Who exactly will be on the team?
That's tough to answer before both the Leafs and the Marlies training camps. That's when decisions are made on who gets loaned to the Solar Bears and who on NHL contracts will be starting the year in the AHL. Before that we're left to speculate.
I'm putting Éric Faille, Brett Findlay and T.J. Foster on the Solar Bears, and I'm leaving Zach Hyman, Connor Brown and Nikita Soshnikov on the Leafs. I'm also assuming that both Connor Carrick and Frank Corrado will not test the waiver market and will stay on the Leafs. I'm assuming the same thing about Josh Leivo.
Up at Leafs level, some trades or other measures would have to be taken to make all that possible. But until we know that any of those players or other regular NHL players will be moved to the AHL, I'm assuming they aren't.
With that in mind, the roster as it stands now looks like this:
Edited to add Andrew Nielsen.
So, obviously, this is a young group, a small group, particularly the forwards, and the defence is not huge either.
The age thing
Looking beyond the averages, the ages of this group are interestingly spread out. There are two 24-year-old defenders, Justin Holl and Willie Corrin, the latter being a likely candidate to move to the Solar Bears.
There are three veterans, and I can almost hear Rich Clune shouting that he isn't even 30 yet, and none of them are. The veteran backbone of this team, captain Andrew Campbell, Clune, and newcomer Marc-André Cliche, are all going to stay under 30 until the playoffs are looming next year.
They have another thing in common, they share a past on the Manchester Monarchs. Cliche played for that team from 2007-08 until 2012-13, serving as the captain for the final three years. Campbell arrived a year after Cliche, wore the A in Cliche's last year and took over as captain in 2013-14. Clune also arrived on the team in 2008 and stayed until he was traded to the Nashville Predators in 2013. None of them played much NHL time in those years, just the occasional game.
The Monarchs were a good team during that period, making the playoffs most of the time and going deep a few times. Ironically for our three former members, the Monarchs won the Calder Cup in 2014, just after they'd all moved on.
Those five players are the veterans on this team. The entire balance of the roster is 23 or younger. A few are a lot younger.
Dymtro Timashov, Travis Dermott and Kasperi Kapanen will all be having milkshakes with Clune and listening to his stories of the good old days when they go on American road trips. The rest of them are barely over junior age, and players like Colin Smith, Garrett Sparks and Viktor Loov are the multi-year veterans who should be assuming the leadership roles of the future.
Size doesn't matter
We know that's silly right? It matters a great deal, just often not in the way we think if we're used to "old-school" hockey ideas.
Reach matters—there's a reason they do that "wingspan" measure at the combine. Skating speed and acceleration matter, and leg length plays into that. Stopping and turning agility matters, and height can be a detriment there.
Grabbing the pendulum from the "can't teach big" crowd and overvaluing smaller players is just substituting one failing for another. The real solution is to evaluate each player without being biased by feelings about what size means. Because what it means, like most things in life, depends on the person.
This group of Marlies are talented players; there's a lot of offensive skill, speed and excitement in those small packages, but having a guy who can hook a puck off of a stick in the neutral zone with his reach does not make for fewer goals. Some powerful forechecking is a good thing, and that does often correlate with heft, if not height.
I think this is still an unformed list. And size is likely going to be added in small doses as a consequence of a search for certain skill sets, not an end in itself.
If Soshnikov is on the Leafs, then a player to fill his role on the Gautier-Clune line would be very good. I'm not sure I see one on this roster, but I don't know every player's MO.
Tobias Lindberg is a promising forechecker. Cliche is a tough customer, who is also a good-scoring depth centre at the AHL level. Mason Marchment, if he's not a Solar Bear, is another option for forechecking power.
One other possibility is Colin Greening who may give way on the Leafs for more important prospects. He is playing for his future career this coming year, and may be in the mood to prove his AHL performance for Ottawa was not his best effort.
Right or Left?
Handedness matters for defenders, and it matters to the Leafs; we've seen evidence of that.
Justin Holl is the only right-shooting defender. The only other options in the system are Carrick and Corrado who would have to clear waivers.
One potential fix for this is to re-sign David Kolomatis, who was an effective depth defender in the regular season for the Marlies last year. He's also 27, and you'll never guess what team he played for from 2009-2013. He is not, however, a big guy.
The defence seems set up with a nice mix of high-scoring speedy puck carriers like Brouillard and Dermott (assuming he doesn't return to junior hockey) and more physical types like Loov and Campbell. The goal would appear to be the development of Rinat Valiev, Dermott and Andrew Nielsen, so adding someone just to have a right-shooting player may not be in the cards. Replacing the goals T.J. Brennan produced might be a more important concern.
Who's the 1C?
Having some top quality centres matters. We saw that last year with the amazing one-two punch of Mark Arcobello and William Nylander.
Replacing them means picking from a thin looking list. Colin Smith and Cliche are solid players, Smith providing more offence. Frederik Gauthier is in the mix at Cliche's end of the depth chart and Tony Cameranesi is an unknown factor. None of them are in the class of the two who left.
A glance at the Leafs clogged roster, and I think Byron Froese is due to return, which just heats up the competition for the third and fourth spot. One other option for the Leafs and for the Marlies is to bury some of Peter Holland's cap hit and make him the 1C of the Marlies.
An outside chance is the return of Ben Smith, still an unsigned UFA, who might take the opportunity to lurk in the AHL waiting for a spot to open up on the Leafs once trades begin to clear the logjam.
Much like the parent club there is an excellent assortment of wingers to mix and match, but there is also a lot of room for additions.
The expectation here is that Lindberg, Leipsic, Johnson and Kapanen will be the class of the group, with some of the rookies like Moore, Timashov and perhaps Conacher nipping at their heels.
We cannot discount totally the return of Leivo, but even with him, there's a lot of rookies, and not a lot of proven scoring in that group. If I'm wrong and Soshnikov, Brown and Hyman come back down to the AHL, even for short periods, that would help the goal differential.
More moves to come
There is no roster limit in the AHL. There is a limit on how many veterans you can ice on each night, but I'm pretty sure it's impossible for the Marlies to break that rule with this team as it stands.
With several weeks left until camp, Kyle Dubas has time to add the players he feels fill the holes. There are still some high-end AHL players without contracts, although the bulk of them were signed in the first two weeks of July, and the choices now are mostly older players, so if the Marlies want to try out the idea of someone over thirty, they can find him.
There are players at the margins of NHL teams who may be available when the time comes to make training camp trades. And the Leafs may well be in a trading mood come September, although the players leaving are much more likely to be Leaf players, not prospects like last year.
This roster will change, but for now it sure feels like there's something missing here: the capability to replace the 85 goals scored by Brennan, Arcobello, Leivo and Nylander.