Leafs farm out youngsters to the Marlies
Club sticks to rebuilding plan, will go with veteran lineup as prospects develop in AHL
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.