The Toronto Marlies are only two games away from an AHL Championship. The Calder Cup Final between the Marlies and the Texas Stars has been about as exciting as a hockey series can get. Both teams have NHL talent on their rosters and some of those players are shoe-ins to play for their NHL team next season. Here is a look at which Marlies we can expect to see in a Toronto Maple Leafs uniform next season.
Which Toronto Marlies Will Be Promoted To The Toronto Maple Leafs
Without A Doubt
Andreas Johnsson played nine regular season games for the Maple Leafs last season and another six in the playoffs. He’s a speedy winger that could replace some of James van Riemsdyk‘s lost goals. He played on the fourth line with Kasperi Kapanen and Tomas Plekanec last season, making them a formidable fourth line with speed and a scoring touch. Next season, the Maple Leafs will give him a bigger role and more playing time in an effort to see what he can do at an NHL level.
Since returning to the Marlies after the Maple Leafs lost to the Boston Bruins in the first round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Johnsson has scored 17 points in 13 games. If the Marlies win the Calder Cup, Johnsson should win the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy for Calder Cup Playoffs MVP.
One player that may have something to say about who deserves the AHL’s playoff MVP is Garret Sparks. He’s already going to win the Harry (Hap) Holmes Memorial Award for best statistical goaltender and will probably win the Aldege (Baz) Bastien Memorial Award as best goaltender as voted by the Writers Association. Sparks is sporting a 2.16 GAA and a .918 save percentage in 16 playoff games for the Marlies so far.
At 24 years old, Sparks is ready to be given a legitimate shot at being an NHL goaltender. The Maple Leafs already have Curtis McElhinney in the backup role, but ‘McBackup’ is 35 years old. That’s not to say that he can’t put in another solid season as a veteran NHL backup goalie. He was superb last season. But the Maple Leafs are better served giving younger players that playing time. Frederik Andersen might have been over-played last season, the book is still out on that. Bringing up Sparks to play 25 or more games will give Andersen some rest, give Sparks more NHL experience, and the Leafs should have an idea by season’s end where Sparks fits in the long-term depth chart.
Like Johnsson, Travis Dermott played for the Maple Leafs against the Bruins before being sent back to the Marlies for their playoff run. He had 13 points in 37 regular season games for the Maple Leafs and looked like a good fit for their blue line. He’s another left-handed shot, so he will play on the third pairing for the Maple Leafs next season. With Jake Gardiner approaching free agency next season, Dermott may be on his way to a top-four position with the Maple Leafs.
There’s a Good Chance
Carl Grundstrom played most of this season in Sweden, but he has been with the Marlies for all of their playoff games. He could shine in training camp and earn a spot with the Maple Leafs, but it’s more likely he starts next season with the Marlies. Grundstrom is a player that likes to play in front of the net. If he can handle the speed and skill of the NHL, he could be a good replacement for van Riemsdyk’s powerplay minutes.
Justin Holl is already 26 years old, but it’s not unprecedented to see late-blooming defensemen make the NHL in their mid-twenties and be impact players. Brian Rafalski for example. Holl plays very well with Dermott on the Marlies. If he can perform well at training camp next season, a Dermott-Holl third pairing is not out of the question. Two goals in two career NHL games doesn’t hurt his chances either.
Miro Aaltonen was brought in last season to challenge for the fourth line center role. It ultimately went to Dominic Moore, and then Plekanec, but with a season in the AHL under his belt now. Altonen will once again try to prove to Mike Babcock and Kyle Dubas that he belongs in the NHL.
Timothy Liljegren will most likely be slated for another season in the AHL before he makes the leap to the NHL. But by the time next year’s playoffs roll around, the Maple Leafs may be looking to see what they have in Liljegren. They will probably want to try him out at the NHL level before the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s likely Liljegren will see at least some time with the Maple Leafs next season.
It’s just a numbers game for Calvin Pickard. He’s currently fourth on the team’s depth chart and even if the Maple Leafs move McElhinney, he’ll still finish third. Pickard was an excellent pick up for the Maple Leafs, but unless the Maple Leafs find a trade partner, Pickard will start for the Marlies next season. He’ll be called-up should either Andersen or Sparks suffer an injury and he could see some playing time ahead of next year’s trade deadline if the Maple Leafs decide he’s a good chip to trade for some playoff help.
The Long Shots
Frederik Gauthier has already played games in the NHL, but he looked slow. The NHL is fast and Gauthier is a big guy that can’t quite keep up. If he can improve his skating, you never know. He could still find a role somewhere in the NHL. But the Leafs are trying to be a quick team that can outskate their opponents. Gauthier doesn’t fit that model. It is apparent the Leafs don’t have Gauthier in their long-term plans after giving him nine regular season games last season and then trading a second round pick for Plekanec for the playoffs.
Ben Smith is another player with NHL experience, 237 games in fact. If he sees playing time with the Maple Leafs, it will only be because the Leafs are desperate due to injuries. There are too many younger players that Maple Leafs would rather call upon, although Smith is a center and that improves his chances of getting called up.
The Maple Leafs are short two NHL-level defensemen with the pending departures of Tyler Bozak, Plekanec and Moore. The Leafs will likely try to acquire another center for next year (ahem John Tavares) or move William Nylander to center, either move would lessen Smith’s chances of making it back to the NHL next season.
One Of Many
The Marlies have a plethora of defensemen that may see time with the Maple Leafs. There isn’t a lot of room on the Maple Leafs after Morgan Rielly, Gardiner, Dermott, Ron Hainsey, Nikita Zaitsev, and Connor Carrick, but either Calle Rosen or Andreas Borgman could find themselves with the Maple Leafs as either a depth player or an injury replacement.
And The Rest
There are many young players with the Marlies that could find themselves in the NHL next season. The biggest obstacle for them is the depth the Maple Leafs have. There just aren’t many places to fill. If the Maple Leafs start putting packages together to improve their defense, that could change. As it stands now, the Marlies are likely to be rife with players next year that will one day have an opportunity to play in the NHL. At the very least that should mean they have a good chance of reaching the Calder Cup Final again.
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