The Toronto Maple Leafs AHL team is just as important to the success of their NHL team.
The Toronto Marlies (Toronto Maple Leafs AHL team) struggled immensely last year, but it was mostly due to the graduation class. Typically it’s an elite prospect that makes the jump and hurts the development team, but last year, it was a coach.
For those of you who don’t understand the importance of a head coach in professional hockey, just look at Sheldon Keefe’s resume. During his five seasons with the Marlies, Keefe has a record of 199-89-31, which represents a 0.623 winning percentage (via: hockeydb.com)
After starting the season with 10-2-3 record with the Marlies before getting promoted to the Leafs, the Marlies finished the season with a 16-24-2 record. That’s not by accident.
Keefe wins everywhere he goes and continued that winning pedigree with the Leafs, finishing with a 27-15-5 record during the regular season. If you combine his Marlies and Leafs record, he went 37-17-7 as a coach this year. Those are world-class numbers and every Leafs fan should be excited about having Keefe as the full-time bench boss for the next few years.
Back to the Marlies roster, though. This team is unfortunately not built the way it used to be and depending on what happens during Free Agency, they’ll likely be on the outside of a playoff spot this season.
As is normal with every AHL team, you’re going to see former NHLers, mixed in with some very raw developmental players. Three of those former NHLers on the Marlies roster last year were Garrett Wilson, Kenny Agostino and Nic Petan, and they supplied most of the offense. Petan and Agostino are signed through this season, but it’s unsure whether or not Wilson will re-sign or not. He’s a local kid so unless he gets a one-way NHL deal somewhere else, I’d imagine he’d return.
In terms of developmental projects, here are three players to look for next year:
After ripping up the OHL with the Peterborough Petes last season, it’s time for “SDA” to become a full-time professional with the Marlies. He’s played three games with the Leafs ECHL affiliate (Newfoundland Growlers), but should get an opportunity at the AHL level this year. The former third-round pick of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft was a teammate of Leafs prospect Nick Robertson so hopefully sooner than later those two will be tearing up the NHL together.
Arguably the Leafs best goaltending prospect, Scott suffered a serious hip injury last year that kept him sidelined for a minimum of six months. Although nobody likes that the hockey season got pushed back due to a pandemic, this may benefit Scott’s development as he should be healthy for the start of a 2020-21 season. Scott is a former CHL Goaltender of the Year and also represented Canada at the 2019 World Junior Championships, so there’s a ton of hype for him. Like many goaltenders, it’ll time take for him to develop, but a full-season in the AHL with the Marlies will be huge for him if he’s healthy.
In my opinion, Hollowell is the Leafs most exciting defensive prospect. I know Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren may potentially be better, but Hollowell flying under the radar is so exciting. If you know this name then good for you, but if you’re just discovering it, you should be thrilled. The former Soo Greyhound lead the entire OHL in goals and points by a defenseman in the 2018-19 season and listen to this, he’s right-handed!
Here’s what Keefe had to say about Hollowell after his first AHL playoff series in 2019 (via: Sportsnet.ca)
“He found a way to make complicated situations look simple, which is really what you’re looking for, so that was really good for him. And defensively, he was really good with his gaps and didn’t hurt us at all. It was very encouraging, and that’s why we’ve remained confident in playing him.”
Those are incredibly encouraging words, especially about a now 22-year-old defenseman. He’s not big (5-foot-10, 165 pounds), but his skating and passing ability is excellent. Those are two very great things to have on Leafs roster that is built off that.
As I mentioned before, the Marlies may not be a playoff-team, but that’s OK. There are plenty of exciting players to watch for when the 2020-21 season starts.