On Saturday, I took in the Marlies 4-2 win against St. John’s with McKeen’s Hockey pro scouting coordinator Gus Katsaros. First off, he’s an excellent hockey guy who you should follow on Twitter @KatsHockey, if you aren’t already. More relevant to this piece, we discussed numerous Marlies and Leafs-related matters that I’ll go over here as points of discussion and analysis.
It’s worth noting that, when it comes to the game itself, it wasn’t the greatest. The Marlies and IceCaps both played the night before, and each team was noticeably tired. On a good day, St John’s isn’t the most exciting team to watch as there really isn’t much talent there – the IceCaps two leading scorers are both D-men who have 17 and 16 points respectively. Add in the fact that Alex Burmistrov wasn’t playing on top of the aforementioned note of both teams looking tired, and well, you can imagine what kind of game it was.
The Marlies are simply a much better team than the IceCaps, and even though they didn’t play their ‘A’ game, they took care of business. That’s what good teams do.
Anyways, here are some talking points from recent Marlies games I’ve taken in:
– It’s always interesting watching Joe Colborne. He’s so big, and he has a noticeably high skill level considering his size, plus he can move more than adequately. In the IceCaps game, he made two high end passes; the first was on a 3 on 3 rush, where Colborne brought the puck below the hash marks, both forwards charged the net and were guarded accordingly, and he recognized Korbinian Holzer trailing the play and hit him for a pass that allowed the defender to walk in for a semi-breakaway. Holzer’s shot didn’t hit the net. Then in the third period, Colborne was at the top of the circle on a power play and hit a streaking Mike Kostka backdoor, but he wasn’t able to convert. If you were to go through a bunch of game tape on Colborne for the year, you would obviously see things he needs to improve, but you would also see quite a few scoring opportunities he’s created that haven’t been buried. In this game alone, there were two prime scoring chances he created that at the end of the day went undetected.
– Gus actually charted out on-ice goals performance here. At the time of that piece, he had only been on for seven goals against, while the team average was 14. So in essence, he’s not on for many goals against, and he’s been creating. I’m not going to defend Colborne to the bitter end – I’m not even sure if I’m defending him right now – as he only has 9 points in 25 games in a year where he should be doing much better. He’s stopped going to the dirty areas, he has only 33 shots on net for the year, and he’s turning 23 in January. But, there are little positives that can be gleaned from his game. Maybe the chances he creates start getting buried in the second half? That could quickly change the current perception of him.
– One more note on Colborne. There was an instance in the second period where he attempted to cut in and shoot the puck off the rush, but a defender got his stick on it and deflected the shot wide. It was a pretty nondescript play, but I thought about it a lot. In pretty well any sport, most people know that competing against a guy that is bigger than you is exponentially more difficult because they can leverage their body and create space for themselves that makes it nearly impossible for someone with a smaller body to guard them. Joe Colborne is listed at 6’5, and there just aren’t many players bigger than him out there. So when you think of him trying to cut in and simply get a shot on net, it should be relatively easy for him. At 6’5, with his reach and skill, in the AHL, he should be able to effortlessly put pucks on net pretty well whenever he wants, yet he was guarded with ease. This brings me back to Poulin’s interview with Lindy’s Leafs Magazine over the summer in which he told us that Colborne grew another inch over the summer. In that sense, he’s still very much a kid growing into his own body and learning how to use it. Now, how long you can stay patient with a kid and hope that he puts it altogether, I don’t know. But there’s enough there to make you want to wait at least a little longer. As mentioned, the pieces are there, he’s creating chances and isn’t scored on very often. You’ve got yourself a player if he could ever learn how to leverage his body, control the puck, and fend off defenders in the dirty areas of the ice. It’s just a matter of how long the Leafs will be patient with him now, and obviously if Colborne can start producing results.
– This is a bit of good timing, as Kyle Cicerella just wrote an excellent piece on Abbott learning from Aucoin. I was going to comment on the fact that it’s pretty clear the Leafs are playing Abbott with Aucoin because, with Kadri out, nobody else up front can really think the game the way Abbott does. He’s 5’9, so he obviously isn’t very big, he’s not the fastest skater, nor does he have the best shot, but he thinks the game at a very high level. In fact, during the IceCaps game, in the first period, Abbott whipped a pass to Aucoin in the slot, and he wasn’t ready for it. Abbott is fighting an uphill battle because 5’9 undrafted forwards don’t get very many chances to stick in the NHL, but he’s throwing up a point per game now in his first AHL season, and is seeing consistent power play time at the moment. If he’s able to keep up his point totals, Abbott is going to force the Leafs to eventually take a look at him at the NHL level. But it’s only been 12 games, and it’s very hard to predict how smaller players will react to playing against NHLers. At the very least, he is getting everyone’s attention.
– During the IceCaps game, Gus pointed out an excellent play in which D’Amigo knew he was going to get flattened, but did so in order to make a play to advance the puck. This was something that I noted during the Marlies playoff run last year as he is a guy who will sacrifice his body to make plays. D’Amigo’s inconsistent game to game, but he’s been playing on the Marlies shutdown line for most of the year and has been killing penalties, which is what the Leafs will want him to do. You kind of wish D’Amigo was bigger than 5’11, but he’s a solid and bulky 210+ pounds and will get dirty. Of the many unfortunate effects of the lockout, one is that the Leafs can’t take a look at a guy like D’Amigo at the NHL level. Maybe he only would have played five games, but at least there would have been something to gauge him on at that level. Otherwise, are the Leafs going to feel confident throwing a rookie in on their shutdown line to play against the NHL’s elite night-in and night-out for 82 games come next year? That’s risky, to say the least.
– One of D’Amigo’s shutdown line mates, Will Acton, should be getting a lot more attention than he currently is. Acton has been playing against other teams top lines all season more or less. Meaning, when Rochester comes to town, he’s the one who lines up against Marcus Foligno, when it’s Grand Rapids, he plays against Gustav Nyquist, and so on. That right there speaks to the responsibility he’s being trusted with on a team that is expected to compete for a championship again this year. Acton’s 6’2, he finishes all of his checks, drops the gloves on occasion and can be depended on for a regular shift. Yes, the Leafs have Steckel and McClement as their 3C and 4C, but neither of them offer the physicality Acton does, plus Acton can play wing. Simply put, he plays Randy Carlyle hockey, and there aren’t many players on the Leafs or Marlies you can honestly say that about. Acton may or may not be playing himself into a spot on the Leafs, but he is playing himself into the conversation, and that’s a feat in itself. This is a kid whom many thought was signed because of his last name. Now he’s becoming an important player on a good Marlies team.
I’m going to cut off the player notes here. I’ll be reading the comments if anyone wants to discuss other players there. I didn’t want to write too much and overwhelm.
On a more important note, I hope everyone has an excellent holiday and/or Merry Christmas.