Toronto Maple Leafs: Kyle Dubas Sees the ECHL As a Development Tool

TORONTO, ON - JUNE 28: TML GM Kyle Dubas watches the young guys go through a 25 minute scrimmage. Toronto Maple Leafs hold a scrimmage for recently drafted players at the MasterCard Centre for Hockey Excellence in Etobicoke. Canadian future Hall of Fame inductee, Hayley Wickenheiser, is in camp to help. Also, former NHLer Ryane Clowe (seen behind bench), recently named coach of Newfoundland Growlers of ECHL, new farm team of the Leafs, also works the bench. (Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JUNE 28: TML GM Kyle Dubas watches the young guys go through a 25 minute scrimmage. Toronto Maple Leafs hold a scrimmage for recently drafted players at the MasterCard Centre for Hockey Excellence in Etobicoke. Canadian future Hall of Fame inductee, Hayley Wickenheiser, is in camp to help. Also, former NHLer Ryane Clowe (seen behind bench), recently named coach of Newfoundland Growlers of ECHL, new farm team of the Leafs, also works the bench. (Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images) /
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In light of the latest round of cuts, Kyle Dubas and the Toronto Maple Leafs clearly recognize that the ECHL can be a useful tool, not a wasteland.

With the start of the regular season looming, the Toronto Maple Leafs announced the next round of roster cuts on Monday morning. NHL hopefuls such as Kenny Agostino, Kevin Gravel, and Nic Petan were placed on waivers, while Yegor Korshkov was assigned to the Marlies, making a crowed team full of prospects and fringe players more jammed.

As a result of this, the Marlies sent three of the Leafs top prospects down to the ECHL to begin the season with the Newfoundland Growlers. Joining goalie Ian Scott, who is currently sidelined with an injury, is Justin Brazeau, Mac Hollowell, and Joseph Duszak.

What all four players have in common is they are entering their first pro-season and need playing time due to the Marlies roster being completely packed.

Toronto Maple Leafs Development

Considering all of the depth players with NHL experience on the Marlies training camp roster currently in Ben Harpur, Jordan Schmaltz, and Matt Read, it’s easy to understand that the Leafs no other choice but to send their prospects to Newfoundland. Considering the only other alternative is sitting in the press-box for long stretches without significant playing time, the avenue the Leafs went with makes a lot of sense.

In a sense, Kyle Dubas has turned a tricky situation into a potential opportunity to set a new precedent into developing prospects towards the majors. Even if it was due to circumstance, he appears to see the ECHL as a useful tool and not a barren wasteland that the NHL tends to neglect.

A recent example of the Leafs having a player make their roster after spending significant time in the ECHL was Garret Sparks. Across his first two pro-seasons, he played a combined 46 games with the Orlando Solar Bears while also getting brief stints with the Marlies. He was able to reach the NHL by his third season and again three years later.

Same goes for Justin Holl, who earned a spot on the Leafs roster the past two seasons after starting his pro career in the ECHL. While he has yet to crack onto the NHL lineup on a regular basis, the fact he even is on the roster is a testament to Dubas and the scouting department unearthing talent from there.

Both Sparks and Holl have had different trajectories in their ascension to the big leagues, but both demonstrated that it is possible for players to play in the ECHL and find a spot in the NHL.

There could be more along the way (Mason Marchment being an example), but that reality is still far from a guarantee. When considering there isn’t enough evidence to show that a large number of players have taken this path to the NHL, it’s reasonable to conclude that Sparks and Holl are outliers and not the beginning of a new trend.

Dubas doesn’t seem to view it that way. He sees the ECHL as an opportunity to grow for prospects. Here’s an excerpt from 2015 of his philosophical views in terms of developing young players in the ECHL:

"It’s a good place to start your career and get your career rolling, and it’s a good place to get your career back on track if you’ve gotten off the rails a little bit. Now especially with [Anthony Noreern, Orlando Solar Bears head coach at the time]  here, that discussion will be far easier. We’ve said over and over that this is not a place of punishment, it’s a place of development, we’re not sending our players here solely if they’ve disappointed us, we want them to have a great season. (Source: Pension Plan Puppets)"

That ideology appears to remain intact to the present day, with the number of prospects moving from the ECHL to the AHL slowly increasing. Along with the aforementioned Marchment, Kasmir Kaskisuo, Kristian Rubins, Alex Gudbranson and Hudson Elynuik are on the Marlies 2019 training camp roster after spending time in the lower league within the past three years.

As previously mentioned, while it is plausible that these players end up in the NHL someday, it’s not guaranteed that actually happens. Nonetheless, it’s still an encouraging sign that the ECHL can become a stepping stone for players and not banishment into the unknown.

With the new cast of players set to join the reigning Kelly Cup champions, there’s reason to believe that may become a reality sooner than we think. The likes of Hollowell, Brazeau, and Scott are talented players who will likely play key roles this year in Newfoundland. It’s entirely possible all three may also spend some time with the Marlies later on if all goes well.

It’s easy to get upset at the fact these prospects are being neglected of a chance to develop in the AHL right away and the roles are given to the likes of Harpur and Schmaltz. Instead, recognize the potential avenue that could soon be realized in the Leafs utilizing the ECHL as a developmental tool.

Next. Roster Cuts, Waivers and Timothy Liljegren Makes It. dark

The Marlies have propelled themselves into the upper echelon of the AHL in terms of day-to-day operation and employment of young talent. Dubas played a role in that evolution during his time as Marlies GM and now other teams are beginning to take notice.

It’s too early to say that this will also happen with the Growlers in a few years time. But given his thinking on development, Dubas is willing to make that the case with their ECHL affiliate. Only time will tell if that becomes a reality.