One challenging factor that is not often discussed about this lockout is how the sudden influx of skaters is affecting the Toronto Marlies. If we were watching NHL hockey instead of Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr making more podium appearances than Carl Lewis, players like Ben Scrivens, Nazem Kadri, Matt Frattin, and Jake Gardiner would almost certainly be up with the Toronto Maple Leafs. While continuing to play down in the AHL may be all well and good for their development, the loss of the Marlies affiliation with the ECHL’s Reading Royals means a lot of young players fighting for a premium amount of ice-time.
One such player battling for playing time is Spencer Abbott. The undrafted forward was signed out of the University of Maine last year at the end of his senior season, where he recorded 62 points in just 39 games and was a Hobey Baker Award finalist. Say what you want about the moves that Brian Burke has made over the years, but he seems to have found a knack for acquiring quality guys from the college ranks via free agency or trades.
Abbott has skated in only six games this year, but has managed nine points. He really deserves some more playing time, and if the lockout did not happen then he certainly would have been given more of a shot to show his skills with the Marlies in the early part of this season. One thing that could potentially be holding him back is his size. Abbott is listed at just 5-foot-9 and 170 lbs, which is small these days even at the AHL level. However, if he keeps on going at this pace, Dallas Eakins will have no choice but to give him more opportunities.
One such player Abbott is competing with for ice-time is Joe Colborne. In fact, Abbott got into last Sunday’s game against Lake Erie because Colborne was healthy scratched after going seven games without a point. This is not the first time Colborne has seen the press box this season and both he and Kadri were rested about a month ago by Eakins. It appears Kadri has received the message, but obviously Colborne has not.
In 18 games so far this year Colborne has only managed six points. That’s not going to cut it, but his 6-foot-5 frame and potential skill-set keep giving him the benefit of the doubt. He should check back into the lineup this weekend, however, if he doesn’t pick it up soon the Marlies have plenty of versatile options that they can start to rely on more frequently.
A crowded Marlies squad has both pros and cons. While having players that need time to develop who are stuck on the sidelines is not ideal, it forces them to make the most of their opportunities when they get the chance. It also creates competition internally, which in the end makes everyone better. Hopefully players like Abbott have a positive influence on someone like Colborne. And If they don’t, expect Colborne to be wearing a suit instead of a Marlies uniform more regularly on gamedays.