It’s been a strange couple of seasons for the Toronto Marlies.
They aren’t used to feeling this way, either. Everything was copacetic from the 2011-12 season up until the 2019 AHL Playoffs. The Marlies finished first in the North Division five times in eight years during that span. They made it past the first round of the postseason in seven of those years, and finally won the coveted Calder Cup in 2018.
Unfortunately, they haven’t done much since going all the way. The team was always bound to weaken, given that some players were on track to graduate to the bigs. COVID-19, of course, hasn’t helped anyone either. Things started to spiral pre-pandemic, and seemingly exacerbated once the world changed.
On March 12th, 2020, the NHL announced that they would pause their season in wake of COVID-19. The AHL followed suit, and the standings were frozen. At that time, the Marlies had a 29-27-3-2 record, and sat in seventh place out of eight teams in the North Division.
The standings were finalized once it was confirmed that the season would, in fact, not resume for the purpose of completion. The following season (2020-21) was shortened, and the Marlies had a record just below .500 through 35 games in the Canadian Division — good for fourth out of five teams.
Will the Marlies be able to bounce back in 2021-22? Only time will tell. They are returning to the North Division, and definitely have some players worth keeping an eye on.
2️⃣3️⃣ ➡ 1️⃣6️⃣ ➡ 8️⃣ ➡ 4️⃣ ➡ 2️⃣ ➡ 🏆
— American Hockey League (@TheAHL) August 5, 2021
Some wouldn’t agree with Nick Robertson‘s appearance on this list, as many think he’s ready to make the full-time jump to the show. His talent is unquestionable and he may very well be good to go, but becoming a consistently good NHL player is also a process. Especially considering he just turned 20 on September 11th and is listed at only 164 pounds. Patience is often key in these scenarios.
One of the reasons he may not make the Leafs right out of camp is his recent health history. Last season, he suffered a knee injury in his regular-season NHL debut (January 16th) after taking a hit from Drake Batherson.
The organization isn’t worried about any lingering effects from the injury. They’re more concerned with making sure he’s had enough minor league reps to properly make the jump. The games he missed last season were more impactful than usual, given the abbreviated length of play.
After missing a month of action, he returned and made his Marlies debut on February 15th. Through 21 AHL games, the young winger recorded five goals and 16 points. He got into five games with the Leafs in April, recording just one assist before being healthy-scratched four straight times and returning to the Marlies.
Fortunately for Robertson, Toronto is weak at left wing. He’ll get a long look at training camp and will have every opportunity to make this team. If he doesn’t make it right away, he’ll likely be called up around mid-season or in the event of an injury (as long as he can stay healthy and continues to play well in the AHL).
Make that two goals in the scrimmage for Nick "Easy speed" Robertson.
— Joshua Kloke (@joshuakloke) September 11, 2021
Leafs Nation has been very intrigued about Pavel Gogolev ever since the Leafs signed him as an undrafted free agent. On May 6th, the 21-year-old winger was inked to a three-year entry level contract. He had a great 2019-20 season with the Guelph Storm in the OHL, racking up 45 goals and 96 points in just 63 games as an over-ager.
Like Robertson, Gogolev is primarily a left winger, so Toronto’s willingness to take a flier on him isn’t surprising. Many wondered how he would transition to pro hockey, and he’s looked very good in a small sample size. He got into a handful of games with the Marlies last season, recording six goals and 12 points in just 13 games. He’s also six-foot and 187 pounds, meaning he’s already well on his way to handling the physicality of pro hockey.
The biggest downside to his game is his poor defence, which is why he was passed on in so many NHL drafts. The offence is there, so his shot at being a pro primarily depends on whether or not he can become well-rounded. He also has previously established chemistry with both Robertson and Semyon Der-Arguchintsev from his time with the Peterborough Petes, which can only help his cause.
there goes alex steeves, sending a silky pass to pavel gogolev backdoor on tyler gauthier
then nick robertson scored again (hattie!) and even though he was ~probably offside~ we’re all going to pretend he wasn’t https://t.co/zyrRMaicWv
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) September 11, 2021
There may not be a more polarizing Leafs prospect than Timothy Liljegren. Toronto’s brass were thrilled to see him on the board when it was their turn to pick 17th overall at the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. A lot of scouts had projected him to go higher, but he contracted mononucleosis during his draft year—causing his stock to drop.
Unfortunately, Liljegren has yet to make an impact at the NHL level. He’s been with the organization for four seasons, and has actually looked quite good on the Marlies. Unfortunately, the defensive side of his game simply hasn’t grown at the rate it should have. Injuries and inconsistency have caused his development to stagnant at various times.
Naturally, the Leafs still believe in him and would love to see him crack the roster. With that being said, the young Swede is in tough as fellow countryman Rasmus Sandin has all but definitively surpassed him on the depth chart—despite being drafted a year later. After this season, Liljegren will be an RFA without arbitration rights. Essentially, he needs to have a good season for everyone’s sake.
I have this horrible, gut-wrenching feeling that the Leafs are going to end up having to trade Timothy Liljegren without giving him a proper look, and he’s going to blossom into a star on another team. Hope I’m wrong and hope that happens here instead
— Аlex Hobson (@HobsonA16) September 11, 2021
The Leafs have a very intriguing prospect in Brennan Menell. The 24-year-old undrafted defenseman plays on the right side and is best known for his playmaking abilities, especially when quarterbacking the power play.
He’s a little old to truly be considered a prospect, but that additional maturity also means he could be closer to being an NHLer than other roster hopefuls. He’s not very big — standing at 5’11 and weighing in at 177 Ibs. — but playing physical isn’t really his brand, anyway.
In three AHL seasons (199 games), he’s racked up a formidable 15 goals and 116 points. He also had a great 2020-21 season with HC Dinamo Minsk (KHL), finishing second in league scoring amongst defensemen with five goals and 38 points in 47 games.
There’s a lot of bodies competing for Toronto’s bottom-pairing, so Menell will have to put together a more-than-solid showing at training camp to jump up the depth chart. Like Liljegren, his defensive game needs work, but most of the other tools seem to be there.
— KHL (@khl_eng) November 11, 2020
All of Joseph Woll‘s chips are in the middle of the table heading into 2021-22. After three fantastic seasons at Boston College, the 23-year-old has been rocky through his first two AHL campaigns. On July 17th, he signed a one-year, two-way extension worth $750K. He posted a mediocre 3.54 goals-against average and a .892 save percentage through 15 games last season, and will be looking to bounce back in a big way.
It’s not necessarily uncommon for young goalies to have an elongated, unorthodox development curve—meaning there’s no need to panic just yet. The Leafs’ lack of high-end goaltending prospects is also working in his favor, so the eventual path to the pros is hypothetically there if he can find his rhythm.
The Joseph Woll pic.twitter.com/Fhg7Xv37KL
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) February 23, 2021