ATOs or amateur try-outs are short-term but renewable contracts for players to allow AHL teams to see if the player is worth offering a contract to. Players on ATOs, or the professional version for players from other professional leagues, are allowed to play in the AHL playoffs no matter when they arrived on the team. A notable example of this for the Marlies was Carl Grundström last season.

Today’s new blood on the Marlies are two NCAA forwards whose teams are not playoff bound. The NCAA season comes to an end for everyone in just under a month with the Frozen Four championship game on April 7, 2018.

Derian Plouffe is a centre (yay!) who is listed at 5’10” and 187 lbs, so now we know why he wasn’t even drafted in a low round. He shoots left, is from Nepean, and has been attending Niagara University for four years.

Derian Plouffe via Elite Prospects

2008-2009Ottawa Senators Minor Bantam AAAOEMBHL2614274118Playoffs910162610
2009-2010Ottawa Senators Bantam AAAOEBHL2628245216Playoffs131411256
Ottawa Senators Minor Midget AAAOEMMHL20110
2010-2011Ottawa Senators Minor Midget AAAOEMMHL3033265934Playoffs55166
Ottawa Senators Midget AAAOEMHL-----Playoffs54152
Kanata StallionsCHL T110000
2011-2012Kanata StallionsCCHL5617193620
Kanata StallionsFred Page Cup41120
2012-2013Kanata StallionsCCHL5735336824
2013-2014Kanata StallionsCCHL2915304520
Smiths Falls BearsCCHL72132Playoffs133250
Canada East U19WJAC-1940440
2014-2015Niagara Univ.NCAA32551012
2015-2016Niagara Univ.NCAA37117186
2016-2017Niagara Univ.NCAA1244812
2017-2018Niagara Univ.NCAA3517183541
Toronto MarliesAHL-----

A quick look at his stats shows a player who is coming off a very good year after one where he only played in a few games even though he was team captain. An aside — the Leafs love team captains. Plouffe is 23, so we should expect that in college hockey where most of the players are much younger, he would do very well.  We should take that into account when looking over his numbers.

I’ve never heard of Plouffe, but as soon as I Googled him, I get headlines about his amazing comeback. Okay, what’s your story, Derian?

On a personal level, Plouffe’s year could not be better. His star is rising, his team competitive, he’s completed an undergrad finance degree and is working toward a master’s degree.

None of these developments seemed possible in late November 2016 when Plouffe was lying unconscious on the ice, his skull fractured from a fluke accident during practice. Late in a session, Plouffe passed the puck to a teammate and was driving to the net when the player’s slap shot deflected off another teammate and struck Plouffe at the side of the head.

From the Ottawa Citizen

The result of that puck to the head, where an earpiece on a helmet would have helped protect him, was a skull fracture and a a subdural hematoma.

After getting released from hospital, Plouffe returned to Ottawa with his parents to convalesce and, through a friend’s connection, was able to get in to see surgeon Dr. Don Chow of the Ottawa Senators. Chow reassured him he would play again, once he gave his injury time to heal. That was big. In the meantime, his balance was still off and his parents pushed him around in a wheelchair for nearly a month.

Hockey parents are amazing.

Okay, let’s look at those 2017-2018 stats again: 17 goals and 18 assists in 35 games, and Plouffe is on the long list for the Hobey Baker Award. The short list for that award will be announced in a week.

I don’t know about you, but I’m on Team Plouffe, and it is a little ironic that a player who started out on the Ottawa Senators kids team and went to college in the shadow of the Buffalo Sabres is getting his chance on the Leafs AHL team.

Joshua Kestner is going to have to go some to match that story. Kestner, a forward, is from Hunstville Alabama. Okay, good start, Joshua. He played some hockey in Sarnia as a kid, so he was obviously good enough young enough for a big move.

He is 24, listed at 6’1” and 181 lbs. He, like Plouffe, has been playing with much younger players in college. And his latest season has been unusual, as he seems to have found his goal-scoring touch.  He has been a Hobey Baker listed player twice and he was named to his conference second team just today.

Joshua Kestner via Elite Prospects

2011-2012Flint Jr. GeneralsNA3HL4420305070Playoffs725710
2012-2013Sarnia LegionnairesGOJHL4419244366Playoffs51128
2013-2014Sarnia LegionnairesGOJHL4740307087Playoffs762826
2014-2015Univ. of Alabama-HuntsvilleNCAA3542626
2015-2016Univ. of Alabama-HuntsvilleNCAA2671820
2016-2017Univ. of Alabama-HuntsvilleNCAA349132228
2017-2018Univ. of Alabama-HuntsvilleNCAA372483230
Toronto MarliesAHL-----

When you look up players like this, sometimes it’s hard to find out much about them, but Kestner has a documentary about him. It’s fabulous, and give it a watch to see what southern hockey is like.  You won’t be surprised that Kestner is considered a good player, a good leader, and he sounds like exactly what the Leafs look for.

Will these guys work out? Maybe, maybe not. The Leafs look at all sorts of players from all over the world, and sometimes they get contracts, maybe in the AHL, maybe the ECHL. Sometimes the players who come in on ATOs never play in games, but sometimes they stick around deep into the playoffs. It’s an open door for them, an opportunity and all they have to do is make the most of it.