While there is tremendous excitement at “hockey” returning to the ice in Toronto, the Marlies will tell you it has been back for a long time. As the NHL season attempts to blast into a new year with a shortened schedule, rosters will form quickly and Toronto’s AHL franchise could play a big role in how the Maple Leafs take shape in that time frame.
Every prospect in this market is a “big name” player because of the direct relation of the fan support and passion linked to both the NHL and AHL teams in Toronto. So, let’s examine a few of the big names that could find themselves making the journey from the Ricoh Coliseum to the Air Canada Centre now that the NHL has returned.
One year removed from his first full year of play at the AHL level and his name is on the lips of many a Leaf fan, for good reason. Scrivens picked up 22 wins one season ago, while setting a franchise record for goals against in the process. A 2.04 average in the regular season earned him top spot in the league in that category, which translated into a Hap Holmes award for the now 26 year old goaltender. He would have liked to add another trophy to the case, but fell just short of that dream, losing in the Calder Cup finals to the Norfolk Admirals. The Spruce Grove, Alberta native picked up 11 playoff wins, including 3 shutouts, and was arguably Toronto’s most valuable player over that time. Scrivens proved he can be a consistent, successful competitor for this franchise and become a backbone of a team. His experience one season ago also included four NHL wins with the Leafs in twelve games. While more net time in the AHL as a starter for the Marlies would not be a downside, there could be plenty of upside in a Leaf uniform very soon.
After finishing the NHL regular season with the Maple Leafs as the league’s point leader among rookie defencemen with 30, Jake would move on from a successful 75 game season in the NHL and continue to gain experience; jumping on with the Marlies for their playoff run. This allowed the Wisconsin grad to play over 100 pro games in his first full year, which is more than three college hockey seasons combined. That type of day to day, game to game experience gained and the run all the way to the finals, will prove to be a huge step forward in the career of the former first round pick. Signs that he will not slow down in progression have been very apparent with his start to the current season with the Toronto Marlies. Gardiner continues to demonstrate poise and confidence while carrying the puck and has been in the top three among overall point scorers on the team, since the start of the season. Gardiner has gained experience in the AHL as power play quarterback and has continued to get a lot of minutes in a top defensive pairing with Mike Kostka. Consistently one of the team’s best players every game, Gardiner is quickly moving towards a title that could read “franchise defenceman.”
The true sniper of the team, Matt Frattin has done nothing but produce while in a Marlies uniform. The Edmonton, Alberta native is an impact player each and every time he steps on the ice and he has the numbers to back it up. While only playing thirteen games in the post season during last year’s Calder run, Frattin finished as the team’s leader in playoff goals with 10 and second in points with 13. His early exit from playoff hockey was a crushing blow to Toronto’s offence. Although needing knee surgery in the off-season to repair a wound suffered in the conference finals, Frattin is back; playing like he never left. Scoring two goals in his return to the ice this season opened the door for a regular spot in the power play rotation, as well. Frattin consistently makes those that play with him better, is unafraid to mix it up physically and posses’ an NHL caliber shot. After 56 games with the Leafs last season, a new fan favourite may hit the ice in every game Toronto plays this year.
One may think that no one could miss a 6’3’’ 205lbs German defenceman, but on many nights on the Marlie blueline he often blends in…which indicates he is doing his job. Holzer is a solid, tough to play against defender, who makes life miserable for forwards once in Toronto’s d-zone. Holzer is not known to do anything flashy and that is exactly what makes him an appealing figure to the Leafs blueline. While he did contribute with a 20 point season last year, he is most valuable working in a shutdown defensive pairing. As soon as offensive pressure from the opposition steps over the centre ice line, they are in his world. The Munich native developed a league wide reputation for punishment over the course of last season and the playoffs. Whether in the corners, in front of the net or in neutral ice ready for an open ice hit, he was tough to play against. If Leaf fans are hoping for a sand paper and a reliable presence on the back end, look no further than Korbinian Holzer.
Although associated with the blue and white for what seems like a while now, Kadri is only 22 years old and still developing. The trek through the end of the regular season with the Marlies last year was some of the best hockey Nazem has played as a pro. He demonstrated he can be defensively reliable, while still producing offensively as one of the more relied upon forwards in that kind of role. Kadri continued to play as a pest, as well, and has the valuable knack for drawing opponents into penalties at least once every game, in failure to cover him well. Kadri posses high end skill and has regularily put it on display at the AHL level. While playing limited games with the Marlies over the last two seasons, because he also had good chunks of play with the Leafs, he still produced over 80 points in under 100 AHL regular season games leading up to this year. Once again finding his spot as a point a game player in the AHL, it may be just right amount of time spent under Dallas Eakins that translates his jump to the Maple Leafs as permanent, this time around.
Largely known at the start of this season to Marlies fans as the player who ended Toronto’s Calder Cup dreams, Mike Kostka may soon carry a much more appreciated definition among fans in this city. The Ajax native was brought home in the off season after producing 12 points in the playoffs for the cup winning Norfolk Admirals, which included 6 goals and back to back game winners in the last two games the Marlies would play in. Unable to find a secure place with the Florida Panthers, Kostka is now among the Marlies on the rise at the start of the AHL season. Kostka illustrates on a nightly basis how deep his skill set can be. While playing in a regular pairing with Jake Gardiner, pushing the puck up and creating offensive chances are natural for each player, however, the U-Mass Amherst grad has proven to be a defensive asset, as well. Kostka brings a calming presence to the blueline and can be thrown out in any situation. He is among the team leaders in points and his decision making with and without the puck is excellent. Kostka has long been sought after by many a team in the American Hockey League and now that Toronto has him, he may garner the same attention at the NHL level.
From the outside looking in, Paul Ranger may appear as a wild card to crack the Maple Leafs blueline. To someone who has watched him play for the Marlies this season, he is anything but. In 2009 Ranger was a budding defenceman with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He chose to take a break from the game and when he returned, he did so with his hometown team: Toronto. The move by the Maple Leafs organization to give him what he wanted so badly, a return to the sport at the pro level, was not only one that illustrates the class of the franchise, but it’s brains too. So far, Ranger is looking like a complete steal of a deal. The Whitby native scored highest amongst his peers in overall fitness heading into the start of the season and it did not take long for him to round into form. Solidifying the Marlies top six and making the team’s defence one of the deepest in the league is a credit to the amount of work Ranger has put into his comeback bid and to the way he conducts himself both on and off the ice. With 270 NHL games under his belt, this utility defenceman with many tools to offer, would be the bring a Cinderella ending to a great story if he ever ended up in a Leaf uniform.
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