As a result of the Toronto Maple Leafs current cap situation, along with the trade of Patrick Marleau, it’s now known that the team isn’t in the market for a big name free agent. It makes sense as Mitch Marner is the main priority. At the NHL Draft, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported that the estimated figures for the contracts of Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson are in place, which would take the Maple Leafs out of the market and keeping their top restricted free agents (RFAs).
If everything goes well in the Marner contract situation and he signs, the Maple Leafs may choose to not make any moves or maybe sign some depth players on cheap contracts. They can also promote players from the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, which would be a cheaper deal than a free agent market, and could benefit the team. It’s a long summer and it’s a great opportunity for these players to train hard and attempt to make the team. Here are the top five players in the Maple Leafs’ farm system that could push for a spot on next season’s roster.
If there was a time to make a case for a forward to earn a spot, this is Jeremy Bracco’s chance. Drafted in the second round 61st overall in 2015, Bracco continued to improve and develop into a full-time NHL player. He won a World Junior Championship in 2017 with Team USA, won the Memorial Cup with the Windsor Spitfires and he was part of the Marlies that won the Calder Cup in 2018.
This year was a breakout year for Bracco in his sophomore season, recording 22 goals and 57 assists finishing second in points and assists overall in the league. He then went on to tally 16 more points in the playoffs. His offensive production more than doubled compared from his first season, earning top minutes and power play time.
Even though he has top-six potential, Bracco will still prove to be an impactful player in a third or fourth-line role with his speed and ability to open up the ice. Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe said, “Taking care of himself off the ice, being prepared mentally, physically for those challenges has really helped,” in regards to his development and success this year.
There was no doubt that when the Maple Leafs drafted Rasmus Sandin, they were getting a reliable defender with the ability to provide a strong two-way presence. Even though he was injured for a good portion of the season, Sandin was still able to produce 28 points in 44 games, a respectable 0.64 points per game average, while logging big minutes for the Marlies.
Even though he’s 19, Sandin is more than capable of handling the major responsibility of being a top-four defenseman. His maturity proves that he is ready for a role in the NHL. He’s able to adapt to any on-ice situation quickly, which will be a huge positive for when he reaches the NHL. He stepped it up when the playoffs arrived and he was a key factor in reaching the Conference Final.
Keefe stated on OverDrive last month that while Sandin overcame some obstacles, his composure and ability to challenge himself is what made him and the team successful.
Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin are slated to be on the left side of the defense pairings. But with Travis Dermott being out for an extended period of time following shoulder surgery, having Sandin even as a third pairing is a great boost to their defense.
There’s something about Marchment that has made me a huge fan of his since I watched him play a few times with the Mississauga Steelheads.
While I was focusing on Alex Nylander and Michael McLeod on that team, whenever they weren’t on I was drawn to Marchment and his style of play. He’s basically the full package you want in a player: good size, good speed and a great physical edge. There’s been a major divide with whether or not the Leafs are tough enough. The Maple Leafs don’t need an enforcer, but they need someone who can be gritty and play with an offensive mindset.
Marchment has flown under the radar in terms of Maple Leafs prospects because everyone is focused on speed and skill. His style will help the Leafs down the line, especially when playoffs roll around and you need someone to get under the opponent’s skin or get a key goal from a depth player. I don’t see Marchment as a top-nine player, but with the way he plays, he will be an impactful fourth-liner.
Even though Sandin has passed Liljegren on the depth chart, Liljegren could also see some time with the Maple Leafs this year. With Zaitsev requesting a trade and with Gardiner on the way out, Liljegren provides a positional need on the right side.
The 20-year-old has more of an offensive instinct and shoot-first mentality to his game, but he’s managed to balance that out by being more reliable defensively. Even if he may not get a lot of points early on, his decision making away from the puck and physical play are great positives considering how the Maple Leafs got pushed around a bit in their own end this past season.
Keefe stated that Liljegren’s development has taken a major step forward, earning top-line minutes and defending against the opposition’s top players. At 6-feet, 192 pounds, he’s got the size to possibly be a shut-down guy.
If there’s one way to describe Pierre Engvall, it’s that he is a workhorse.
Even though he didn’t make the roster last season, I thought he did an excellent job proving his value during the pre-season. He’s got great speed for his size (6-foot-5, 214 pounds) and he has the ability to gain great body position while protecting the puck.
Last year, Frederik Gauthier had his ups and downs as the fourth-line centre. Previously a winger, Engvall had an impeccable transition that the Maple Leafs could value and would push Gauthier for that final centre spot. He would provide better speed and can provide a stronger presence on the penalty-kill for the Maple Leafs. His 19 goals and 32 points gave the Marlies great secondary scoring and would offer more offensive production than Gauthier.
While there are minimal spots to be had, these players will no doubt put their best foot forward in trying to impress the coaching staff. Even if they don’t make the roster out of camp, there’s always the possibility that they can earn a call-up if the management feels they are ready for the NHL.
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.