The current NHL lockout that has wiped out the entire 2012-2013 season up to this point began by cancelling each team’s training camp. Or so we thought.
For the Toronto Maple Leafs, the entire season has been somewhat of a training camp. Eight players currently suiting up for their AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, have a legitimate chance of cracking the big league roster once hockey finally gets under way. Not only has this driven the Marlies to success thus far but it has also created friendly yet intense competition for what should be only one or two spots available in the NHL. As things stand at this point in time, those one or two spots are on defence.
Those eight players consist of five forwards and three defencemen; Nazem Kadri, Spencer Abbott, Carter Ashton, Joe Colborne, Matt Frattin, Korbinian Holzer, Jesse Blacker and surprisingly enough, Mike Kostka.
Jake Gardiner is excluded because he is believed to be a lock to make the Maple Leafs’ roster after a tremendous rookie season. Goalie Ben Scrivens is also left out from this list because there is no reason he won’t be number two behind James Reimer when the time to drop the puck arrives.
It is interesting to note that Kadri, now 22 years old, still does not have a guaranteed spot on the Leafs’ roster. We have heard time and time again about how there is no need to rush a young prospect into the NHL. If the Luke Schenn fiasco proved anything, that sentence is nothing but the truth.
Even after four NHL seasons, Schenn is still just 22 years old and has had some solid campaigns in the past. He likely needed a change of scenery to continue to improve, however, and there were rumours he was unhappy playing under former coach Ron Wilson. - James Mirtle, The Globe and Mail
By the time Schenn reached 22 years of age, it became obvious that his time in Toronto had expired. It was time for a trade and that’s exactly what he got.
Although Kadri’s career has taken somewhat of a different path, the reality is that he is now at the same point in his life that Schenn was at when Toronto pulled the plug. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time for the Maple Leafs to give up on Kadri, and surely he realizes that. He may have had a rough start to the season but Kadri has battled back and is now scoring at a point-per-game pace. It is this type of determination that has the Marlies sitting at the top of the AHL’s Western Conference.
Unfortunately for Kadri, the Leafs seem to have held the same motto of “if he isn’t going to be in the top-six, we don’t want him in the NHL” for much of his career up to this point. That continues to bode unwell for Kadri, as the Leafs have an abundance of average top-six forwards, all of whom play at a higher level than him. Not only that, but Kadri will have to continue to battle against Abbott, Ashton, Colborne and Frattin.
The news doesn’t get any better for Kadri because Abbott and Frattin have also been putting together nice campaigns. Abbott has notched 13 points in 15 games to go along with a plus-11 rating, while Frattin has 16 points, including nine goals, in 18 games. These three will continue to push against one another as the possibility of an NHL season may be growing.
Colborne and Ashton have struggled this season. Colborne has just two goals and eight assists in 28 games while Ashton has managed 11 points in 30 games. Neither one are expected to be big-time point producers in the NHL but we should be seeing more from Colborne than .36 points per game while more production from Ashton would be a nice addition to the checking role he plays.
Lastly, there are the three defencemen: Holzer, Kostka and Blacker. As previously discussed, it is likely that only one of Mike Komisarek or Cody Franson will be back with the blue and white in 2013-2014, making room for Morgan Rielly, who has been having a tremendous season both in the Canadian Hockey League and at the international level with Team Canada. This scenario would give the Leafs six defencemen ready to suit up, meaning they would only be in need of a “plan B,” or seventh defenceman.
Kostka presents an interesting case because he has truly taken the idea of a season-long training camp and ran with it. An AHL veteran, Kostka appears to have hit his stride in Toronto at the age of 27 with 29 points in 31 games.
Holzer has been high on the minds of Leafs brass since the team drafted him 111th overall in 2006. He has a couple of games worth of NHL experience and is proving his ability to hold down the fort with the Marlies.
Blacker, 21, played a nice offensive game during his time with the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack but has since transformed into a more well-rounded defenceman. In 86 career regular season games with the Marlies, Blacker has 20 points and a plus-10 rating.
These three have limited time to duke it out for the final spot on the Leafs’ back end, but they are fortunate enough to be learning from a coach who was expected to land an NHL job this summer. Dallas Eakins was in the running to become an NHL head coach over the off-season. He elected to remain with the Leafs organization, though, re-signing as the Marlies’ bench boss in June.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are living proof that the lockout does not have to cancel your team’s training camp entirely. It may stop the star players from participating but the Leafs’ top prospects still have the perfect opportunity to prove their worth in the American league.
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