It is the annual Bye Week for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and since the Marlies are also off until the weekend, it’s a great time to provide a mid-season report on how the prospects are doing.
On Tuesday, we posted our roundtable, going over the summer’s Top 25 Under 25 prospect rankings, evaluating ourselves against how the players have done in the five months since. I had a lot of thoughts on the Marlies ranked within the prospect report, so I decided to go through and speak a little bit about each prospect and where they are now.
I’ve ranked this in terms of where they appeared on the final rankings, including only the players who were eligible for the Top 25 Under 25 rankings last summer. Don’t ask me why your favourite prospect isn’t on the list, go yell at Seldo (or ask me in the comments and I may or may not answer them in a mailbag O.O ).
Things have changed drastically for some players, less so for others. Let’s get into it!
6th - Rasmus Sandin - NHL
The highest ranked Marlie and I don’t think anyone can argue this point. Sandin is a teenage defenseman in the NHL playing non-sheltered minutes for a dismally defensive Maple Leafs team. He’s succeeding in shot metrics, and not doing too shabby with the scoresheet (four assists in nine games).
Timothy Liljegren, whom I’ll talk about next, might be more talented than Sandin in a lot of the traditional senses, but Sandin fits the Leafs system like a glove molded by Sheldon Keefe. He’s quick where he needs to be, smart when it comes to distributing the puck, and is strong enough in his own zone to handle his responsibilities of hounding forwards so they take less-valuable shots.
Plus, considering the Leafs didn’t send Sandin down to the AHL during the Bye Week further cements the idea that he’s graduated.
9th - Timothy Liljegren - NHLish
Liljegren is close, really close. I ranked him pretty high in my T25U25 ranking because I really believe that he can be someone that makes a difference at the NHL level really soon, perhaps as soon as now. Right now, he’s doing his internship with the Leafs — attending practices and hanging in the pressbox for games. He’s down with the Marlies now while the Leafs are on their bye week. There’s a good chance he’s back up and playing games when they’re back at it.
Maple Leafs send Adam Brooks and Timothy Liljegren back to the Marlies
In terms of ability, I think Liljegren grew a lot on the defensive end of the ice last season. He was given lots of responsibility and carried a good, but flawed team at the top of the lineup every night. This season, the Marlies have quite a few more flaws, and his defensive performances have struggled a bit as a result, but offensively he’s showing what he can do with some power play ice time and more freedom with the puck.
When it came to his development, I was skeptical about playing Sandin with Liljegren all the time because I thought Liljegren could lead his own pairing and get more touches with the puck in transition. If they’re in the NHL, I don’t think it matters as much because you really do need two guys to be able to handle the puck under the increased pressure.
Liljegren is ready, he just needs the minutes to get himself comfortable.
12th - Jeremy Bracco - AHL
I think we gave Bracco one too many chances to learn how to play hockey in more ways than just passing with this ranking in the T25. Last year the warning signs were there with his play on the ice, but were being masked by an exorbitant number of power play points and consistently two reliable forwards on his line, so we let it slide.
Top 25 Under 25: The Case Against Jeremy Bracco #12
In my T25 post on Bracco, I explained that he was given feather-light usage. I wanted him to grow as a player and work harder with and without the puck. That didn’t happen. For three years, he hasn’t moved up or down the organizational depth chart, but now he’s starting to move sideways while all his teammates are in the NHL.
I don’t know how much more leash he has in this organization. Even if the Leafs had a spot open that would fit his role well, I still don’t think he would get a chance. He’s not an NHLer.
13th - Nic Petan - AHL
I think we all hoped Petan would be able to hold a job on a potentially offense-filled fourth line. That lineup choice hasn’t quite happened, as both Babcock and Keefe have been using their fourth line sparsely at best. He’s on the list of injury replacements, but I think we have to settle for the fact that he’s a AAAA player.
For the Marlies, he’s been quite good as the top line centre. The Marlies power play has really struggled this season; they couldn’t get to the front of the net for the life of them for a while. Petan was able to break through that during this latest skid, scoring four power play goals in his last five games (aka the month of January). He’ll be 25 this year, so he’s no longer a prospect, but a useful depth piece. Not bad.
15th - Mac Hollowell - AHL
I can’t speak to Hollowell’s play in the ECHL, but he certainly put up the points to make his time there worthwhile. In terms of his play, I’ve liked Hollowell’s speed and movement around the ice. For a smaller player who hasn’t quite developed that physical strength yet, it’s important that he’s been able to get to pucks first instead of having to fight for them.
Defensively, I think his lack of strength has shown a little too much. He sometimes get beat around the outside and gets shoved out of the lane when defending rushes. That physical maturity will come, he just needs some time. At 20, he won’t be looking at the NHL anytime soon, but he has the skills to get there.
16th - Joseph Woll - AHL
I don’t know what to say about Joseph Woll. I’ve seen pretty much all of his games this season, and he’s looked like a really good goalie more often than not. If I didn’t look at a single stat, I would think he’s been the better goalie on this team. The strengths of his game are his positional awareness and composure. He doesn’t flail out of his net and end up on his ass (technical terms) too often. He’s a very mature goaltender for his age. Even in press conferences he’s very chipper and level-headed, even in tough losses.
But that’s the thing. If you look at his stats, you’ll see a losing record and a pretty bad save percentage. I’m going to stick to my belief that he’s a better goalie than the numbers show and that he’ll bounce back next year when the Marlies hopefully shore up the defensive side of the ice a little more. Right now they’re a total mess and Woll has definitely paid the price, especially since he’s had to play 11 of the 17 back-to-backs this season. That said, considering how the Leafs are structured, he should probably learn how to play in front of a tired tire-fire at some point.
17th - Ian Scott - Injured
He would’ve been in the ECHL this year, getting lots of ice time and working on his pro game, but suffered a season-ending injury before it could even get started. We’ll see you next year, Scotty.
18th - Pierre Engvall - NHL
Possibly the biggest miss in the T25U25 rankings last year.
Unranked by some, Engvall has galloped over every single Marlies teammate from last year and has been playing has high as the second line with John Tavares and William Nylander as recently as last weekend. Among the forwards, none of the Marlies from last year have been able to penetrate above the fourth line, even with the slew of injuries that have plagued the team — not even the offensively gifted, although defensively challenged, ones like Bracco and Petan who ended up ahead of Engvall in the early-teens.
Yes, I’m gloating.
19th - Adam Brooks - NHLish
There are often arguments around Brooks as to whether he’s been a product of his linemate Jeremy Bracco or if he can be a player on his own. The answer is obviously a bit of both, but lately we’ve been able to see that Brooks can do more around the ice to make him valuable — forechecking, defensive awareness, competency with the puck. And for fourth line icetime, that’s about all you need in the NHL.
Could Brooks be higher in the lineup? Maybe, but it feels like it would be a stretch to ask him to really drive a line against real competition. Right now, he’s a decent player on the fourth line with the possibility of becoming a good fourth liner down the road. If he can develop in the NHL at the age of 23, maybe he can reach third line status. For what the Leafs need, I’m good with that!
21st - Egor Korshkov - AHL
Yegor Korshkov came to North America with so much promise. He was really good in the KHL for his age and usage. When he joined the Marlies, corrected his name to Egor, and skated with Engvall and Dmytro Timashov on what was probably the best line in the playoffs but with the worst shooting percentage ever. They were about 4% by the end of it all. Completely unlucky.
Then the next season came around and Korshkov was a beast on the power play, and on a line with Engvall and Pontus Aberg. They were great together. An utterly dominant line. They were so good, Engvall got the call up to the Leafs and Aberg was asked to drive the line with Tanner MacMaster. It didn’t go well, and Korshkov started to fade. Then he got injured — a laceration on his right leg. He tried a comeback, but he has to go back on the IR as it hasn’t fully healed.
This season has been a bit of a throwaway, which is really unfortunate because the 23-year-old doesn’t have much time left. I don’t know if Korshkov can drive his own line, or if he’ll ever get a chance to do it on his own, but he has enough skills on both sides of the rink that he can be useful.
23rd - Mason Marchment - AHL
Marchment was always going to be a boom or bust pick, so a late pick is definitely warranted. I rated him quite highly because I thought he could bring a good edge and tenacity to the Leafs. I still think that’s possible, despite his less-than-impressive first stint. He didn’t look himself, which was weird because he came back to the Marlies and put up five points (3g, 2a) on 12 shots in his three games back. My guess is the pressure got to him, which is totally reasonable. GTA boy, undrafted, first NHL games for the team he watched growing up. I would’ve had bambi feet, too! At the end of the day, if anyone has a chance to “be the next Engvall” it’s Marchment. He’s worked to have the necessary skill set, he’s physically imposing, and he’s got a sweet set of hands.
25th - Joseph Duszak - AHL
In an effort to maximize ice time over the clout of being in a certain league, Duszak and Hollowell spent the first part of the season playing quite well in the ECHL. Duszak has been up with the Marlies more often now and he’s been playing really well.
Duszak has good speed with the puck and knows where he needs to be without it, but more importantly, he’s more physically mature than the likes of Hollowell (yet). I think his time in the NCAA really helped him develop a mature game and he’s definitely in contention to have a permanent spot in the AHL down the stretch and into next year. His chance to play on the Marlies this season will increase if Liljegren stays with the Leafs.
ICYMI (because I did): Joseph Duszak will represent the Newfoundland Growlers in the ECHL All-Star Game tonight. Yes, they do it on a Wednesday. #Marlies— Hardev Lad (@HardevLad) January 22, 2020
His appearance on the Marlies this weekend/moving forward will be a good indicator to whether Liljegren says with the Leafs https://t.co/gfKwiWUfmV
Where he goes from there, it’s unknown, but he’s in the boom/bust category like Marchment at the moment. Who knows, maybe he’s on the Marlies second pair one day, then needed to fill a hole on the Leafs the next. I can see him taking advantage of an opportunity like that at some point. He has the tenacity and work-ethic to make it work.
N/R - Jesper Lindgren - AHL
Jesper Lindgren was ranked last among the three young right-handed defensemen the Marlies had under their supervision, but he’s ended up being the best of the bunch. A regular top-four defenseman on the Marlies who’s been competent (relative to the 2019-20 Toronto Marlies) on the defensive end of the ice, while a little quiet on offense.
I think it takes time for young defensemen to work on both ends of their game at the same time in the AHL. Most tend to pick one and work on the other the next year. Liljegren did that last year, as did Rosen in his first season. Lindgren is in the same spot right now.
I think his defensive game has come a long way, while I haven’t seen much of him on the offensive side. That’s not to say he’s lost it — he was very very good in the Finnish Liiga — but we just haven’t seen it yet. Smart fans will rank him highly this summer in anticipation of an offensive breakout next year. Hopefully.
N/R - Ben Harpur - AHL
Yeah, we’re good, thanks.
N/R - Teemu Kivihalme - AHL
Our first look at Minnesota native who had played two seasons in Finland came at the Rookie Tournament in the summer. Those games showed us pretty quickly that Kivihalme was a talent above and beyond the junior prospects around him. He didn’t have a great first NHL camp, but after settling into his position on the Marlies, Kivihalme has been an outstanding defenseman for them.
He took some time getting used to the style and the systems on the third pair, but has been the best left-handed defenseman the team has (when without Sandin and Martin Marincin). He’s now a staple in the top-four, playing mostly with Liljegren or Lindgren. Speed, skill, and size, Kivihalme is a dynamic defenseman on both sides of the puck. He loves to jump up in the play, but doesn’t do it when it’s a risk to his team at the other end of the rink.
Defensively he’s strong against the rush and positionally in his own zone. Lately, I think the team’s struggles overall have started to affect Kivihalme. He’s had to play heavy minutes every night and has been prone to some mistakes as a result. I don’t expect this to last if the Marlies can get their ducks in a row.
At 24, he won’t be ranked next summer, but he definitely should be rated high among Leafs fans heading into next training camp.
N/R - Aaron Luchuk - ECHL
Luchuk is second on the Newfoundland Growlers in points and points per game. He’s first in even-strength points. Why is he not up on the Marlies? I know it’s partially my fault that I haven’t kept up with his game by watching the Growlers this season, but I’ve done my best and everything I’ve seen and heard points to the fact that he’s too good for the ECHL and is needed on the Marlies.
He played one game as the first line centre and two on the fourth line while the team was at their most thin, and I thought he played really well! With Agostino and Bracco, his line put up four shots against a good Rockford team. The only dash on his plus minus was the empty netter at the end of a game where the Marlies couldn’t stay out of the box. This has been a season-long question and it’s shocking that he hasn’t gotten a chance, especially with the team’s lack of scoring depth and overall lack of effort.
Call. Him. Up.