The Toronto Marlies season opens – unofficially – tonight at the Cobourg Community Ice CentreÂ (7 p.m., am820 Hamilton) in their first of 14 meetings with the Hamilton Bulldogs this season (two primers, 12 regular season).
Competition is tough at Marlies camp due to the presence of would-be Leafs on the Marlie roster to start the season, including Jake Gardiner,Â Nazem Kadri, Ben Scrivens, and depending on his health, Matt Frattin. You can also include Joe Colborne, Leo Komarov and Korbinian Holzer as names tabbed to be in the mix for spots with the big club. For the time being, around four Marlie jobs aren’t available that would be accepting applications in a more ideal hockey world. That magnifies the challenge for some of the younger prospects trying to crack regular minutes in the AHL; the likes of Greg McKegg, Brad Ross, Andrew Crescenzi, Sam Carrick, Spencer Abbott and Jamie Devane.
While there is no roster size limit in the AHL, every game is still 60 minutes and it makes Dallas Eakins’ task a tall one as he tries to balance the numbers, player roles and individual player development objectives.
For McKegg’s part, Eakins singled him out as a standout in the Marlies training camp scrimmages. An encouraging sign for the next stage of his development, McKegg’s skill has been on display at Marlie camp and, most promisingly, he has competed well physically according to Eakins: â€œI just feel like he is a step ahead. He is reading the plays, able to make clean plays, he is ahead of the group physically, and he has had a little bit of a knack around the net. Just those little things, his ability to hang on to the puck, his reads on when to take it to the net, his ability to hang in there physically with some of these big guys.â€
In Thursday’s scrimmage McKegg was playing with Brad Ross, who had a goal in each of last week’s intrasquad games including the winner for Team White in the first scrimmage last Monday. Another combination showing some chemistry in the scrimmages was Nazem Kadri and Keith Aucoin, reports Terry Koshan.
According to Jim Hughes, it’s a virtual certainty Andrew Crescenzi won’t be returning to junior. While the 20-year-old may not play significant minutes out of the gate, the Leafs’ Director of Player Development says he needs to be plying his trade at the next level:
I spoke with Jim Hughes today about the various scenarios and here are the Leafs‘ director of player development’s comments:
“It’s doubtful,” he said. “Kitchener has done a wonderful job developing players. Kitchener was a fantastic spot for Andrew.
“He has worked so hard and is so physically fit and strong that it’s time to play at the next level. Andrew had a good junior career but he needs to move his career forward and be in an environment where he can continue to develop.
Asked if the current NHL labour strife may create a log jam situation where it would make more sense to send Crescenzi back to the OHL, Hughes said:
“There is always that possibility of a log jam and we need to look at each individual case. In Andrew’s case, he needs to play at a higher level. It’s not an option for Andrew to go back to junior as far as we’re concerned. He needs to play with men.
“He might not get minutes right away but he’ll be in the right spot.”
The Marlies roster will shape up in quick order asÂ the season opener against Rochester comes a week from today at the Ricoh. There is the possibility of returning a few of the youngsters mentioned to junior for overage years, but Eakins will probably want to keep them all around, with the option of storing some bodies on the Fort Wayne Komets, the Marlies’ new ECHL affiliate. We also haven’t touched on the defence yet – which Eakins called deep and the most mobile he’s had in years – where there’s eight defencemen the head coach will probably want to carry in Gardiner, Holzer, Fraser, Kostka, Blacker, Yeo, Ranger and Gysbers.
Declan Kerin is attending tonight’s game in Cobourg and may share some of his thoughts later on. The Marlies and Bulldogs play another exhibition game in Brantford on Monday.
Tonight’s Marlies lines courtesy of Clayton Hansler:
Ashton Colborne Abbott
Kadri Aucoin Scott
McKegg Ryan Ross
Devane Crescenzi Brenner
For some good additional Marlies reading, check out James Mirtle’s sit down with Dallas Eakins from Thursday.