The Maple Leafs off season begins, but their farm team is still enforcing its will on opposing teams. The Toronto Marlies are looking sharp, and poised to take a run at the AHL Calder Cup. Adam and myself have each chosen 3 prospects that intrigue us the most, and gone into a little depth on what we like about them. Without further adieu, here are our chosen Marlies to watch.
Alex’s top 3;
- Carl Grundstrom
The winger from Sweden was selected in the second round of the 2016 draft. He has been playing primarily in Sweden since being drafted, however he has recently joined the Marlies to help them on their playoff run. I love skill set that Grundstrom adds to the organization. He is molded in the Zach Hyman type of player, as in he plays with intensity, forechecks, and good on special teams. His offensive prowess is a bonus. In his first 2 games on North American ice, he has already logged 4 goals and 2 assists during his short time in the AHL playoffs. Pretty impressive start. If he can prove that his game translates over to the North American pro leagues, he might have the best chance at being promoted to the NHL. He has no clear weaknesses and can already play in all 3 zones. Babcock will love him.
- Timothy Liljegren
I literally jumped for joy when the Leafs draft Liljegren at 17th overall last year. He was hyped as being a top 2 player of the entire draft class, but after dealing with Mono for most of his draft year, his play fell and scouts started to worry. I thought there was zero chance he would fall as far as 17. But alas, it was Toronto’s turn to select, and Liljegren was still available. Amazing. In his first year as a Marlie, the Swedesh defender has the highest ever points per game by an 18 year old defenseman, and if you include 19 year olds, he would rank 8th all time. Amazing for a 17th overall pick! I have high hopes for this kid and while his overall game may not quite be NHL ready yet, if he keeps improving he has the most potential of any prospect on the leafs.
- Jeremy Bracco
Bracco is an interesting prospect. He is the very definition of boom or bust. He has some all world talent which he showed off while scoring a ton in the OHL. The big question is can he do it in the pros? He’s on the small side and known as more of a perimeter player. So that already doesn’t bode well for him. But having said that, what he lacks in power he truly does make up for in ability. His skating, vision, and passing are top notch. With 32 points in his rookie AHL season, there is room for improvement, but keep in mind this was done with a lot less minutes than the top line guys. Bracco could be a couple more years away from the NHL but I’m rooting for this guy to succeed because he’s a first round talent who just needs to be coached up.
Adam’s top 3;
- Carl Grundstom
Maybe the most easily applicable candidate to join the Leafs next season, the big swede power forward is the heir apparent to Leo Komarov leaving the team in free agency. He isn’t towering, registering in at 6’0” 200lbs, but he brings a certain physicality the leafs have been missing for quite some time. Why is he so needed on the big league roster? Because he brings that physical edge without compromising on skill – sorry Matt Martin. On his loan to Swedish Hockey League team Frolunda HC, Grunstrom put up 24 points in 35 games (17 goals). Recalled for the Calder Cup playoffs, Grundstrom has tallied six points in eight games. He is an instant impact guy and a good depth forward. Not bad for a 20-year old.
- Garret Sparks
Let the numbers do the talking for this guy here – Sparks has had a stellar 2017-18 seasons for the Marlies – 43 gp, 1.17 goals against average, and a save percentage of .936. Recipient of the Aldege “Baz” Bastien memorial award, Sparks won over player, coach and media approval for most outstanding goaltender.He needed to tighten up after a short stint with the leafs a few years ago, but he has done so. Goalies take longer to develop as prospects so there is no shame in another year in the minors. Look for him to either challenge Frederick Andersen in two years time, or be moved out for a solid price to a big league club.
- Pierre Engvall
This one is a little out of left field but the stats don’t lie. Like Grundstrom, Engvall has been playing in the SHL, but for club HV71. He managed 20 points in 31 games (7 goals, 13 assists). After getting recalled for the Calder Cup playoffs he has been on a bit of a tear, tied for third in team scoring(with Grundstrom) with six points. Maybe the direct replacement to that towering net front presence JVR brings, Engvall is 6’4”, and again will provide size and physicality without compromising on skill. A fourth round pick in 2014, Engvall could be found money for the Leafs who seem to be hitting regularly on prospects. What Engvall is representative of is a good process for European prospects – let them season against adults in Europe, then transition to North American hockey within the AHL.
It can be hard to predict prospects because minor league success doesn’t always translate into NHL success. But we have high hopes for these particular players. I also just want to throw out and honorable mention to Demitry Timashov who is a young Marlie playing very well in these playoffs, and I believe he could take off next year with a more important role on the team. Time will tell!