I last wrote about the Toronto Marlies back in October, where I highlighted the play of top prospects such as Timothy Liljegren and Kasperi Kapanen. It is time for an update, as the Marlies have played eighteen games since then! With fifteen wins in this span, there’s plenty of positives to discuss.
Both Garret Sparks and Calvin Pickard are playing well, and either goalie could become the backup goalie for the Maple Leafs later in the season. The team boasts three top defenders in Calle Rosen, Martin Marincin, and Travis Dermott, plus another high-end AHL blueliner in Vincent LoVerde. Opposing teams are having an incredibly tough time scoring on the Marlies, and the powerplay is finally starting to come around.
Liljegren boasts nine points in just 16 games, and can be seen delivering a cross ice pass to Frederik Gauthier in the GIF above. He is now facing top competition on a regular basis alongside Travis Dermott, and his lateral quickness remains a major selling point. Liljegren is not the star of this team just yet, but looks ready to impress at this years World Juniors.
His ability to jump up in the play is well-documented thus far:
There have been a few mistakes along the way, but it is difficult to get overly exposed on a team that gives up less than two goals per game. He ranked fifth on my Top 25 Under 25 list heading into the year, and his performance to date makes him a safe bet to end up there again next year. His lateral quickness and transition game should translate well to the NHL level, and he is not overly short at 6’0.
Liljegren looks more and more comfortable every night, and pairing him with Jeremy Bracco on the powerplay is a recipe for terrific puck movement. Personally, I prefer to see him paired next to Marincin to ensure that he is the dominant puck mover on his pairing. Unlike fellow first round picks Cale Makar, Juuso Valimaki, and Cal Foote, Liljegren will still be eligible to participate in next year’s World Juniors, and he could be downright dominant at this event if he gets stronger next summer.
Similar to what we see from Nazem Kadri, Johnsson “knows where the goals are”. He uses his low centre of gravity and gritty style to drive to the dirty areas, and he’s a major weapon in the middle of the 1-3-1 powerplay. Johnsson already owns ten goals in just 22 games, and boasts the same number of assists in the process. His skill level in tight spaces makes him a decent playmaker at this level:
He is not a star in terms of zone entries to the same degree as Kapanen, but his quickness allows him to be at least average in this area. He plays a powerful game for an undersized winger:
Despite his strong performance in the AHL, finding Johnsson a role with the NHL club could become a bit of a challenge. He’s already 23, and Matt Martin seemingly has the 4th line left-wing position locked down. The Leafs are loaded on the wings, and he helps the powerplay rather than the penalty kill, which does not exactly align with the team’s needs.
His selling point is his well-rounded playing style. He’s quick and strong enough to help his team win possession, and he makes the most of his scoring chances. He will not “drive a line” or become a top playmaker like Mitch Marner or William Nylander, but he does carry some similarities to Connor Brown. While he’s a step quicker than Brown, he is less likely to be placed on a checking line or penalty kill, which brings us back to the question of: will he have a role? As a top AHL player, let’s hope that Johnsson can take one more step forward to force Toronto’s hand in next year’s training camp.
Bracco looks ready to breakout, and he’s the most skilled forward on the Marlies roster. Now that he is receiving regular powerplay time, his point per game total is bound to skyrocket. He is an extremely impressive powerplay quarterback at every level.
I compared Bracco with Adam Brooks back in July, and while they were close on my rankings at the time, I would now place Bracco comfortably ahead. He still carries the ability to make a couple of jaw-dropping passes every game, and he’s quick enough to keep up at any level.
Jeremy Bracco is fine and creating scoring chances pic.twitter.com/LTE6tL7XaH— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) December 2, 2017
Similar to how Mitch Marner quarterbacks one of the best powerplay units in the NHL, Bracco looks perfectly capable of doing this at the AHL level. The team’s powerplay would benefit by simply handing him the puck at every opportunity, and his adjustment period to the AHL level looks to be coming to an end.
After running into a stretch of bad shooting luck to start the season. Bracco scored his first AHL goal of a highlight reel play:
Timashov is three goals away from matching his total from last season, and he’s found chemistry with a top-end AHL centre in Chris Mueller. He is the same age as Kapanen, Brooks, and Travis Dermott, so there is still plenty of time to see if he can take yet another step forward.
Timashov picked up a secondary assist for this clever high-to-low pass against Albany:
My main concern with Timashov is that his work in the offensive zone is going to have to “wow” Toronto’s coaching staff if he ever wants to land a NHL role. He is a long-shot to help the penalty kill or matchup against top competition, and he’s behind Bracco in terms of his ability to gain the zone. Timashov deserves recognition for his breakout AHL season, but unfortunately, there’s still a long road ahead.
Others of Note:
- Travis Dermott does not overly standout in terms of any specific skill, but he is the definition of well-rounded. He’s quick and strong enough to matchup against NHL forwards, and he is certainly average to above average at firing a breakout pass. However, I cannot possibly advocate for calling him up until he learns to stay out of the penalty box. He continues to be a major liability in this area, and this is chipping away at his overall value.
- Miro Aaltonen is starting to improve his play after a slow start to his season. He could provide a little bit of help to a fourth line in terms of zone entries, but he does not play an overly “heavy” style. Hockey twitter might tell you that he should be the fourth line centre over Dominic Moore, but until he dominates the AHL level over a longer time frame, I trust that Babcock knows what he is doing here. I would take him over Frederik Gauthier, but he’s not knocking the door down.
- Adam Brooks is struggling, as the 21 year old centre owns just two assists in 19 games. Part of this is just bad luck, but a lack of size and speed limits his scoring numbers. Nevertheless, his playmaking skill could help the Marlies powerplay, and he is slowly earning more and more time on the man advantage.