Maple Leafs’ rookie winger Matt Frattin, who to the surprise of many earned himself a spot on the team out of training camp, has been assigned to the AHL Toronto Marlies. Coming up to take his spot on the Leafs’ roster is veteran winger Joey Crabb.
Although Frattin acquitted himself to the physical game of the NHL quite well, and was able to generate scoring chances, he was only able to register a single assist through the first 11 games (plus a shootout game-winner), and recently appeared to be playing with less confidence.Â A trip to the AHL, where top ice time on a scoring line awaits, may be just what the doctor ordered to get his game back on track.
Crabb was with the Maple Leafs for much of last season, quietly providing dependable play in a variety of roles.Â Many observers felt it was only a matter of time before a spot would be opened up for him once more.Â Crabb won’t put up big numbers on the scoresheet (48-3-12-15 last season), but should provide a level of consistency to the checking unit and — arguably as important — a veteran presence on a very young team.
Some might be inclined to ask “why not Darryl Boyce?” While it is true Boyce proved himself a reliable option in a third/fourth line capacity last season, the Leafs need a winger to replace Frattin, not another centre (Tim Connolly, Mikhail Grabovski, Tyler Bozak, and David Steckel already occupy the four spots, with Matt Lombardi and Philippe Dupuis more than adequately able to fill the position at a moment’s notice).Â Crabb provides many of the same attributes as Boyce (leadership, defensive acumen, a willingness to get into the dirty areas), but is a far better fit along the boards.
Questions are also bound to be asked about Nazem Kadri not getting the call to replace Frattin. Kadri remains a work-in-progress, one where, similar to Frattin, time on a scoring unit in a less-pressure filled environment is likely best for him at this stage. For as many brilliant plays as Kadri is able to make, he still has a tendency to force plays which aren’t there, or worse, attempt to beat the other team all by himself, leading to ill-timed and costly turnovers.Â Patience is the name of the game with Kadri: patience on the part of the Leafs and their fanbase to let him develop at his own pace, and patience on the part of Kadri himself to figure out how to best harness and channel his immense skillset.
And of course, Joe Colborne’s name will surely be bandied about as another “why didn’t they” possibility to replace Frattin, based upon his hot start with the Marlies.Â The easy answer is to point the Leafs’ glut of players who can play the centre position already on the roster, but there’s more to it than that.Â Colborne, at this stage, would be best served to spend a year dominating the AHL, working with Marlies’ coach Dallas Eakins to refine his game over the course of a full season.Â There is, quite simply, no space for him on the current roster; nor is there, arguably, a need for yet another young player still learning the ropes on what is already the league’s youngest team.
As is the case with Kadri and Frattin, Colborne shows all the signs of one day becoming an excellent NHL player. But he needs to get there before he can claim that title, and the best way for him to reach his potential is to develop at a steady pace without the pressure of being rushed into NHL action.Â Should a series of injuries necessitate the recall of another centre for the Maple Leafs, the more realistic expectation — at this stage, anyway — would be Boyce.