Forget the team that seemingly always lets you down and breaks your heart with the playoffs on the line. It’s time to focus on Toronto’s real team – the Toronto Marlies. But seriously, these kids are good…
The next generation of Maple Leafs talent is excelling in the Calder Cup playoffs. And, while there may not be an Auston Matthews or Mitch Marner in that group, there are a few gems who will make an impact on the Leafs in the future.
There is nowhere else to logically begin other than with Rasmus Sandin. The AHL rookie out of the Soo Greyhounds has had a lights-out season with the Marlies. 28 points in 44 games played is remarkable for a defenseman, let alone a 19-year-old in his first season.
With the playoffs well underway, Sandin has kept the pace with his 7 points in 5 games. At 5’11”, 183lbs. Sandin isn’t going to bowl anyone over with physical play. Instead, his vision and ability to pick a pass opens up the game for his teammates. This kid is serious.
The Leafs added wisely with the signing of NCAA defenseman Joseph Duszak. Like Sandin, Duszak brings skill and speed over size on the back end and elite level production at the college level. In three seasons with Mercyhurst College, he had 79 points in 103 games played, including this season where he scored 47 points in 37 games played.
Lastly we’ll focus on Timothy Liljegren, the Leafs first round pick in 2017. While he hasn’t taken off offensively like many would have hoped (15 points in 43 games this season), Liljegren has been the perfect defensive partner for Sandin. More of a stay-at-home defender, there is a lot to like about Liljegren and his potential impact on the Leafs in the near future.
It’s Jeremy Bracco’s world, and we’re all just living in it right now. The dynamic playmaking winger has a Calder Cup playoff leading 10 points through just five playoff games so far. This matches his regular season production where he put up 79 points in 75 games this year.
While technically “undersized”, Bracco is as close to elite as you can get for an AHL prospect. The right winger is as adept at scoring goals as he is creating them. He will be a Maple Leaf sooner rather than later, but as for now, enjoy the Calder Cup run with what may be the best player in the league.
Don’t tell him his age, but Chris Mueller is 33 years old and is producing like he’s chasing an ELC in the NHL. The journeyman center has been imperative in the Marlies sustained AHL success and this year has been no different. He centers the first line with the likes of Bracco on the wing and benefits from his line-mates’ skill but also makes the most of his chances with his experience.
Lastly, we need to talk about Dmytro Timashov. The 22-year-old has seemingly always been on the precipice of taking the next step. He was eventually passed by Nylander, Johnsson, and Kapanen to the big club. I have complete faith that he’ll eventually be an effective depth winger for the Leafs, but when? Anyways, Timashov looked great this season with 49 points, and he’s added 4 points in 5 playoff games, too.