The NHL lockout has shifted almost all of the attention that was once placed on the Toronto Maple Leafs over to their AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies. This is good news for some but not so good for others.
Some players, such as Leo Komarov and Carter Ashton, now have the chance to make their mark in the Maple Leafs organization with some NHL-calibre players to support them. Then there are those like Jake Gardiner and Ben Scrivens, who are essentially stuck playing one level lower than they should only because millionaires and billionaires continue to go back at forth at each other from across a table.
Since neither Gardiner nor Scrivens are expected to be cut from the Leafs’ roster once training camp opens, it would be unnecessary to spend any time on them when looking at which Marlies players are most likely to wind up with the big club this season, if there is one. Instead, let’s look at the not-so-obvious ones and those who are right on the bubble.
The pressure is already on for Korbianian Holzer.
Leafs general manager Brian Burke joined Joe Bowen and Greg Millen in the broadcast booth during the Marlies’ season opener on Saturday. During the short interview, Burke mentioned that he fully expects Holzer to join the Leafs when the NHL starts up. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given Holzer’s on-track development.
Holzer has impressed so much since the team drafted him in 2006 that the Maple Leafs handed him a one-way contract this summer, something that Holzer knows pressure comes with. Now with Mike Komisarek questionable─for lack of a better term─to crack the Leafs’ lineup, it’s almost certain that Holzer will find his way onto the Maple Leafs in time for NHL hockey.
Everyone knows how Nazem Kadri’s path to where he is at now has unfolded. Multiple stints with the Leafs haven’t worked out, he has exploded at times with the Marlies and he continuously works to get better at his position, only to fall back below the major league once again.
His chances don’t look much better this time around thanks to the addition of James van Riemsdyk up front but that doesn’t mean he won’t see time with the blue and white of the Maple Leafs from the get-go.
Under a new head coach in Randy Carlyle, this just might be Kadri’s time to shine. And that is the only factor─time─that will tell what Kadri’s future holds.
Leo Komarov’s journey to the Maple Leafs has been well-documented. The team drafted him the same year they selected Holzer, 2006, but he elected to spend six years overseas before finally signing a deal to come to Toronto in May.
Komarov, a native of Narva, Estonia, wears No. 87 for the Marlies and has begun to make his impact in a pesky role. That isn’t expected to change if he does join the Leafs when the NHL season begins. Playing in the bottom-six, you can expect Komarov to grind it out, battle for the puck and ice position while getting under his opponents’ skin and notching the odd goal here and there.
Prior to the 2012 NHL trade deadline I posed a question to my Twitter followers that was something along the lines of, “given the Leafs’ depth on the back-end, why not move Blacker if that means help up front?” This didn’t go over quite as well as you might originally expect. I was immediately taken back by the strength of the support Blacker received from those who responded.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I think Blacker is a disappointing prospect. In fact, the results of that quick Twitter poll just go to show how valuable of a prospect Blacker is to the Leafs organization. Also proving Blacker’s value is the fact that he has been ranked ninth on Pension Plan Puppet’s top 25 under 25 list multiple times this year.
Now it comes down to Blacker versus Holzer and Komisarek in the battle to become the Maple Leafs’ sixth defenceman. The runner-up will take the seventh spot and the third-place finisher will wind up with the Marlies. That battle doesn’t exactly favour Blacker at the moment but that’s no reason to count him out.
All the names mentioned above have been tossed around for the last few months. No one will be surprised if they make the team but the reverse result during training camp on the other hand, well that might shock some people.
Who knows, maybe we’ll have an entirely different surprise. Maybe, just maybe, it will be someone who wasn’t spoken of above that will make the jump and hold down a spot with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
After all, isn’t that what Jake Gardiner did last season?
For every Leafs article on THW, follow @THW_MapleLeafs on Twitter.
Check out Maple Leafs Central, a THW Network site.