the Marlies core that could perhaps help out a rebuilding Leafs team in the future:
Aubin is known to possess a feisty edge to his game, which includes goal scoring ability and clutch performances (He broke the 50-goal plateau in his last season with QMJHL and recorded 105 points in 68 games. He also has 20 game-winning goals in his last two seasons with the Quebec Remparts). However, the diminutive forward has struggled in the AHL, recording 2 goals and 7 points in 35 GP. Like Robbie Earl, we owe it to ourselves to give him another chance next season.
Explosive speed, great skating, soft hands, gritty, physical, drives the net – this is Robbie Earl. A player I have found to be overlooked by many. While his size is not intimidating – he stands at 5-11 and weighs in at 185 lbs. – his play suggests otherwise. With some fine tuning and more development in the AHL, Earl will become a complete player capable of filling any role the Leafs give him. He struggled in his first season with the Marlies, recording 12 goals and 30 points in 67 games. This season, however, Earl is coming into his own, recording 11 goals and 30 points in 38 games. This prospect is one to look out for, mark my words.
Boyce, 23, has played 39 games for the Marlies this season as a rookie, recording 8 goals and 24 points. While his offensive production is impressive, his defensive game is just as polished. He was the CIS's rookie of the year in 2005-06 and was named the most valuable player when UNB won the 2007 University Cup, the national championship. He displays raw offensive instincts and will not shy away from the rough stuff – two aspects that are very valuable together.
Oreskovic, 20, is a rookie for the Marlies. Weighing in at 220 lbs. and standing at 6’3, he is force in the defensive zone. The stay-at-home defenseman is known to throw huge body checks, clear the front of net, work the corners, as well play an enforcer type game. In the year-end OHL Eastern Conference Coaches Poll, the punishing blueliner garnered votes as the best defensive defenseman and the best body checker. As the Leafs continue to struggle in the defensive aspects of the game, he should be a key member to their club in the near future.
Mitchell has been a part of the Marlies organization for a few years now. He possesses good size down the middle, exceptional face-off abilities, and is overall a solid two-way forward. However, Mitchell has had bouts with consistency, something he needs to work on to adapt to the NHL. If he develops as he should, he will provide the Leafs with a solid 3rd or 4th line player.
He is another complete player for the Marlies. Foster is a playmaker who has great on-ice vision, he is said to often make something out of nothing. Foster does not shy away from the physical aspects of the game neither, he is a fierce competitor who is filling to take some heat in order to buzz around the net. In 30 games with the Marlies this season, he has recorded 7 goals and 21 points.
Williams has natural offensive abilities, he is a playmaker who knows how to find the back of the net. He is gifted with excellent speed and an attitude to never back down to larger players. Because his defensive game is not polished by any means, Williams has to develop as a top 6 forward in order to survive in the NHL. At 24, his time may be running out… but never say never.
It is unrealistic to expect that all of these players will pan out as expected, but if a nice handful of them fill their respective roles, the Leafs will be on the right step once they initiate a rebuilding phase.