Marlies Look Poised for a Strong Season

Since last season, the Toronto Marlies have bolstered their roster with a number of changes that have resulted in a great start to the 2017-18 AHL season. With a record of 5-2-0, the Marlies sit at the top of the North Division, and, if their start is any indication, they’ll be a top team in the league this season.

Quite a few key players for the Marlies last season are no longer with them. Brendan Leipsic, who was one of the Marlies top scorers last season, was taken by the Vegas Golden Knights in the Expansion Draft and has been a regular in their lineup. Team captain Andrew Campbell also left the team after signing a one-year deal with the Arizona Coyotes and is playing for their AHL affiliate.

Despite losing two key players, the Marlies look better off thanks to an abundance of depth down the roster.

Too Much Depth Is Never a Bad Thing

One aspect of the new look Toronto Maple Leafs is just how much depth they have in their lineup. This is also the case for the Marlies as they have an abundance of players.

Part of this is because of the players that the Leafs have sent down to the minors in Martin Marincin and the recently loaned Calle Rosen. Then there is also Calvin Pickard, who the Leafs acquired in a trade with Vegas just after the start of the season. Pickard is realistically a backup goalie on most NHL teams, so, for the Leafs, this gives them more options in net if Curtis McElhinney struggles.

(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

With Pickard now splitting time with Garret Sparks, it’s meant that Kasimir Kaskisuo is again on the short end of things. Last season Kaskisuo spent 32 games with the Marlies ECHL affiliate, the Orlando Solar Bears, while only getting a handful of games with the Marlies.

Now, this season with Antoine Bibeau gone, it appeared it would finally be Kaskisuo’s chance, but with Pickard in the equation, the Marlies have loaned Kaskisuo to the Chicago Wolves so that he can get some regular ice-time in the AHL.

Overall, the Marlies have 15 forwards for 12 spots and 10 defensemen for just six spots on the backend. This excess has resulted in a promising player like Jeremy Bracco only getting to play in two of the seven games that the Marlies have played so far. As one of the team’s rookies it makes sense that he’s the one to sit, but if Bracco can show that he deserves to be in the lineup every night then there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be a regular for the Marlies.

Related: Projecting the Toronto Marlies 2017-18 Lineup

A First-Hand Look at the Marlies

Last Saturday I attended the Marlies’ game against the Charlotte Checkers and got a first-hand look at this year’s team. Although the Marlies lost the Sunday rematch 6-4 against the Checkers, they dominated the Checkers in their 4-0 win on Saturday.

The Marlies kept the Checkers stuck in their end for most of the game with only a few instances of the play being in the Marlies end for an extended amount of time. Sparks played great for the Marlies, coming away with a shutout on 24 saves, but the Checkers missed the net a noticeable amount of times and had one chance at a wide open net but the Charlotte player couldn’t control the pass.

The line of Kasperi Kapanen, Miro Aaltonen and Kerby Rychel were fantastic to watch as they took control of the game every shift. Although none of them came away with a point to show for their effort, Kapanen was truly the standout player to me. His skating, puck control, and puck handling were head-and-shoulders above everyone else which makes it very clear that he should be playing in the NHL.

Timothy Liljegren, NHL Draft, Toronto Maple Leafs
Timothy Liljegren has drawn comparisons to Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

And, speaking of skating ability, the other player that stood out every time he had the puck was Timothy Liljegren. It’s amazing to think that he was just drafted and is already one of the standout players for the Marlies. Liljegren had a lot of power play time and looked comfortable as the one defenseman on the blue line, as the Marlies implemented the four forwards and one defenseman formation that the Leafs use on their power play.

The Marlies look dominant and I expect them to be one of the top teams in the AHL this season as they have too much talent not to succeed.