As the Toronto Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, head into the 2017-18 season, they will be presenting one of the deepest and most impressive lineups in the AHL.
The Marlies will boast a mix of savvy veterans and young talented depth prospects. After defeating the Albany Devils 3-1 in the first round, the Marlies were dispatched in a grueling seven-game series against the Syracuse Crunch during the 2017 playoffs.
Entering 2017-18, the team isn’t likely to see a ton of turnover from last season’s lineup as they begin their quest for a Calder Cup. The major losses include Brendan Leipsic and captain Andrew Campbell, as well as goaltender Antoine Bibeau.
The additions are more significant: Up front, the skilled forwards coming from junior include Jeremy Bracco and Adam Brooks; free agent signings Miro Aaltonen and Chris Mueller are sure to be difference-makers. On the blue line, Andres Borgman and Vincent LoVerde make the Marlies’ top-four one to be reckoned with.
Miro Aaltonen will bring professional experience to the Marlies’ lineup. (Photo: Sergei Manzheleyev, www.ak-bars.ru)
All in all, the Marlies are set up to be serious contenders all year long. They have reliable offence from all positions and boast exciting talent all through their lineup. Defensively, the team is lined with responsible players who understand the importance of a strong two-way game. They are strong in the blue paint as well, featuring two goaltenders with the ability to start against any opponent.
Johnsson – Mueller – Rychel
Grundstrom – Aaltonen – Timashov
Moore – Brooks – Bracco
Greening – Gauthier – Winquist
Extras: Clune, Lindberg, Piccinich, Dupuy, Novak
Even assuming that Kasperi Kapanen will make the Leafs’ lineup, the Marlies forward core has tremendous offensive potential. Newcomer Mueller, was near a point-per-game center with the Tucson Roadrunners last year, adding 19 goals and 67 points in 68 games. Kerby Rychel was the team’s leader in points and penalty minutes and has quickly become a veteran leader at the ripe age of 22. Playing alongside them is sniper Andreas Johnsson, coming off of a 20-goal rookie campaign. This line could be primed for a huge year.
Andreas Johnsson was spectacular during his rookie season in 2016-17 and will be looked to as a top offensive contributor in ’17-18. (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)
On a very young, yet very potent second line, recent signing Aaltonen will be given big minutes in all situations, and be expected to provide consistent scoring as well. Helping him out with his production may be second-year winger, Dmytro Timashov, who is forecasted to take big steps after a solid rookie season. On the left wing, 19-year-old Carl Grundstrom comes in from the SHL where he totalled the most goals and points among all juniors in the league. He proved his ability to play in the AHL during six playoff games with the Marlies last year where he added three goals.
A third-line that can provide goal scoring and shutdown defence could be led by WHL superstar, Adam Brooks. Aside from putting up 130 points with the Regina Pats last year, Brooks is a trusted center at both ends of the ice. Sophomore, Trevor Moore could reap plenty of benefits playing alongside Brooks, as the two play a similar style. On the right side, offensive dynamo and rookie, Jeremy Bracco, would offer yet another highly skilled forward with blazing speed who could give the Marlies reliable depth.
Jeremy Bracco was a leader in the Windsor Spitfires run to the 2017 Memorial Cup. Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images
A fourth line that could see plenty of flip flops with the extra forwards should be centered by former first-rounder, Frédérik Gauthier. Over two years, Gauthier has struggled to find his offence but remains extremely reliable in defensive situations. On the left side is Colin Greening who could easily be swapped with Rich Clune or Tobias Lindberg for similar results. Free agent signee, Josh Winquist, has shown flashes of brilliance over his three-year AHL career when given the opportunity to play freely. Offseason signings, Jean Dupuy and Max Novak will likely split time on the right wing along with former London Knights captain, J.J. Piccinich.
Dermott – Borgman
Nielsen – LoVerde
Valiev – Holl
Extras: Paliotta, Cleland
After assuming that Calle Rosen will make the Leafs’ lineup, head coach Sheldon Keefe will still be in tough to give everyone the minutes they deserve. On the first pairing, Travis Dermott is due to set up on the left side as an excellent two-way defender coming into his second year at 20 years old. Newcomer, Andreas Borgman, may have to switch over to the right side because of the surplus of left-handed defencemen. Borgman, 22, was the SHL Rookie of the Year in 2016-17, and will provide strong two-way play on the first pairing.
On the second pair, 20-year-old Andrew Nielsen will look to improve on his offensive numbers from his rookie year and continue to round out the defensive aspects of his game as well as his skating. Offseason signing, Vincent LoVerde offers tremendous character on and off the ice, having been captain in the AHL for the past three years in the Los Angeles Kings organization. He plays a stable game with some offensive upside as well.
If Andrew Nielsen can round out his skating and defensive awareness, he can become a true top-four NHL prospect. (Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)
Rounding out the top-six is Rinat Valiev on the left side. The 22-year-old continues to truck along in his development, entering his third AHL season, though he played just 47 games last year with the Marlies. On the right side will be alternate captain, Justin Holl, who played in 72 of 76 games in 2016-17. This pairing offers the Marlies a shutdown presence that can play big minutes in tough situations.
After seeing seven different goaltenders man the crease over the course of the 2016-17 season, the two most impressive will be in the opening lineup for 2017-18. With the departure of Bibeau, Kasimir Kaskisuo will come in as a backup. The 23-year-old was a late season call-up from the ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears and was notable enough to earn a spot in 10 of the Marlies’ 11 postseason games.
Garret Sparks is arguably ready for an NHL position, but will have to settle for the Marlies as long as McElhinney is in the picture. (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)
Starting the majority of games will be Garret Sparks, who put forth another season of terrific numbers in 2016-17. Over 31 games, Sparks sported a 2.16 GAA and .922 SV%. The 24-year-old is due for some NHL time given his consistency in the AHL but will settle for plenty of ice time until Curtis McElhinney gives up the backup role with the Leafs.
This is a team loaded with high-end talent. While it’s a very young lineup, these players have valuable experience from the junior level and rom playing in Europe. They should be able to rely on strong goaltenders during low swings of play, and strive with high octane offence during high points. The best asset for the Marlies’ lineup is a collective ability to skate. For the most part, everyone can fly on the ice and make smart plays at top speeds.
This will be a fun team to watch, and likely a very successful one as well. When considering the very realistic possibility of getting both Kapanen and Rosen back from the Leafs, the Marlies could be a top team in the AHL all year long.