It’s playoff time in the CHL.
To the surprise of nobody who follows me on Twitter or reads this column with any regularity, Morgan Rielly and the Moose Jaw Warriors are on the outside looking in. If I were a lesser man, I’d gloat about how I predicted this outcome when Moose Jaw was sitting 5th in the WHL’s Eastern Conference and I’d definitely rub it in the face of all the people who called me an idiot or worse — if I were a lesser man.
What this means for Rielly is that he’ll be joining the Marlies on Wednesday and that he’ll be able to take a bit of time to adjust to the pro speed. From a developmental perspective, this is probably the ideal place for him right now. I’m not convinced that languishing in Moose Jaw for the last two months has really taught him much and I’m reluctant to throw a teenage defenseman onto a Leafs group that has, frankly, struggled. I’m not as sold as many people are on Eakins as an NHL coach but I do think that he’s an exceptional developmental coach so Rielly is in good hands.
As far as the other Leafs go, Stuart Percy and the Mississauga Steelheads will be lining up against the top seeded Belleville Bulls. Mississauga has been just brutal lately and there’s a very real chance that Belleville ends their season by March 26th, at which point Percy will join Rielly in the AHL. Once again, this is probably the best spot for him to be right now, so I wont be shedding any tears if the Steelheads make an abrupt exit.
Biggs and the Generals play the Niagara Ice Dogs and unlike the aforementioned prospects, Biggs will be hoping to make a playoff run. Also unlike the others, I think the OHL is a good spot for Biggs right now — especially in a playoff atmosphere. He’s on a good team, he’ll play a variety of situations, and this will be a good opportunity to see if the wear-you-down style of a playoff series is a strength for Biggs. Should be a good series and I’d expect Oshawa’s forward depth is enough to see them through to the next round.
The most intriguing series from a Leafs perspective will be the Kitchener v. Guelph matchup. Matt Finn has been out of the lineup with an injured knee and was set to miss 3-4 weeks. I hope he doesn’t rush back but if the series goes the distance or if Guelph should advance, Finn could see some playoff action. On the other side of the ice, Leivo is in a nearly identical position to Biggs. He’s on a good team and will be expected to play a pivotal role for the Rangers who’ve made a serious investment to win this season. Also like Biggs, Leivo has the kind of game with the potential to thrive in a long, grinding playoff series.
As far as Connor Brown goes, his Erie Otters missed the playoffs and I’m not sure what the organization plans to do with him over the next few weeks. Brown recently returned from a concussion (and scored a pair of goals in the Otters’ last game) so while he’s healthy, there’s a chance the team just skates him in practice with the Marlies but holds him off the ice. He’s still awfully young and I doubt he sees much, if any, icetime with the Marlies but maybe he surprises me; he has all season.[table “63” not found /]