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Toronto Marlies vs Albany Devils: the second round starts tonight

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The Toronto Marlies' second round opponent is the Albany Devils, an old enemy this time, not a stranger.

Kasperi Kapanen in a regular season game vs Brandon Burlon of the Devils
Kasperi Kapanen in a regular season game vs Brandon Burlon of the Devils
Christian Bonin | TSGphoto.com

The Devils finished the season in third place in the league by win percentage and firmly in second in the North division behind the Marlies. They are the affiliate of the New Jersey Devils, and they got into the second round by beating the Utica Comets in four games.

The Marlies regular season record against the Devils was four wins and two losses, and they outshot them 17-10.

The Devils

The Devils sent some young prospects to the AHL when their season ended just like the Marlies did. They also tried out a few players on ATOs and added one junior player who also got a tiny taste of the NHL.

Pavel Zacha, last year's first round pick, played in the final game of the regular season against the Leafs and had a marvelous time playing with his boyhood hero Patrik Elias. He got two assists in the 5-1 drubbing that secured the Leafs last place in the league. He has played three regular season AHL games since then with one goal and two assists, and has one goal and two assists in four playoff games. He does not seem to be having any trouble making the jump from junior hockey to the AHL.

Damon Severson, on defence, who played nearly two full seasons in the NHL, is also on hand to spice up the Devils. He has five assists in four games so far.

They also have rookies Joseph Blandisi, Matt Lorito and Nick Lappin who are all doing well in the playoffs.

Reid Boucher is their top playoff scorer. He's only 22, is in his third full season in pro hockey and he appeared in 39 NHL games this year.

Mike Sislo and Jim O'Brien are two veteran forwards with years of AHL experience and some playoff experience as well. They have been bringing home some points and playing solid games so far.

In goal they have the long time veteran Yann Denis, who has had three deep runs in the Calder Cup playoffs, including a semifinal appearance last year where his Hartford team lost to the eventual champion Manchester. His save percentage this year in 47 games is a respectable .908.

Denis is sharing the net with four-year pro Scott Wedgewood who has a .933 save percentage in 22 games. He also appeared in four NHL games where his percentage was .957. He's started all four playoff games so far.

The Marlies

Since the Marlies finished off the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in three straight games, some things have been happening.

Andreas Johnson, SHL champion, has arrived and is practicing with the team. Defenceman Travis Dermott, the Leafs second round pick last year, was swept out of the OHL playoffs by the London Knights and has also started working with the team. They are both under contract and eligible to play right away.

Joining them in practices is Jeremy Bracco, who Mitch Marner and the London Knights sent packing out of their OHL playoffs series. He is working out with the team, but is not under any kind of contract, and is not expected to be made available to play.

Nikita Soshnikov, William Nylander and captain Andrew Campbell missed regular practice on Tuesday, and we will know today if they are available to play.

Update: The Marlies have announced that Andrew Campbell is out for the series against Albany, no details provided. Willima Nylander is reported as doubtful to start tonight, again with no details.

Sheldon Keefe was keeping quiet about goaltending, but after Garret Sparks' excellent start and even better bailout job on Bibeau's second start in game three, he has to be expected to get the nod.

Update:

Paul Hendrick ‏@HennyTweets 2h2 hours ago Toronto, Ontario Garret Sparks is your Marlie starter tonight. #Marlies

The schedule is a 2-3-2 format and there are no back to back dates.

  • Game 1 – Wednesday, May 4 – Albany at Toronto, 7:30 PM
  • Game 2 – Friday, May 6 – Albany at Toronto, 7:30 PM
  • Game 3 – Sunday, May 8 – Toronto at Albany, 5:00 PM
  • Game 4 – Tuesday, May 10 – Toronto at Albany, 7:00 PM
  • *Game 5 – Thursday, May 12 – Toronto at Albany, 7:00 PM
  • *Game 6 – Saturday, May 14 – Albany at Toronto, 3:00 PM
  • *Game 7 – Monday, May 16 – Albany at Toronto, 7:30 PM
  • * if necessary

It's possible we might see less of a platoon in goal and more of a starter and backup emerge.

This is not going to be the lazy skate in the park the first round was. Albany is, you should remember, the team on the other side of that late season brawl with Bridgeport. They are both big and tough and young and fast. As well all as all those goal scorers, they also host the somewhat infamous Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond who has 131 penalty minutes and six points on the season. (As an indicator of how much the AHL has changed, when Letourneau-Leblond last played for Albany in 2010-2011, he had 334 penalty minutes.)

The Albany Devils are one of the best teams in the AHL, and not surprising for a team named the Devils, they are good defensively. They have excellent goaltending and only the Ontario Reign allowed fewer goals against this year. They are much, much better than the Marlies at frustrating the opposition scoring.

If they have a weakness, it's in scoring their own goals, where they are good, but not Marlies-level great. The addition of Severson and Zacha may tip that balance a little more in their favour, however.

What the addition of Johnson or Dermott to the Marlies will mean is a bigger mystery.

The Parachutists

Padding out the roster with late arrivals like Johnson, Zacha, Dermott, Severson, Ben Smith and Blandisi is not universally loved by hockey fans. Most of those player appeared in zero games in the AHL regular season, and it's a grind of a season, possibly worse than the NHL, given the three games in three days scheduling that is common.

None of those players "earned" playoff spots, they parachuted into them. And if one comes in, someone has to go out. In the AHL, that usually means someone who played a lot of three in threes and rode the bus as the cliché goes—the cliché happens to be true.

While Damon Severson was in the NHL and Andreas Johnson was in the SHL, Brandon Burlon and John Kurtz were playing games in the AHL. They aren't likely to draw in for the playoffs.

The AHL rules limit an NHL team's ability to transfer players who are on the NHL roster to the AHL when their season is over. That's what all those paper transactions on the day after the trade deadline are all about, fulfilling the letter of the law. The other limit is the waiver rules.

The Marlies had to pass Ben Smith through waivers, and obviously counted on his salary and the timing protecting him from a claim. The Devils moved only players who were waiver exempt, but they made sure that Severson and Blandisi along with some others, were eligible to play, just like the Marlies did with a very long list of players who put in significant NHL time by making deadline day transactions to move them down and then back up.

But these other newcomers, the junior players like Dermott and Zacha, the contract players who've been loaned to European teams like Johnson, they can just show up, lace up, and hit the ice. Johnson, of course, has already had one playoff run, so he's really doubling up.

The question is: are you entitled to a seat on the playoff bench because of that seat you filled on the bus?

If I'd picked someone like Josh Leivo or Brandon Leipsic as the man who might be supplanted by Johnson, would you care more than you do about John Kurtz?

The Kurtzes of the world know they can lose a spot at any moment. They know their "roles". The difference with someone of higher skill and possibly a brighter future like Leivo is just degree of separation from the man shaking off the parachute and trying on a new uniform.

The purpose of the rules is to keep the NHL teams from having too easy a time stockpiling players (the Frank Corrado manoeuvre was supposed to be hard to pull off) and to keep them from making every man on a playoff AHL team a ringer once the parent club's season is over.

The purpose of the AHL is to develop players for the NHL. It's not there for Ben Smith or even Damon Severson. It is there for William Nylander and Andreas Johnson as much as it is for Josh Leivo and Brendan Leipsic.

One of the ways you develop players is by having not quite ready for the NHL prospects like Tobias Lindberg and Kasperi Kapanen feel the breath of competition on their neck.

It remains to be seen where on the ranking of prospects Johnson and Dermott fall, but this is one way the organization can find out. And finding that out is what development looks like. John Kurtz knows that. It will be interesting to see if the younger and better prospects do too.