There are two lines of thinking when it comes to the Toronto Marlies.
One: Let’s just enjoy the ride, a team in Toronto is finally winning.
Two: How does this translate to the Leafs? (Which then shoots off into a million different opinions of how this helps, if this even matters, and so on).
Frankly, we won’t be able to answer that until, at minimum, next season. Although it will probably take longer than that though for us to fully understand the significance, or insignificance, of this run.
I’ve already written out the players to focus on as potential future pillars to the Leafs organization so you can focus on them if you’re looking towards next year.
If you’re just enjoying the run? Sit back, relax, and if you’re able to attend a game this round, by all means do so. The Marlies and Barons split their season series one regulation win apiece. Ben Scrivens played against Oklahoma once and got a shutout (Owuya lost against OKC earlier in the year), but really there’s not much we can take away from two measly games in the regular season that happened in November and at the beginning of January.
For one, Jake Gardiner and Matt Frattin weren’t in the lineup. Carter Ashton wasn’t even in the organization then. In fact, Oklahoma never even saw a Marlies roster with Nazem Kadri and Joe Colborne both dressing at the same time. Conversely, the Marlies played against Magnus Paajarvi once and didn’t see two of the Barons top five scorers this playoffs in Dylan Yeo and Josh Green at all this year.
The Barons have lost two games games so far this playoffs, the Marlies one. Really, it’s anyone’s series based on pretty well everything we know at the moment. We’ll see how the first few games go before we get out some thoughts on it.
Until then, here are 15 points on the Marlies after two rounds:
1 - In round one I talked with Nazem Kadri about playing with Frattin, and like I wrote at the time, he spoke highly of playing with Frattin and eventually expected to be paired up with him whenever coach Eakins decided to change it up. Low and behold, in round two they were united on a line with Jerry D’Amigo after game one and absolutely lit up the Heat. In those four games Kadri had six points, Frattin had three goals (also scored in game one) and D’Amigo had three points of his own.
2 - Of course, part of the reason that line has been put together is the injury to Joe Colborne. Damien Cox reported the stitches have been tearing during the game and I can say that I’ve been in that dressing room or seen him after pretty well every home game this playoffs and I’ve yet to see his hand; it’s always covered so we can’t see how bad it really is. He obviously isn’t taking faceoffs either. In the six games he has played, he has four assists. But frankly, to me, he’s injured. Maybe it’s a personal thing, but when a guy that young is hurt and can’t even take faceoffs (or probably grip his stick considering stitches are ripping) I really don’t put much stock into his play. Frankly, I’ve sort of dismissed putting any sort of criticism on him right now all things considered. He does, however, get full marks for trying to tough it out.
3 - Another player injured: Carter Ashton. It’s tough to make out when/if he’s going to come back, but it’s just a shame he’s not healthy right now and will probably be off his game should he eventually return. I think a lot of us are still learning about Ashton and are curious to see where he fits in moving forward, but we might have to wait until next year to better find out where exactly that will be.
4 - Jesse Blacker is also a guy worth mentioning when it comes to injury. In Game 2 against Abbotsford he didn’t play on the power play or penalty kill units at all and he only saw even strength shifts with Jake Gardiner. During the regular season, Blacker saw regular time for both units. Even with Gardiner there now, he shouldn’t be seeing zero time whatsoever for special teams. Either they are easing him in, or he’s still relatively banged up. Blacker did get better as the series went on and was throwing his weight around. We’ll see how he does after all this rest now.
5 - If only for a game, it was great to see Matt Lashoff back. Who knows what the future holds for him, but he’s a heck of a personality and is a solid hockey player. He’s battled back hard from a tough injury and deserves a ton of credit.
6 - Was happy for Greg Scott to notch a hat-trick near his hometown and with family in attendance. Was even more interested in Damien Cox writing that some in the Leafs organization think he could be a third or fourth liner for the big club. Now, I did not have Scott on my list of players to watch when it comes to the Leafs and I’m not backing off that he’s a future piece for the big club, at least right now. But I will say this: a big reason players like Scott never make the NHL is because the organizations they belong to do not give them the proper opportunity to make the team (meaning a guy like Ashton will get five or six chances to make the team before Scott gets a sniff and either Ashton wins the spot, or the big club just brings in someone else to fill the hole). Having people in the organization believe you is a big step towards having a chance to crack the team.
7 – That all said, I’m not looking too much into that just yet. Scott still has a long way to go. But the Leafs, their bottom six, and the players who might crack it are a discussion for another time.
8 - Thought it was worth mentioning that, while I’m no fan of Damien Cox, he has begun writing about the Marlies during the playoffs and he’s doing an excellent job. I would definitely recommend checking out The Star and some of the stuff that they have been producing. We do a lot of criticizing of Toronto’s mainstream media outlets when it comes to Leafs coverage, so it’s important for our own credibility to acknowledge when they get something right. Kudos to them.
9 - Coverage of the Marlies will probably start to pick up even more now and while I’m not a huge fan of papers avoiding them in the first and second round then all of a sudden showing interest in round three, it’s great to see the Marlies getting covered. Hopefully the fans respond and sellout the building from here on out, too. Also, I can’t wait for the the inevitable Oilers rebuild vs. Leafs rebuild, but let’s be real, Edmonton could have sent down Ryan Nugent Hopkins the same way Toronto did with Jake Gardiner, and is this even a series if that happened? Sure we can compare the young guys on both teams, but not the entire rebuild of each team based on this series. That’s just foolish.
10 – The Marlies power play made some nice adjustments after game one. They don’t have a big booming shot to tee-up from the blue line so they began working it down low more (Ryan Hamilton scored a Grabovski-like spin goal from the goal line) and emphasizing simply getting shots through, despite no rocket. The Zigomanis OT winner is a perfect example of that. Kadri simply got a shot on net, that wasn’t very hard, and Zigomanis put home the rebound.
11 – Jake Gardiner, however, did blast one slap shot by Heat goalie Danny Taylor. He has an underrated shot and needs to start using it more. Gardiner kind of quietly had seven goals this year as a rookie defenceman and that’s really impressive. When watching him run the Marlies power play you wonder if he has the confidence in his shot that he should because there’s been quite a few times where he could have let them tip, yet didn’t.
12 - On that goal by Gardiner, Jerry D’Amigo took a huge hit from Hugh Jessiman to make the play. Abbotsford really went after him and he took several hefty hits as the series went on, but he kept getting up and kept battling. The points have been a nice touch to his playoffs, but what’s going to make D’Amigo a quality NHLer is his ability to kill penalties, his ability to fore-check, his general defensive game and the fact that he can chip in offensively.
13 - The Marlies killed off all 24 penalties they took against the Heat. Including multiple five-on-three’s. Abbotsford’s power play was ranked 19th this season.
14 - The Heat’s Guillaume Desbiens was running around in Game 4 of the series and threw quite a few questionable hits. So it was nice to see Colton Orr go out there and stickup for his teammates. Say what you will about him as a player, but Orr is one quality person. He was signed here to a relatively big deal and was promised a role, even though the coach didn’t really believe in that role, so then he got phased out of the roster. Then he got sent down to the Marlies, and he’s not even been playing much in the playoffs, and he hasn’t complained once. Despite everyone dumping on him, his role, his ability and whatever else, not one peep from the guy. And what has he done since he’s been sent down? Worked on his game and continued to be a quality teammate. Then, there he was in Game 4, sticking up for a bunch of teammates wearing a jersey that he probably never thought he’d wear as early as two years ago.
15 - The Dallas Eakins outcry has also been pretty predictable as the Marlies continue to go further in the playoffs. I won’t say anything negative about Eakins, but it’s incredible that it never seems to be brought up that Randy Carlyle is a hang of a coach. He has experience, he’s been excellent with the media so far, he’s won a Cup, him and Burke are on the same page when it comes to how hockey should be played, and he is excellent at line-matching and giving player-specific roles while demanding a physical brand of hockey. It was an excellent hiring when it happened, and it still is.
Game dates are as follows:
In OKC: 17th, 18th
In TOR: 21st, 23rd, 25th
In OKC: 28th, 30th
It should be an exciting battle.