Leafs farm out young­sters to the Mar­lies

Club sticks to re­build­ing plan, will go with vet­eran lineup as prospects de­velop in AHL

Toronto Star - - SPORTS - MARK ZWOLIN­SKI SPORTS RE­PORTER

In the end, the plan won out.

The Maple Leafs, in trim­ming 11 play­ers in their fi­nal train­ing camp cuts and waiv­ing five oth­ers, stuck to pres­i­dent Bren­dan Shana­han’s vow of pa­tience in de­vel­op­ing the team’s youngest and bright­est prospects.

The cuts saw young guns like Wil­liam Nylander, Con­nor Brown, Nikita Sosh­nikov, Zach Hyman and Kasperi Ka­pa­nen dis­patched to the AHL’s Mar­lies on Sun­day.

That got the ros­ter down to 24 play­ers, but one fi­nal cut is still needed over the next 24 hours to reach the 23-man ros­ter limit nec­es­sary ahead of Wed­nes­day’s sea­son opener against the Mon­treal Cana­di­ens at the Air Canada Cen­tre.

It’s ar­guable Nylander and Brown stood out in camp as much as any vet­eran player, but the camp did not fea­ture a feel-good story like that of Bran­don Kozun last sea­son. In­stead, the harsher re­al­ity —- that this was go­ing to be a rare sea­son where the Leafs broke camp with­out a rookie — set in early and set the tone for an all-vet­eran based ros­ter to open the sea­son.

“First of all, it’s an on­go­ing process to make sure what­ever de­ci­sions are made are within the frame­work of the plan. They did ex­tremely well, they have a bright fu­ture, but the right de­ci­sion now is for us to see what we have with our vet­er­ans and to see what kind of team we have,” Leafs GM Lou Lamor­iello said in a con­fer­ence call Sun­day.

Oth­ers headed to the Mar­lies in- clude Rich Clune, Vik­tor Loov, Stu­art Percy (who cracked the sea­sonopen­ing ros­ter last year), Ri­nat Valiev and goalies An­toine Bibeau and Gar­ret Sparks. Toronto waived T.J. Bren­nan, An­drew Camp­bell, Sam Car­rick, Matt Frat­tin and By­ron Froese for the pur­pose of as­sign­ing them to the Mar­lies.

As for the fi­nal cut, it ap­pears to come down to a choice on whether to keep 22-year-old de­fence­man Scott Har­ring­ton, part of the Phil Kes­sel trade with Pittsburgh who im­pressed in 10 games with the Pen­guins last sea­son, or re­spected vet­eran Stephane Ro­bidas.

If the Leafs stick to the blue­print, they may de­cide on send­ing Har­ring­ton to the Mar­lies, where he’ll re­ceive top min­utes rather than ro­tate in and out of the NHL ros­ter with less ice time. Another pos­si­ble av­enue for that last cut could see the team choose be­tween for­wards Mark Ar­co­bello and Richard Panik.

“There is (one more cut com­ing) . . . but we didn’t want to hold back on what we wanted to do, to get play­ers to the Mar­lies and have a sta­ble sit­u­a­tion for them . . . but yes, there’s one de­ci­sion to be made,” Lamor­iello said.

The Leafs’ ros­ter, though, is all but set with a cast of vet­eran for­wards in­clud­ing re­turnees Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, James van Riems­dyk, Jof­frey Lupul, Peter Hol­land and Leo Ko­marov. The new­com­ers, all with at least one ex­cel­lent pos­ses­sion met­ric in their ad­vanced stats, in­clude Daniel Win­nik, Shawn Matthias, Michael Grab­ner, Nick Spal­ing, Brad Boyes, P.A. Par­enteau, and Ar­co­bello.

The Leafs cur­rently have eight de­fence­man, likely too high a num­ber to start the sea­son. Har­ring­ton and Ro­bidas join Dion Pha­neuf, Jake Gar­diner, Mor­gan Rielly, Ro­man Po­lak, Matt Hun­wick and Martin Mar­incin.

Mar­incin and Har­ring­ton are just 22 and both have spent at least a sea­son in the AHL, a de­vel­op­ment path the Leafs sup­port.

“They’ve got­ten bet­ter and bet­ter in camp as it went along,” Lamor­iello said of Mar­incin, who was with the Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers the past two sea­sons, and Har­ring­ton, who im­pressed enough in the AHL last sea­son to be in­cluded on Pittsburgh’s play­off ros­ter in the spring.

“I didn’t know much about them but they’ve im­pressed our coach­ing staff and they de­serve the op­por­tu­nity they’re get­ting.

“We’ll have to see where the fi­nal de­ci­sion is.”

The fi­nal cuts sparked talk the Mar­lies will be ex­cit­ing to watch. But the ul­ti­mate goal is to de­velop to the point where those play­ers will con­trib­ute when they are called up to the Leafs, a process mir­rored most no­tably by the Red Wings with To­mas Tatar and Gus­tav Nyquist.

“The first thing for us is to see where our vet­er­ans are . . . but they (prospects) un­der­stand. I’m sure they’re dis­ap­pointed but they’ll be here be­fore they know it,” Lamor­iello said.

Wil­liam Nylander was among those sent to the Mar­lies on Sun­day as Leafs trimmed ros­ter.

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