Toronto Maple Leafs: Marlies Power Rankings Part One

TORONTO, ON- MAY 20 - The Toronto Marlies celebrate after scoring the overtime winner as the Toronto Marlies play the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in game two of the AHL Eastern Conference final in the Calder Cup play-offs at Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto. May 20, 2018. Toronto leads the series 2-0. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON- MAY 20 - The Toronto Marlies celebrate after scoring the overtime winner as the Toronto Marlies play the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in game two of the AHL Eastern Conference final in the Calder Cup play-offs at Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto. May 20, 2018. Toronto leads the series 2-0. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images) /

Much has changed recently in how the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Marlies conduct business.

Remember Marlies commercials from the Brian Burke Era? It’s fine if you don’t, as, despite my best efforts, they are currently nowhere to be found online.

I remember them vividly nevertheless, their images burned subliminally into my brain from countless childhood hours of consuming Leafs TV. I’m not proud of it. People change.

Anway, the ads would follow a specific formula.

For the most part, they’d open on an image of a Marlies player, drenched in sweat, in the midst of performing some off-ice training to the tune of either wall sits or running the stairs. For dramatic effect, this would all occur in the dark – as athletes can apparently train without needing to see – before concluding on a Burke voiceover to remind fans how “Every Game is a Tryout™”.

It’s a shame these commercials were lost to the clutches of the internet, as they perfectly encapsulated the peak of what mid-2000’s hockey culture truly looked like. How?

Because the most heavily featured Marlies were Simon Gysbers and Ryan Hamilton. That’s how.

I bring this up for a reason. Not to lament mistakes of regimes past, but to signify change instead. Of the 33 players who donned a Leafs sweater at one point or another last season, 13 were former Marlies and 12 littered the postseason lineup.

Unlike those Burke years, every game indeed was a tryout.

Being a Marlie matters again, and with a number of them expected to graduate as full-time Leafs, the team’s lineup must begin preparing for an inevitable facelift.

Where does everyone stand? Well…

Below are the 2018 Marlies power rankings, pre-training camp edition. A few notes before diving in:

  • Rankings are comprised of the following criteria: role, value, immediate impact, and NHL potential. This means an effective AHL-lifer may place higher than a prospect RIGHT NOW, but only because their role is secured.
  • The only players included are those listed on the Marlies roster as of August 18th. Guys like Travis Dermott, Justin Holl, and Andreas Johnsson won’t be on it.
  • If you disagree, please tell me how wrong I am using the most profanity possible.


1. Garret Sparks

Few AHL netminders have ever achieved the success Garret Sparks did in 2017-18.

Remember the video game NHL Hitz? When your goalie got hot and turned himself into an actual brick wall? That’s essentially what Sparks did, albeit for the entire year. The numbers speak for themselves:

31 wins, 6 shutouts, a 1.79 GAA, and a .936 save percentage in 43 games. I mean, come on. The guy made a save with his bare hand. 

Last season served as Sparks’ 5th in the Leafs organization, his path placing him on the precipice of full-time NHL employment. By all accounts, Sparks has done more than enough to earn a job on the Leafs, with him expected to usurp Curtis McElhinney for the backup role.

Although, that’s not a given.

The goaltending situation remains unsolved, not to mention the nagging suspicion of Sparks’ chaotic style failing to translate when paired against big league competition. Sparks is a swimmer, and while he’s able to successfully recover when facing lesser opponents, NHLers give no such luxuries.

Sparks should be a Leaf in 2018-19. And if he is somehow returned to the Marlies, he’ll do so as the team’s most important player without question, and more than deserving of the top spot.

2. Timothy Liljegren

I’m higher on Timothy Liljegren than most seem to be, stemming from the belief that we’ve yet to see just how effective the kid is at the AHL level when healthy.

Recovering from mono is a hard enough undertaking in its own right, let alone accompanied by the added wrinkle of facing professional competition for the first time in your career. As a rookie, Liljegren hit the ice despite being 18 months younger than the next closest player in his league, nevertheless earning himself a defined role within the AHL’s deepest defence corps.

There are things for him to work on, of course, with straightaway speed, shot selection, and physical build as his most pressing areas of need.

Still, Liljegren amassed 17 points in 44 games through his first tour of duty, developed his defensive skills to the point where he often served as his pairing’s most reliable member and even emerged as a more gifted puck mover than any similarly aged defenseman I’ve seen at that level.

Will Liljegren ever become the top-pairing NHL option his prior scouting report believed him to be? That remains to be seen. Regardless, the strides he’s taken already cannot be ignored.

Strides which pave way for a colossal sophomore follow up.

3. Carl Grundstrom

Due to a lack of experience, I’d be shocked if Carl Grundstrom makes the Leafs out of camp.

The 2016 second-rounder has logged a career total of just 28 games on North American ice, 20 of which came a mere 4 months ago during the 2018 Calder Cup Playoffs. A full year on the Marlies would do him nothing but good, perhaps even elevating his ceiling from that of an effective 4th liner to a potential top-9 contributor.

Undoubtedly, Grundstrom’s most effective attribute is his nose for the net, doing the bulk of its damage when lodged squarely in an opposing netminder’s grill.

Need evidence? Check the clip below.

To pair with his net-front capabilities, Grundstrom also possesses a wrist shot of understated danger of which he’s able to fire off quickly in tight space. The kid’s a wrecking ball on skates, regularly barrelling into those who mistakenly place themselves between him and the puck, and, in most cases, emerges from his board battles victorious.

With Johnsson now gone, the coming season is an important one for Grundstrom.

Nothing outside of a mid-season call-up should stand between him and the ability to pace the Marlies in scoring. And as he’s expected to assume featured roles on both the top-line and power play, his numbers should do quite well.

While the bulk of observers compare Grundstrom’s game to that of Leo Komarov, I’d argue it lands closer to James van Riemsdyk, with the pair sharing a penchant for somehow weaving their large frames to the front of the net undetected.

If Grundstrom tops out at even 50% of what the former-Leaf is, that’s a sizeable win.

4. Josh Jooris

Josh Jooris is an interesting case.

The 28-year-old has spent most of his career in the NHL, with just 8 games of AHL experience currently under his belt. And while Jooris is one of the least sexy names to occupy this list, adding 213 games of NHL experience, outside of an enforcer, to an AHL roster is a boon nonetheless.

Landing Jooris so high on the power rankings is his versatility (he can play both right wing and centre), size (he’s listed at 6’2, 200 pounds), and the growing assumption that he’ll begin the year as the first line centre.

All in all, Jooris is a solid dude. Welcome to the top-5, buddy.

5. Adam Cracknell

Adam Cracknell‘s was a signing largely ignored on July 1st (I wonder why?), and yet the veteran could in all likelihood impact the Marlies far more than initially expected.

Mired on a moribund Laval Rocket lineup for 2017, Cracknell’s scoring pace somehow managed to end up flirting with the point-per-game mark, a terrific achievement considering how bereft of a supporting cast he truly was.

What the Marlies have essentially brought Cracknell in to do is simple; fill the Ben Smith-sized hole on their roster left gaping from the latter’s departure. Honestly, it’s not a stretch.

Both veterans play similar styles, produce similar numbers – Smith with 59 points in 73 games last season, Cracknell with 48 in 54 – while bringing similar pedigrees of leadership as well. Smith joined the Marlies in 2017 holding 238 games of NHL experience to his name, Cracknell joins them now with 208.

The parallels are eery, and knowing the extent to which Smith became one of the team’s most vital contributors, both on the ice and off, the importance of recouping his lost value in Cracknell cannot be overstated.

Not to mention, if Cracknell performed on the Rocket, imagine what he’ll accomplish now when surrounded by actual living athletes.

For that reason, along with the ones before it, he rounds out my top-5.

Next. Trade Value Power Ranking. dark

Thanks for reading! Part two drops tomorrow.

Stats courtesy of