The Toronto Marlies continued their busy offseason with a pair of new signings this past week, taking the tally to 11 players on AHL deals for 2017-18.
Both are familiar names for different reasons, with one a former draft selection by the Toronto Maple Leafs and the other a Calder Cup winner from last season.
Originally selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the third round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Dzierkals has agreed to terms on a one-year American Hockey League contract.
The 20-year-old could have played as an overager for Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL in 2017-18 but has described himself as keen to begin his professional career and showed enough in development camp to suggest to Leafs brass that he’s ready to attempt the jump.
A point-per-game producer during his two seasons with the Huskies, Dzierkals struggled with injuries last year but did manage to accumulate 49 points in 47 games. He also represented Latvia in the 2017 IIHF World Juniors, scoring his lone goal of the tournament at the Air Canada Centre. While those aren’t overly impressive numbers for a forward in his draft plus-two season, there is enough to like about the player — between his speed, work ethic and willingness to battle in the hard areas of the ice despite his below-average physical frame — to bring him in on an AHL deal.
Looking ahead to the Marlies‘ opening night roster, the right winger (left-handed shot) could find ice-time difficult to come by and where he’ll fit might well be determined by his showing in camp and pre-season games. The congested schedule may help the Latvian forward in that regard, and he’s not a total stranger to playing against men, having represented his country in the 2018 Olympic Qualification tournament.
Goaltender Cal Heeter has been signed to a one-year American Hockey League contract, although it would not be surprising if it’s a two-way deal with Toronto’s goaltending looking set as things currently stand with Garret Sparks and Kasimir Kaskisuo.
Despite being 28 years of age, Heeter doesn’t possess as much playing experience as you might think. Signed by the Philadelphia Flyers following a four-year NCAA career with the Ohio State Buckeyes, Heeter made his National Hockey League debut with the Flyers on April 13, 2014.
It’s proven to be his first and only NHL game, as he’s gone on to have stints in the ECHL (Evansville Iceman and Toledo Walleye) and in Europe for the Medvescak Zagreb and Hamburg Freezers.
In between times, those Marlies fans with a good memory will remember the goaltender suiting up for Toronto on November 8, 2014. Signed to a PTO, Heeter made a lone start but his 48 saves in Oklahoma City couldn’t prevent the Marlies falling to a 4-3 overtime defeat against the Barons.
Last season was a successful one for the St. Louis native at both the ECHL and AHL levels; he won 14 of 17 starts for the Toledo Walleye before helping the Grand Rapids Griffins to a Calder Cup championship. Heeter posted 10 wins for the Griffins with a .933 save percentage and 2.07 goals against average over 12 regular season appearances. Those numbers weren’t inflated by incredible defensive performances in front of him, as he faced almost 30 shots a night on average.
In 89 American League appearances, Heeter has posted a respectable .914 SV% with five shutouts to his name.
It’s highly likely that Orlando Solar Bears will benefit from this signing in what looks like a promising goaltending tandem for the ECHL outfit between Heeter and Ryan Massa. It’s also an acquisition which gives the Toronto organization more flexibility in making goaltending moves and will provide cover should injuries become a factor.