Toronto Marlies: End of Year Grades 2015-16
The Calder Cup was awarded to a deserving Lake Erie team last weekend, thus bringing an end to the 2015/16 American Hockey League season.
The dust has now settled on a Toronto Marlies season to remember and following on from a year end review, it’s time to reflect on individual performances.
The criteria for grading: Player to have finished the season with the Toronto Marlies and played at least twenty regular season games.
William Nylander: He was the first player I mentioned in my mid season grading’s and it seems fitting to carry on in that vein. If not injured at the World Juniors, Nylander would doubtless have been close to setting all kinds of franchise and AHL records before being called up to the Leafs at trade deadline.
The only disappointment was his play during the post-season but you can factor in illness, injury and the inexperience of youth. The hat-trick in the penultimate game of the season gave us a glimpse of what the Marlies missed from him during most of the playoff campaign.
Nikita Soshnikov: Everyone’s favourite Russian suffered injuries in the second half of the season that curtailed his chances to suit up and play upto his best when able to take the ice.
Often line-mates alongside Rich Clune and Frederik Gauthier, Soshnikov still produced 28 points through 52 games, of which twenty were accrued at even strength. His contribution with the Leafs garnered praise from all and it was a blow to the Marlies that Soshnikov was unable to contribute much during the playoffs due to persistent ailments .
Josh Leivo: Leivo elevated himself to be an A+ after showing nothing but improvement after a sluggish start. The winger produced a fraction under point per game pace through 51 regular season games.
Perhaps most impressively he was dominant at even strength, recording a team leading 18 primary assists. Leivo was the leading forward points producer during the playoffs and his line (primarily Arcobello and Brown) often proved the Marlies best offensive threat.
Zach Hyman: It’s all credit to Hyman that many forget during the season that this young man was in his rookie year. Consistent improvement throughout the season for Hyman who was more than happy with the “engine room” role he was employed for alongside Nylander. Fore-check, fetch, pass and crash the net were the order of the day and Mike Babcock certainly enjoyed his style of play when with the Leafs. He was the leading rookie scorer on the Marlies and also led the team in short-handed goals (four). The penalty kill showcased Hyman as a responsible and effective player, who I doubt the Marlies will see much of next season.
Connor Brown: A shortened season for the leading rookie scorer of last season, but made enough progress to merit high praise. October was a tale of frustration for Brown, who did everything but score and produced just four assists through eight games. In the last game of said month, Brown would incur an injury that kept him out of action until the latter part of January. Upon his return, the winger put up eleven goals and 25 points in 26 games. A first go with the Leafs was highly successful and he made an impression with six points in seven outings including a debut NHL goal against Anaheim.
Seven goals in the post-season for the Marlies made him joint highest scorer and along with Kapanen was a standout forward.
Connor Carrick: I’m making Carrick the one exception to my rule as he played a combined twenty times after five games at the back end of the regular season. Not much more could have been asked of a defenseman thrown into the deep end after the first trade of his career. Impressing with the Leafs, Carrick was an offensive juggernaut for the Marlies during the playoffs and as a result would end up as Calder Cup’s leading points producer despite playing fewer games.
Mark Arcobello: Arcobello finished the season with the same amount of goals as T.J Brennan and just nine fewer points despite having played twenty less games for Toronto. He was never able to translate that form into the NHL and sadly for the Marlies he was far from that dominant regular season player during the playoff campaign. His departure as a dominant centre man (at AHL level) will leave a big hole for someone to fill next season
Brendan Leipsic: The sophomore forward often didn’t receive just rewards on the score sheet in the first half of the season but was able to change that post 2015. After struggling to produce, Leipsic ended up as the third leading scorer (54 points) on the team and impressed in a short stint up with the Leafs.
It was a surprise then when the Manitoba native failed to come up with the goods in the playoffs, (limited to four points) and would be a healthy scratch on two occasions. Despite being one of the biggest disappointments during the Calder Cup campaign, Leipsic was one of the most improved players through the season.
T.J Brennan: Brennan would end the regular season as the Marlies leading goals and points producer – especially so at even strength. I’ve marked down the Eddie Shore Award winner because his defensive fragilities regularly reappeared towards the end of the year and were especially apparent during the post-season. His penchant for those mistakes, allied with a lack of foot speed probably means his NHL dreams are numbered but it’s not unreasonable to think Toronto offers him a substantial AHL deal.
Andrew Campbell: The seventh captain in franchise history led by example. Rinat Valiev flourished under his wing, while older professional’s like Rich Clune benefited from Campbell’s leadership.
Arguably the team’s most consistent defensemen through the season, he often laid his body on the line for his team-mates with incredible bravery in front of shooters. It was a career year offensively for Campbell and Toronto certainly missed him during the playoff run. The Captain would return early to make an appearance in the crucial game seven against Albany but still appeared less than 100% versus Hershey in the Conference Final.
Kasperi Kapanen: A steep learning curve for Kapanen who was under the microscope more than other rookies due to being a part of the Kessel trade. The Finnish forward never really got motoring until just before he left for the World Juniors. Returning with a gold medal, Kapanen hit the floor running offensively and received his shot with the Leafs after the trade deadline. His first go around in the NHL was unsuccessful. That form carried over with the Marlies heading into the post-season, leading Keefe to scratch the young winger, sending a message. It was heard loud and clear as when given his opportunity, Kapanen was one of Toronto’s best forwards through the remainder of the playoffs.
Colin Smith: A late addition to the Marlies roster but wasted little time in making an impact. Scoreless in his opening two games, Smith announced himself with a four point game in a 10-5 win over Rochester, going on to produce 22 points in 23 regular season game for the blue and white.
It’s even more impressive when toward the back end of the season, the Marlies were mostly made up of junior and former college players playing their first professional games. A smaller, creative forward with a nose for the net, yet not afraid to engage physically, Smith was unfortunate to be a healthy scratch in the post-season. Five points in nine playoff games says he perhaps should have been given time over others not producing.
Viktor Loov: Loov was another player to have his season affected by injuries. To his credit, Loov’s decision making was far better this year and he was less inclined to take himself out of a play when looking for the huge hit all the time. Given far more freedom by Sheldon Keefe to carry the puck, the Swedish defenseman proved himself an effective outlet on the left side and surprised some opponents with deceptive foot speed. It’s frustrating that he doesn’t produce as much offensively as his talents should allow him too- just 15 points all accrued at even strength.
Rich Clune: Clune was able to shed his enforcer image and enjoyed his role as part protector and teacher on this young Marlies team. Far from a liability, Clune produced a career high 24 points alongside Gauthier and Soshnikov, on a fourth line that often competed with the best in the AHL..
He began the year as Nylander’s shadow and filled in whatever role was given to him with a smile on his face. Clune would score the series winner against Albany and his numerous contributions on and off the ice were enough to think he would be offered an AHL deal for next season.
Rinat Valiev: Barely spoken about in the first half of the season, Valiev grew into his rookie season under the stewardship of Andrew Campbell.
Guilty of taking far too many penalties early on, the Russian native would only be tagged for five double minors in 2016. A quick learner, far stronger and fleet of foot more than might be expected at first glance. Offensively he produced just a point less than the far more experienced Campbell and Percy but he was one of a few to struggle during the playoffs. A very encouraging beginning however for a player who will have learnt much.
Stuart Percy: Percy continues to be a frustrating prospect on many levels. Sadly injuries once again curtailed his involvement somewhat and another concussion has to be a worry.
At his best Percy continues to be a cool, calm and calculated defenseman who is comfortable in possession, particularly when exiting the defensive zone. His progress seems to have stunted as he enters the summer as an RFA, though how much injury has inhibited that is up for debate.
Frederick Gauthier: I’ve found Gauthier one of the most difficult players to assess this season. It all depends where your expectation lay for this former first round pick. He did well to stick around with the Marlies when many though he’d be a lock-in for time in the ECHL. He was everything you expected him to be – Defensively responsible, great on face-offs and a very good penalty killer. Despite working on the offensive side of the game, Gauthier managed just eighteen points through the season and would find himself a healthy scratch in the playoffs. He’s a rookie with much room for improvement and in that regard he’s afforded a little breathing room,.
Justin Holl: Holl was another one of those clever, no-risk acquisitions made by Kyle Dubas last summer. The former Chicago Blackhawks draft pick was the only player to make it out of “Marlies camp” held in Newfoundland. Through sixty games, Holl was a reliable enough bottom pairing and exceeded initial expectations. Now a free agent but it would be no surprise to see Toronto sign him to another AHL deal, as a depth player who could bounce between the Marlies and Solar Bears if necessary.
Sam Carrick: Carrick would have liked his chances on making the Leafs opening roster but failed to make the cut. Formerly a hard-working, reliable and keep it simple type of player, the former Brampton man adapted his game to the new style of play. Early struggles offensively for the multi-role Carrick, who managed to turn his fortunes around just before Christmas, averaging a goal every other game from Boxing Day onwards. He played with the same tenacity and all action style during the post-season but just couldn’t produce – leading to him being a healthy scratch in the Hershey series. Now an RFA, Carrick may prove a victim of the numbers game in Toronto.
Tobias Lindberg: Acquired in the Dion Phaneuf trade, Lindberg found his early days with the Marlies tough going. A transition from the rough and tumble Binghamton Senators to the Toronto way of playing took time but Lindberg showed us some glimpses of being a promising rookie.
He produced at a slightly lower rate than with the Senators but there were extenuating circumstances for that. A victim of the numbers game and being lower down the prospect chain, Lindberg’s opportunities were not as plentiful as he may have wanted and would suit up in just three playoff games.
His sophomore season should present him with better circumstances to succeed and Toronto should expect to see a little more after a promising stint with the Leafs.
David Kolomatis: Signed as defensive cover when the Marlies blue line corps were a little thin on the ground. He provided a right sided option and proved reliable when called upon, though unable to replicate previous offensive production in the AHL despite scoring on debut..
Used as a depth player, especially down the stretch when the team changed on a game to game basis.
Kolomatis wouldn’t figure during the playoffs despite injuries on defense and it looks as if he won’t be re-signed this summer.
Garret Sparks: A season of highs and lows for Sparks, who has flattered to deceive for the most part in the last year of his ELC. Either excellent or a liability (with Leafs or Marlies), this was no better encapsulated than in the post-season when he began with a shutout and a reliable half game in relief. His next three outings were poor to say the least and there’s a question mark hanging over his future in Toronto as an RFA.
Antoine Bibeau: Like Sparks, Bibeau also had a season of varied fortunes. Perhaps a little more excusable for a goaltender in his sophomore season, at least Bibeau showed some consistency down the stretch and put together a good run of form heading into the playoffs. In truth the Quebec native wasn’t much better than Sparks during the post-season but he certainly wasn’t the only reason why Toronto failed to get by Hershey.