The Toronto Marlies are 5-2, and with Calle Rosen and Martin Marincin now on the roster, this team looks poised for a dominant season. With Travis Dermott and Vincent LoVerde also in the fold, Toronto boasts a stacked top four in front of two strong AHL goaltenders in Garret Sparks and Calvin Pickard.
The forward depth is excellent, although Brendan Leipsic, Seth Griffith, and Byron Froese are difficult to replace. Ben Smith is the lone point per game player this far, and despite his struggles at the NHL levels, he looks poised to be a top performer on this team all season.
Liljegren starts off this play by retrieving the puck deep in the offensive zone, before dishing it off to Mason Marchment in the corner. He gets the puck back a few seconds later, and sets up Marchment again with a perfect cross-ice pass:
Liljegren continues to impress with his transition game, and this tape-to-tape pass allows the Marlies to exit the zone with control:
Liljegren’s shot makes him a respectable option in the “Ovechkin spot” on the powerplay. He misses the net here, but we can expect him to be a regular goal scorer if he continues to be put in this position. He scores on a backhand just seconds after the below GIF, but most of his goals should come via his impressive wrist shot.
Liljegren is the AHL’s youngest defenceman by about a year and a half. He needs to get stronger before he is able to be a dependable defender at the NHL level, but he is mobile enough to keep up with anyone. Victor Mete of the Montreal Canadiens is a perfect example of a top-end skater developing into a valuable NHL contributor, and Liljegren offers more in terms of both offence and size.
With four points in his first six games, there is no doubt that Liljegren can develop into an offensive force at this level. However, Carl Grundstrom’s strength made Liljegren look like a peewee player in the SHL last season. Frankly, i’m less concerned with how many points he can put up, and more concerned with how much stronger he can become. I am already sold on his offensive skill set.
I placed Liljegren in my top ten ahead of the draft, and nothing has changed on this front. He has been as advertised thus far, and if he can take a step forward in the weight room, he could be a force to be reckoned with on the backend. I’d like to see him be a valuable contributor at this year’s World Juniors, then a top performer the following year. He does not look like a complete defensive liability at this level.
This GIF is from last year, but it is a perfect sample of Kapanen’s game:
Kapanen played horribly, at least for his standards, in the opening weekend series versus Utica. With just eleven shots on goal through six games, he is not yet dominating this level to the extent that was expected. Nevertheless, he remains a zone-entry specialist who is playing much better of late.
Kapanen’s speed allows him to be a solid option on a NHL checking line or penalty kill, as he can close gaps quickly and help gritty players like Leo Komarov or Matt Martin to gain the offensive zone. He is not a top-end passer, but generates assists with plays like in the GIF above, where he gets his team into the offensive zone before simply handing the puck off to a teammate.
He generates breakaway opportunities just like Michael Grabner, finishes his fair share of chances on the powerplay, and is a capable option in all situations. He’s NHL ready, but those expecting him to replace Van Riemsdyk’s production next year will be left disappointed. Kapanen’s playing style is vastly different, and the Leafs will be lucky if he is worth six goals above replacement next season, yet alone ten. Nevertheless, Kapanen’s speed helps him place just above Connor Brown on my Top 25 Under 25 list.
Soshnikov looks awfully impressive at 5 on 5 with his combination of speed and tenacity. He showcases his quickness here by gaining an impressive amount of speed in his first few steps, then pulls off a nice move to tie this game up.
Soshnikov is getting regular powerplay time with the Marlies, but this is simply not the strength of his skill set. He is not a strong enough puck carrier or passer to be a primary focus on the man advantage, and he is a little bit undersized to be the net front guy. It feels like Sheldon Keefe is trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, and if he is going to play Soshnikov on the man advantage, his gritty style is best suited in the middle of the 1-3-1.
Nevertheless, Soshnikov remains an impressive forechecker who is skilled at retrieving the puck for his linemates. He is generating plenty of shots on goal, and looks perfectly capable of filling a niche role at the NHL level again if an opportunity arises. He seems to be directly competing with Andreas Johnsson since both players offer speed, a strong left-handed shot, and a bit of grit, and Soshnikov carries the edge in terms of winning puck battles and penalty killing.
I was one of the biggest believers in Nielsen during our Top 25 Under 25 series, but I still only ranked him fifteenth. He offers an intriguing combination of size and scoring, and he impressed with a beautiful cross-ice assist against Charlotte:
There are still plenty of concerns around Nielsen’s game, as his lack of speed hurts his transition game. His footwork remains sloppy in the defensive end, and he shoots a little bit too much for my liking on the powerplay. Nielsen’s shot is a major positive to his game, but it often makes more sense to move the puck to a skilled forward rather than firing a ton of point shots.
His lack of foot speed hurts his ability to defend against zone entries, and I want to see him develop into a top-end puck mover to make up for this. He has his work is cut out for him here, but it is worth noting that he is still only twenty.
Bracco managed to pull off one of his signature toe-drags in one of the two games he played in. Both Brendan Leipsic and Seth Griffith are playing elsewhere this season, and it is quite clear that the Marlies powerplay could use a top-end distributor. Bracco will never win a ton of puck battles given his size, but he remains a weapon in terms of both playmaking and zone entries.
I am not guaranteeing that he can be an offensive star in the AHL at the age of twenty, but I would prioritize his development over playing Trevor Moore, Frederik Gauthier or Colin Greening. The Marlies powerplay looks awful for a team that is completely stacked.
Marchment impressed in training camp, and continues to surprise with three goals in just four games this season. He is “6’4 the whole game”, and a decent skater for a player of his size. This article focuses more on the highly regarded prospects in the organization, but Marchment deserves a shoutout for his ability to both create energy and chip in on the scoresheet. If he continues to play well, he could warrant a mention on next year’s Top 25 Under 25 list.
This is Brooks’ only assist in six games, and he has not looked like the superstar he was in the WHL. Part of this is due to coaching, as the line of Brooks, Colin Greening, and Trevor Moore lacks a major weapon in terms of zone entries. He is an average skater at best, and could use a player like Kasperi Kapanen to help him gain the zone and set him up in the slot. He remains a skilled finisher and playmaker around the net.
Brooks is not factoring in on the powerplay, and his point total should rise once he is given more opportunity. That being said, while he is sneakily adding value by drawing penalties and staying out of the box, he needs to improve his play to earn a bigger role. He is factoring in on the penalty kill, but he lacks the speed and reach to be a major force in this area.
Others of Note
Travis Dermott remains a noticeably undisciplined player, and taking so many minor penalties hurts his team on the scoreboard. He’s strong, mobile, and a capable puck mover, but projects to be more of a #4 or #5 at the NHL level. His short reach slightly limits his ability to defend the blue-line, and he is not much of a goal scoring threat due to a weak shot. Dermott is a fine performer thus far, but expectations should be higher.
Miro Aaltonen has just two assists in six games, despite playing with the team’s best scoring threat in Kasperi Kapanen. Meanwhile, Dominic Moore is impressing as the fourth line centre at the NHL level. Aaltonen received a long look from Mike Babcock at training camp, but he will need to improve his play at the AHL level to warrant any consideration.
Andreas Johnsson is impressing on the scoresheet with four points in five games, picking off where he left off at the end of last season. However, he is not generating many shots, and his stat line looks better than his overall game. He missed the last due games for an unknown reason, and Keefe would only say that his absence was not performance related. I expect Johnsson to be one of the most valuable contributors on this team, but Soshnikov is outplaying him thus far.