The Toronto Maple Leafs are seeing a number of players within their farm system get an opportunity to show their worth at the NHL level. As they’ve been constantly hit with the injury bug, players with the Toronto Marlies in the American Hockey League have produced and have earned a call-up as a result to fill the void.
With Nick Robertson hoping to take more strides, Pontus Holmberg getting consistent third line minutes, Mac Hollowell showing great poise as a rookie on defense and Semyon Der-Arguchintsev recently getting a call-up, the Maple Leafs prospects are making their mark as they transition to the big league.
While these players have got a chance with the big club, there are a number of other players having a strong season with the Marlies. Here are some names that fans should be keeping a close eye on for this season and for the future.
After a standout rookie tournament, I honestly believed that Steeves would be one of the first forwards to be called up as he’s been a consistent top player for the Marlies this season, but here we are. However, it probably won’t be long before he finds himself back in the NHL in a depth role.
Steeves’ relentless ability to quickly be on the forecheck and pressure opponents has once again been a standout this season. He’s a quick skater with great agility and acceleration and is always showcasing a high-end work ethic with his ability to pursue and battle for the puck. His numbers in the preseason with the Maple Leafs were strong as he had a five-on-five shots for percentage of 55% and an expected goal for percentage of 62.96.
Although I thought he should’ve made the roster, Steeves has been on a roll in the AHL once again as he’s second in points with 20. A season after posting 23 goals and 46 points in 58 games, he’s just under a point per game at 0.95 and is on pace for 69 points this season. On top of that 14 of his points this season in all situations are primary, displaying his strong ability to setup or finish plays.
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Although he may not be top-six material, Steeves would be a great call-up in the bottom six given his ability to forecheck and wear down the opposition with his speed and intensity. Given his skillset he could be a player that can move up and down the lineup if needed.
Although he isn’t signed to an NHL contract, Noel Hoefenmayer has been gaining a lot of attention for the right reasons this season with the Marlies. Since he didn’t sign an entry-level contract after being drafted originally by the Arizona Coyotes in 2017, he would eventually sign an AHL deal with the Marlies in 2020. That season he finished with 82 points in 58 games.
After a 40-point season with the Newfoundland Growlers in the ECHL and three assists in eight games with the Marlies last season, Hoefenmayer was extended to a one-year deal. Safe to say that extension is looking great as he’s off to a hot start this season. He leads the Marlies defense in points with 18 points and sixth overall in the league. His 12 primary points is good for fourth overall in the league among defenders and is in the top-10 in primary points per game.
Hoefenmayer’s offensive game is what you take note of as he’s extremely smooth when carrying the puck in transition. He possesses a lethal and powerful one-timer from the point and is able to open himself up for a quick shot on net. When he winds up, look out and if you need any validation, check out the clip below and witness his shot. He’s not afraid to jump into the rush as he does a good job to pick his spots to do so.
While he’s a shooting and offensive threat every time he’s on the ice, he has done a great job to work on and round out his game defensively. He’s starting to become a more reliable player in his own end, defending in front of the net and against the rush. While there are still some instances where his decision-making isn’t the best, he’s putting in the work which is a great sign for his development. If he continues to play like he has, he can earn a contract and eventually get called up.
From a power shooting, offensive defender on an AHL contract to one who plays a completely different style, Marshall Rifai has been a very pleasant surprise since signing with the Marlies. Although you won’t see him find the scoresheet often, he’s a defensive stalwart that is very difficult to go up against.
Ever since his play at the rookie tournament, I’ve become a big fan of Rifai’s game as he has a great work ethic. While he’s not an offensive player, he has good speed and mobility to move the play forward and can make timely pinches to keep plays alive.
While he’s still developing, there’s a lot of promise with him as a shutdown defender. He’s got great physical strength to make a big time hit and isn’t afraid to drop the gloves as well. He works hard in the corners, has shown good gap control and is great at boxing defenders out in front of the net. He makes smart decisions without the puck and has good awareness within his own end.
Rifai’s ability to constantly be simplistic in his game is what makes him a great piece for this team. He brings something the Maple Leafs need as a smart, physical defensive-minded defenseman. While he isn’t able to be a call-up unless he gets an NHL contract, it’s definitely a possibility if he continues to showcase his strengths.
Although he was injured to start the season and has been out recently with a lower body injury, the signing of Adam Gaudette has proven to be a beneficial one for the Marlies. After an impressive World Championships last spring, Gaudette signed with the Maple Leafs and has been on a goal scoring tear when healthy.
Gaudette’s 12 goals lead the team in all situations and is currently third overall in the league. He has had an up and down career and his health has played a big factor, including a stomach infection. The Hobey Baker Award winner in 2017-18 appears to be starting to get back on track as he has always displayed a powerful shot and well-rounded game.
Although Gaudette is further down the depth chart, with his style of play and experience in the NHL, he’s still a player that can fly under the radar. He can score a timely goal yet play a strong defensive shut down game as well, something the Maple Leafs have been doing well as of late.
While the Maple Leafs farm system may not be as strong compared to other teams, they do have a number of players that can be– or even eventually– be called up as there has been a lot to like from the Marlies squad this season. As these players continue to produce, they continue to give the team options for roster spots.
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Peter is in his third year with The Hockey Writers, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs and heading the Draft and Prospects section. He has previously interned at The Hockey News and worked on Toronto Marlies broadcasts for Rogers TV. He currently is the co-host of the podcast Sticks in the 6ix and a frequent guest on Maple Leafs Lounge. Aside from hockey, he also enjoys drumming, animation and impressions/ voices.