The Toronto Marlies will play their first regular season game on Saturday October 7th.
As recently announced, the 2017-18 Marlies schedule will have some notable changes. There will be more games close to home thanks to the Ottawa Senators moving their AHL affiliate team from Binghamton, New York to Belleville, Ontario. The Montreal Canadiens also relocated their AHL affiliate, moving them from the remote league outpost of St. John’s, Newfoundland, to a much more convenient spot in Laval, Quebec (renaming them the Laval Rocket).
The Marlies will also play several games against the Charlotte Checkers this season —a team I believe the Marlies have never faced before —as the AHL flipped that team from its Western Conference to the Eastern Conference for the coming season.
The Marlies roster will also have changes too. In Part 1 of this series, I looked over the list of players who have left the Maple Leafs organization that played for the Marlies through the end of last season. There were many names there.
Now let’s look at the new faces we expect to see playing for the Marlies in the 2017-18 season, with the obvious caveat that nothing is certain until opening night.
Who will be new on the team
Let’s start with the front office, since it features the most recent changes. In the middle of last season Gord Dineen, who used to be the Marlies head coach but was demoted to the assistant role after the arrival of coach Sheldon Keefe, separated from the Maple Leafs organization. Dineen’s replacement has now been now announced as ex-NHL player Rob Davison.
Also leaving the organization is Justin Bourne, who joined the team as video coach after a career in hockey reporting with The Score. Bourne has gone back to his old media role, this time with The Athletic, and we are glad to have him back in the public sphere because he’s uniquely good at what he does.
While we have a good idea who will, or could, be on the team for opening night. We won’t know for certain until the training camps are over. I will note which players on this list are not certain for an opening night roster, and which have other options about where to play.
Timothy Liljegren (RD) - from Rögle BK, SHL
The 18 year-old first round draft pick of the Maple Leafs this year has two options for the coming season: return to Sweden and play in the SHL, or play in the AHL for the Marlies.
He’s already signed to an Entry Level Contract, but that doesn’t indicate a decision. At 18 years old, I suspect he will return to the SHL to spend another season in development with his existing teammates.
We will know for sure in a few weeks, but, as you see below, the Marlies have stocked up with players at his position, making it appear they do not expect him to play for the team for the next regular season, though he could pop-up for the playoffs, if he’s available from his SHL team.
Of course, the Marlies have to make the playoffs first. Here’s who is highly likely to help them do that.
Jeremy Bracco (F/RW) - from the Windsor Spitfires
A highly anticipated second round draft pick from 2015, Bracco is expected to make a jump up to the Marlies to start the 2016-17 season.
The winger played for the Kitchener Rangers last season before being traded to the Windsor Spitfires. The Spitfires went on to win the Memorial Cup. He will be invited to Maple Leafs training camp and will have at least the opportunity to prove he can move right up to the Maple Leafs. If not, he will start the season as a top player for the Marlies.
Adam Brooks (F/C) - from the Regina Pats
The WHL star center recorded 130 points in 66 games last season. Check that number again, it’s almost 2 points every game. Brooks is a player who will certainly feature in talk about moving up to the Maple Leafs.
It’s going to be a tough fight for the center positions this season, though if the long speculated trade of Tyler Bozak happened, there could be an opening, unless William Nylander occupies it first.
Andreas Borgman (D) - from HV71, SHL
Calle Rosén (D) - from Växjö Lakers HC, SHL
A pair of Swedish defenceman are also expected to make an appearance with the Marlies this season. The Maple Leafs signed them to ELCs after a long bout of speculation about which NHL team would get them.
With departures of players like Steven Oleksy and Andrew Campbell, there are spaces to fill on defence and they may move in right away.
Borgman has been busy spending the summer working out to get ready for his North American debut.
New AHL contract players
J.J. Piccinich (F/RW) - from London Knights, OHL
Piccinich is now an Honourable Mention in our Top 25 Under 25 two years running. He spent his last season of junior hockey as a captain of the London Knights. With the Leafs retaining his rights through the end of the coming season, and his OHL time meaning he cannot go back to the NCAA, the Marlies were his obvious option.
The winger will have to make big development strides to earn ice time on a team with so many players available for each game.
The Marlies have added five players who will take on depth roles to help the team be a long term winner in the the tough slog that is the AHL North Division.
Jean Dupuy (C) - from Rochester Americans
Dupuy will be a depth center for the team. A young physical player who was never drafted, he once played for the Soo Greyhounds, where Kyle Dubas was GM.
Max Novak (RW) - from Albany Devils
Novak is another player who was never drafted. He’s played the last two full seasons for the Marlies’ division rival Albany Devils. The Devils moved their franchise to Binghamton this season when the Senators moved theirs out to Belleville.
Let’s hope Novak can get more goals like this one.
Vincent LoVerde (RD) - from Ontario Reign
LoVerde joins after two seasons with the Ontario (California) Reign, where he was team captain and picked up 35 points in 61 games. He has picked up 301 “professional games” so far, so he will occupy one of the available “veteran” positions when he plays.
Chris Mueller (C) - from Tuscon Roadrunners
An experienced center, Mueller had 67 points in 68 games last season, making him number one in points for the Roadrunners. Mueller will also count as a “veteran” player.
Michael Paliotta (RD) - from Hartford Wolf Pack
Paliotta is a 24 year old and yet another defenceman. He had 14 points in 52 games last season. The Marlies will certainly be well stocked at the blue line. It’s another sign that there is no expectation that Liljegren will join the team.
That being said, you can’t count out the possibility of a big prospect swap with another team, like what happened with the Islanders when Michael Grabner was brought in for the Leafs.
A possible addition from the Maple Leafs
Eric Fehr (C/RW)
Fehr was acquired by Toronto at the trade deadline last season. He played precisely one game for the team and disappeared. When you look at the depth chart for the Leafs on the right wing, you can see why: William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Connor Brown, Nikita Soshnikov, Kasperi Kapanen... those are a lot of names that we want to see in as many games as possible.
The soon to be 32 year-old has a cap hit of $2M, but almost half of that could be recouped by moving him to the AHL, where he could play a mentoring role like Colin Greening is doing. He would have to pass through waivers to do that, but, I don’t think that would be an issue.
Of course, the relationship could go sour if the Leafs did that and he was not interested in the role, like what allegedly happened with Brooks Laich.
Players on two-way AHL-ECHL contracts
The last group of players who may join the team are those signed on two-way contracts with the flexibility to play with the Marlies, or with the Orlando Solar Bears.
See below for our coverage of their arrival in the Leafs system.
Pospisil made a name for himself with a good number of goals in scrimmage games at the recent development camp. I mean “made a name for himself” literally. Henny has declared him to be the “Snipin’ Slovakian”.
In Part 3, I will look at players on the Marlies last season who will attend the Maple Leafs training camp looking for a promotion to the big club for the 2017-18 season.