When Kyle Dubas became the Assistant General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and was put in charge of the Toronto Marlies, he talked about using, not just the AHL, but also the ECHL for the development of prospects.
“I think the perception of the ECHL is that the player is going there for punishment or he’s really struggled,” said Leafs assistant general manager Kyle Dubas.
“We want to use it as entry level to pro hockey for younger players to start out there.”
In the past, sending a player down to the ECHL didn’t bode well for his future. Often the player was seen as already been given up on or not having a future in the NHL.
Dubas hopes with time that train of thought can be altered.
“It’s a slow change,” said Dubas. “We would like to have it where first-year players start in Orlando and graduate to the Marlies and then to the Leafs. That’s going to take time for the buy in and the mindset for how people view pro hockey.”
That sounds good, if a difficult task. Traditionally, the only NHLers who ever saw the ECHL were goalies. Bucking tradition is hard. The world is designed to thwart you.
The contract limits on the NHL may be the biggest barrier to this almost European club team approach to hockey development. With only 50 SPCs allowed, many teams can be hard up against that number all of the time. The Leafs found themselves near capacity all of last season and this because of players signed with the intention of trading them at the deadline, and then players taken back on trades. The great clear out of the excess won’t happen until this coming summer.
The need for players doesn’t go away because you’ve got too many NHL contracts used up on players who are on LTIR or aren’t part of your future. The Leafs solved that problem by convincing several players who would have been traditionally given two-way NHL contracts to take AHL contracts instead. Rich Clune, Marc-André Cliche, Colin Smith and Tony Cameranesi all took AHL deals this year.
For Cameranesi, that may be seen as a demotion by some. He was a draft pick of the Leafs, and he signed that AHL deal just after his draft rights expired, so he did have the opportunity to see if there were other teams that would sign him to an NHL deal.
He stayed with Toronto, and he may be the first glimmer of success in the develop in the ECHL plan, which has seemed more theoretical than real so far. No one who has played significant time in Orlando has yet to stick with the Marlies, far less move up any further in the organization.
The Solar Bears went through a period of upheaval after their coaching change, and a lot of the Toronto development signings disappeared off of their roster to be replaced by ECHL stalwarts who played a different style of game. Two who stayed and prospered through it all were Cameranesi and defender Nikolas Brouillard.
They are both rookies, but they are two years apart in age. Cameranesi is a graduate of the NCAA, Brouillard of the CHL. At the time Cameranesi was named to the ECHL all-star roster, he was tied for goals from rookies in the league.
For context, Eric Faille, the top scorer on the Solar Bears and a seasoned ECHL pro who occasionally plays with the Marlies, scores at a rate of 1.11 points per game in the ECHL. Brouillard, as the top scoring defender on the Solar Bears, is putting up a very interesting rookie performance. Cameranesi’s numbers are harder to get exited about.
But in a very brief (so far) call up to the Marlies, Cameranesi has three goals and one assist in six games, giving him a slightly higher point rate than he had in the lower level league. He has had no power play points, and he was centring a fourth line with rotating wingers, for several of those games in situations where the Marlies only dressed 11 forwards. He is tied in points with Frederik Gauthier, the former third line Marlies centre who is currently in the NHL.
Cameranesi was drafted by the Leafs in 2011 in the fifth round, 130th overall. The post-draft success of the Leafs sixth round pick the next year, Connor Brown, may have led people to overestimate Cameranesi since then.
He made PPP’s Top 25 Under 25 in 2013 at spot 14 and then in 2014 at spot 22. He disappeared off of the list after that as the Leafs started adding much higher calibre prospects.
His chief attribute right now, and the main reason he was called up, is that he is a centre in a organization without very many. With Gauthier on the Leafs and Brooks Laich off somewhere with an undisclosed injury, the Marlies were left with Cliche as the only centre choice, and he has played very few games. Cameranesi has seized his opportunity and impressed Sheldon Keefe at a time when not many Marlies have.
After the recent road loss in Syracuse, Keefe, said he was great and driving the forth line.
He has energy, enthusiasm, and all the drive of a newly promoted player who would like to make it impossible for the Marlies to send him back down. If he can keep up the shooting pace, the points will come, and maybe he will stick with the Marlies. It seems unlikely he will go higher than that, but for a college graduate, 23 is young. Maybe he has a lot left to show about his game.
UPDATED: just to confirm, since they didn’t announce it until today, he did not go to the All-Star game. Understandable.