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What’s happening on the Marlies?

They’re coming to the SBA for one thing.

Laval Rocket v Toronto Marlies
Playing in the big house.
Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images

The Marlies have been out of our minds lately, as they’ve been wandering upstate New York playing road games while the cows and horses take over their arena. The Royal Winter Fair is over now, and the Marlies are coming home. First, though, they get to play the SBA double header this Saturday. At time of writing, there were seats available for the Marlies game, including the four for three promotion packages.

The Marlies also play Friday in Belleville, making this the dreaded three-in-three weekend. The Saturday game at SBA is 1:30 pm and Sunday back in the usual place is 4 pm. Both of those games are against Abbotsford, the affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks.

So how are the Marlies doing? Red hot, that’s how. They are currently second in points % to the Providence Bruins and lead their division by three points over Rochester. Three Marlies figure in the top 20 in the AHL by points: Joey Anderson, Logan Shaw and Alex Steeves.

Meanwhile, the early success of the team relied heavily on Keith Petruzzelli and his .922 save%. Dylan Ferguson has not been as good, but he keeps the team in with a chance at .887. Dryden McKay has also played two games, and Erik Källgren appeared once before he was recalled to the Leafs. Petruzzelli has returned to the Marlies from his brief stay on the Leafs as backup, and another face has been spotted at practice:

On the defensive side, Noel Hoefenmayer and Mac Hollowell are the points guys, and rookie William Villeneuve just got his first professional goal. Marshall Rifai played on the top pair with Hollowell in the most recent game, and injuries have hit the AHL defence and made the bottom pair even more of a rotating cast than is usual in the AHL. Both Axel Rindell and Mikko Kokkonen spent some time in the ECHL on conditioning loans. Filip Král and Victor Mete have also been top pair. One of those defenders will likely be on the Leafs for the next road trip, with Hollowell getting the first recall so far.

At forward, Nick Abruzzese has been at left wing with Shaw and Anderson, making that line one of, if not the best in the AHL. Adam Gaudette, a regular on the second line with Semyone Der-Arguchintsev has been making some noise. They both have 10 points in 11 and 12 games respectively.

The Marlies have depth, are coping just fine with no veterans on defence, and can score at will. Shaw and Anderson are also in the top 20 for power play goals, and that’s another area where the Marlies are succeeding with a league-high success % of 31.5. Their penalty kill success is a little below average, and that might be a sign that the defence was missing Filip Král while he was on the Leafs. The Marlies are, as usual, in the bottom third of the AHL in penalty minutes, so it’s all good.

With the obvious and instant success of Alex Steeves and Joey Anderson this year, it’s worth asking if they are really different to Logan Shaw. Shaw is 30, an AHL veteran with some limited NHL experience on multiple teams. The pattern is familiar, he plays in the AHL for a couple of years, even did part of one year in the ECHL and then plays partial seasons in the NHL and the AHL moving to a new team every year. He pitched up in Ottawa in 2020, and stayed for two years, getting in only 17 NHL games. His signing by the Leafs was clearly an AHL-focused veteran role, and he is the captain in all but name.

Shaw, a solid and dependable centre, has scored in the AHL at .55 points per game (he’s on a hot 1.33 pace this year so far). In the NHL, he hit .17. I like to measure guys like this on the Roman Polak scale. Over his 14-year NHL career, Polak scored at .17 per game. If a forward scores like Polak in a significant number of games — Shaw has 232 — he’s an AHLer.

We can feel comfortable with that assessment of Shaw because of his age and the amount of NHL time he’s had on fairly bad teams — and I should emphasize, he’s clearly a very good AHLer and a hard working, quality player. There’s nothing negative about naming a player a success at his true level of play.

But what of Anderson and Steeves? Anderson is 24, and Steeves is very soon to be 23. They’ve been passed over at the moment by Pontus Holmberg for recall, which is understandable. Holmberg impressed in training camp, not with some lucky shots going in, but in everything else he did. We can tell that Anderson and Steeves are AHLers of the equal of Shaw, and not just because of this year’s points, but is there more there? That’s the hard thing to know. But the clock is ticking on both of them. And the Leafs have forwards younger than Holmberg taken in higher rounds of the draft who are going to start showing up to play pro hockey. For some of these Marlies, the best time to have made an impression was September, the second best time is right now.

The Marlies play:

Friday in Belleville at 7 pm
Saturday at the SBA at 1:30 pm
Sunday at the Coca-Cola Coliseum at 4 pm