The American Hockey League is back, although not quite as we remember it.

The Abbotsford Canucks are the latest new arrivals in the league, points percentage will determine the standings as teams are playing a different number of scheduled games, and the Toronto Marlies will only play 72 games this season but will remain in the North Divison. Their divisional opponents include the Rochester Americans, Laval Rocket, Belleville Senators, Utica Comets, Syracuse Crunch, and the Cleveland Monsters.

The three outliers are Rochester, Syracuse, and Cleveland, all of whom will play 76 games this season.

23 teams will qualify for the Calder Cup playoffs in 2022, which means there are five playoff berths in the North Division rather than four as in previous seasons. The fifth and fourth-placed teams will play a best-of-three first round.

The division-heavy schedule remains in place with a total of 50 games against rivals, although it has been lessened somewhat from previous years. Toronto will face Belleville on 12 occasions, Laval eight times, Cleveland and Rochester six times, and Utica and Syracuse four times to make up the remainder of the North Division schedule.

There is a little more diversity of opponents to look forward to, with the Marlies playing at least one team from each division. Toronto will face seven of the eight teams in the Atlantic Division, with Charlotte being the one exception. The Abbotsford Canucks have been placed in the Pacific Division and provide Toronto’s lone opponent from the west coast.

Last but not least, Toronto will do battle with three foes from the Central Division. They include Chicago, Grand Rapids, and Manitoba, with the Moose heading to Toronto to play a doubleheader at Coca-Cola Coliseum to open the season.

The annual long road trip runs from January 15 to February 3, 2021, as Toronto plays eight games in 20 days. The longest homestand is just four games this season, taking place on three separate occasions in October, March, and April.

March will be the easiest time to catch the Marlies in action, with seven home games on the docket for that month.

The Marlies’ 2021-22 Roster


Toronto Marlies vs. Stockton Heat, Nick Robertson
Photo: Christian Bonin/TSGPhoto.com

Goaltenders

The goaltending remains frustratingly in flux for the Marlies, with both Joseph Woll and Ian Scott injured to begin the season. The 2021-22 season is a big year for both netminders for different reasons. The sooner both are healthy, the better.

Toronto will start with Michael Hutchinson and Erik Kallgren, and the expectation is that the pair will split the starts. However, a wrench may already have been thrown into the works due to an injury on the big club — Hutchinson was not at practice on Friday, possibly due to the groin injury suffered by the Leafs‘ Petr Mrazek in Ottawa on Thursday night.

Toronto knows what they have in Hutchinson, so my preference would be for Kallgren — signed to a two-way, two-year deal — to receive a little more playing time as the season goes along if he is up to it.

The highly-rated Keith Petruzzelli, signed to an AHL deal from Quinnipiac University, has been reassigned to the Newfoundland Growlers.

Defensemen

The full-time promotion of Rasmus Sandin and now Timothy Liljegren (fingers crossed) will give Toronto’s blue line a different look in 2021-22. Noel Hoefenmayer, Brennan Kapcheck, Riley McCourt, and Matteo Pietroniro have all been reassigned to Newfoundland.

  • It’s a numbers game in Toronto with 10 defensemen still left on the roster as opening night approaches. The current group is a mix of players on ELCs, two-way contracts, and AHL deals.
  • There will be a reliance on the experienced professionals in Carl Dahlstrom, Alex Biega, and Teemu Kivihalme. In his return from the KHL, Brennan Menell will be an interesting name to watch and a good bet to quarterback a power-play unit.
  • Of the two players on AHL contracts, the most intriguing is Ben Finklestein (currently injured), who enters his sophomore season at 24 years of age. As a rookie with Greenville Swamp Rabbits last season, the right-handed shot posted 32 points in 35 games from the blue line, including 11 goals.
  • Kristians Rubins and Mac Hollowell are entering critical seasons in the final year of their entry-level deals, while Filip Kral — coming off an impressive showing in Leafs training camp and preseason — now begins his North American career for real. Joseph Duszak will also be hungry to make a strong impression on a one-year, two-way deal.

Forwards

As far as the fan and media interest is concerned, much of the focus will be on the Toronto Marlies forward group.  The fan and media hype will no doubt focus on Nick Robertson, Josh Ho-Sang, and a possible line including Semyon Der-Arguchintsev.

The group is slightly weakened by Michael Amadio making the Maple Leafs roster and Adam Brooks heading to Montreal via waivers. However, this provides an opportunity for others to stake a claim to regular ice-time.

  • The following players have been reassigned to the ECHL: Ryan Chyzowski, Gordie Green, Jeremy McKenna, Zach O’Brien, Bobby McMann, and Marcus Power.
  • Toronto has some fascinating depth at the center position for 2021-22, which I believe is slightly overlooked. Mikhail Abramov (drafted #115 in 2019) turns professional, as does college free agent Alex Steeves, who impressed at the prospect camp/tournament but is currently injured.
  • Kirill Semyonov has a point to prove after being ‘loaned’ to the Marlies — keep in mind he does have a Euro assignment clause — and the towering figure of Curtis Douglas offers Toronto some physical prowess in a bottom-six role.
  • The diminutive Semyon Der-Arguchintsev had a decent pre-season with the Leafs, and I am excited to see what he can deliver in a full campaign. We all know what he delivers on the power play, but his ability to impact the game at 5-on-5 is where the true test of his NHL potential lies.
  • Antti Suomela is hurt to begin the year, but once healthy, he will provide Toronto with a plethora of offensive options, including on special teams.
  • Pavel Gogolev. Remember him? He was the best thing to happen to the Marlies last season. The 21-year-old helped himself to 12 points in 13 games as a rookie and the question is can he back up those numbers and level of performance over a full campaign.
  • There are a number of players with a point to prove on this roster, which should make for a competitive group. Marc Michaelis was a highly-touted college free agent who struggled in the NHL with Vancouver last season. At 26 years of age, the German forward is hardly a burgeoning NHL prospect. That being said, he could easily make a name for himself on the Marlies and is capable of playing both center and wing.
  • Joey Anderson needs to stay healthy and turn the promising glimpses of last season into something more concrete this year.
  • As we witnessed in a pre-season game against Montreal, Brett Seney has wheels and can finish. The London, Ontario native is a .63 PPG producer in the AHL who has played over 50 games in the NHL.
  • Jack Kopacka could literally be anything with so little professional experience (83 games in total) since 2018. He showed some promising glimpses with the San Diego Gulls, so maybe there is room for improvement.
  • As far as development goes, Nick Robertson’s professional career to date has been a mess. That’s no fault of the player or the organization, but an unfortunate result of the pandemic. I have been shouting from the rooftops that Robertson requires at least one complete season in the AHL to take him to the next step. He’ll receive the heavy workload that extra ice time affords, responsibility at both ends of the ice, and hopefully dominate offensively.
  • As for Josh Ho-Sang, once the media hype dies down in the dog days of the campaign, can he deliver the consistent performances that will earn him an NHL deal in Toronto? That’s the burning question for a player who is likely receiving his last shot at the show.
  • Retaining the captaincy is everyone’s favourite gym machine, Rich Clune.

 

The Marlies’ 2021-22 schedule kicks off with a weekend back-to-back this Saturday and Sunday against Manitoba at the Coca-Cola Coliseum.