While the NHL continued its long winter’s nap (aside from the Maple Leafs who were fined for not staying in bed,) the AHL was up and running on Boxing Day, with the Toronto Marlies and the Belleville Senators playing their traditional game at Scotiabank Arena. This year it went in favour of the Marlies who won 3-2, with 11,273 watching from the big venue.

On Wednesday, the Marlies played a rematch against the Senators, this time in Belleville, and they won again, defeating them 4-2. The combination of victories cemented the Marlies as number one in the North Division and kept the Senators in last place. In fact, the Marlies aren’t just first, they are ahead by a wide margin.

The AHL actually works by points% in division rankings, not raw points, but even under that measure the Marlies are ahead of the pack, but with a 72-game regular season there’s still a lot of time left and more challenging foes than the last place Senators. One of them will be in town tonight, but more on that below.

First, let’s acknowledge the first place ranking does have one immediate benefit in that Marlies coach Greg Moore was selected to represent the division in the AHL All-Star Game.

This year’s AHL All-Star game will be held in Laval on February 5th and 6th. It’s the first time in Canada since 2014; the previous time Toronto had it was in 2007, which means we’re about due for another go in a few years.

The Lines and Goalies

While there has been some shuffling in and out at the margins with players going to and from the Maple Leafs and Growlers, the lines Boxing Day are a good representation of who you will see at a Marlies game right now.

Joseph Woll was in net for the Marlies on Wednesday and racked up his sixth win in six games since coming back from his long-term injury. It’s an incredible bounce back he has made and it has possibly rendered our 2022 Leafs Top 25 Under 25 ranking out of date, though he was still the top goalie on that list ranked at #23, followed only by the newly drafted Swedish goalie Dennis Hildeby ranked at #24, it feels like maybe he should have been higher possibly in the teens. There’s a poll below on what you think.

2022 Top 25 Under 25: Joseph Woll is #23
Maple Leafs sign Joe Woll to a 3-year minimum salary deal

Woll is now 24 years-old, but his July 12 birthday means he will still be eligible for our T25U25 ranking next summer as we use a July 1 birthday cut-off. If his current play holds through the rest of this season, I expect a big bump in that ranking, but again, this is only six games of evidence, and there’s always ups and downs, however there’s also no rush to judge his value since the Leafs signed him to a three year deal in the spring so barring a trade, he’s going to be around the Leafs or Marlies for years to come.

None of the above should take away from the great work of Erik Källgren or Keith Petruzzelli this season though, but when we did our Top 25 Under 25 rankings neither were eligible since Källgren was already 25 years-old—he’s now 26—and Petruzzelli didn’t have an NHL contract; he got one because of the goalie injury crisis in November.

The take away here is there’s a lot of moving pieces in the Leafs prospect pool of future goalies; and that’s not even mentioning Russian 2020 draft pick Artur Akhtyamov, who has an uncertain future playing in North America for obvious reasons.

Game Highlights

Hey let’s look at some fun Marlies goals on the hapless Senators.

Max Ellis is having a fun season, getting off some great shots like this one.

Ellis joined the team at the end of last season from Notre Dame University along with Graham Slaggert, both of whom were never drafted to the NHL, but now both play important roles on the Marlies.

Mikahil Abramov has been up and down this season, called up to the Leafs though he didn’t get to play a game, but on Wednesday he was up and down in a really fun way for the Marlies.

Noel Hoefenmayer was drafted to the NHL by the Arizona Coyotes, but they never signed him to a contract, so the Marlies snapped him up two years ago on an AHL contract. That means he cannot be called-up to the Leafs, but his play this season makes him look a prime candidate to be considered for such an opportunity when it is available. The 23 year-old (24 as of next week) has 9 goals and 15 assists—so 24 points—in 26 games played this season, which is quite something as a defenceman. Here’s a nice one he got on Boxing Day.

Joseph Blandisi gave high praise to Hoefenmayer’s shot and strength after the game, saying “There’s some force behind it. He works on it a lot. You see him after practice and he’s always got the pile of pucks from the blue line and he’s taking shots.” Blandisi added there’s there’s gym work behind that shot too, adding “he lifts pretty heavy, so there’s a lot of muscle behind those shots, and I think the goalies in this league are struggling with it,” which I can confirm in post-game attire he looks Rich Clune-esque (so does Alex Steeves, by the way).

Today’s Game and What’s to Come

The Marlies play the Rochester Americans (Buffalo Sabres affiliates) this afternoon. The Amerks sit right behind the Marlies in the division rankings, so this is an important game for to see who is really the better team as these are potential later-round playoff opponents if all standings hold through the balance of the season.

Beyond that, the Marlies will have a busy January schedule, with six home games in two weeks starting with tonight’s.

After that, the team will vacate the Coliseum for the rest of January while it’s literally turned into a lake for the Toronto International Boat Show. The Marlies will still be based in Toronto, but will take side trips out Belleville and Laval, then long trips to play games in B.C. against the Abbotsford Canucks (Vancouver Canucks affiliates) and then in Manitoba against the Manitoba Moose (Winnipeg Jets affiliates).

Probably due to the very rushed timing of their franchise move from California to Alberta, the Marlies don’t have any games against the Calgary Wranglers this season, which is too bad as the Wranglers sit tied for first in the Western Conference.

A Calgary vs. Toronto Calder Cup Final would be one amasing series, but there’s still a long and uncertain road ahead to get to that point, and today’s game is one of those. The Amerks have won two of the three games played against the Marlies so far this season. Today’s game starts at 4:00 p.m. ET at the Coliseum at Exhibition Place.

Would you re-rank Joseph Woll in the Leafs Top 25 Under 25 now?

It’s only been six AHL games. I’m not willing to change anything based on that.35
I’d move him up as while six wins in six games isn’t proof, it’s better than I remembered him being before he was injured.26
I’d move him up simply because I’ve soured on other Leafs prospects I ranked above him.5
I don’t know where to move him, but I’m certain he’s still the best of the under-25 goalies.28
No, I’m not convinced by a handful of wins, especially against the Belleville Senators. His rank of #23 in the Top 25 Under 25 was about right.12