“All the Marlies are with the Leafs.”
You’ve probably heard some Leafs fans joke about that. Actually I’m probably guilty of that myself. The truth, however, is that the Toronto Marlies are still playing games while the likes of William Nylander and Co. are up with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Marlies even beat the St. John’s Ice Caps, the Montreal Canadiens’ AHL affiliate featuring John Scott, this past weekend.
In that game, one of the Marlies did this:
That's Colin Smith, by the way.
Who's Colin Smith? I'm glad you asked.
Amidst this whole rebuild thing, it's easy for even the most hardcore Leafs fans to lose track of who's even a Leaf anymore.
Colin Smith was not the only prospect the Leafs acquired at this year's trade deadline. In fact, he wasn't even the only Smith the Leafs acquired. You might even be racking your brain to figure out which trade the Leafs even got him in.
The way he's playing right now, he's making himself hard to miss.
Smith has 14 points in 14 games since joining the Marlies, including that goal against the Ice Caps.
I just had to ask Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe about his new point-per-game player.
"Colin has got a lot of energy, a lot of passion for the game," Keefe said. "He's versatile in that he can play both centre and wing and can play power-play and penalty kill. That's been handy for us given the way our roster has been. He's a guy that needs to continue to get stronger."
Coaches always want their players to get stronger, but those kinds of words are brought up most when talking about the smaller guys. At 5-foot-10 and just 178 pounds, Smith isn't exactly the biggest prospect in the Leafs' system. In a game measured in goals, assists, wins and losses however, Smith's numbers stand tall.
"He's never had a problem putting up points in junior hockey and he's had really good stints at different times in the American Hockey League. I know he went through a pretty solid slump before the trade coming here but early in the season he was at a point-a-game pace there, and he's been able to get back to that playing here."
That slump Keefe refers to was a big one. Smith, 22, was a key offensive cog for the Avalanche's AHL farm team, the San Antonio Rampage, putting up 34 points in 46 games through January. February brought a 10-game pointless drought, spanning his final eight games with the Rampage and first two with the Marlies.
That all changed on Feb. 27. Colin Smith's third game with the Marlies saw him notch two goals and two assists for four points in a monstrous 10-5 Marlies win over the Rochester Americans. From that moment until now, Smith has yet to look back.
For a player who has such flashy moves on the ice, Smith is actually pretty soft-spoken. He talked a bit about the hectic day he had when he got traded. After playing a game in Cleveland, the team flew to L.A. then bussed to their next stop in Bakersfield to play the Condors. After that, Smith found out he had been traded to Toronto so he took a cab to the airport and went to San Antonio.
One of those "So you want to be a professional hockey player?" moments.
"It obviously comes as a shock," Smith said of being traded. "I just took it in stride and moved forward. And then when I got here it was a great opportunity with a great team, great organization. I was really grateful and thankful for the opportunity to start my career [in San Antonio] but to come here and get a new start, I just see it as a great opportunity."
What has the Edmonton native liked most since the trade?
"I think the one thing is just being back in Canada as a Canadian, obviously. Toronto is one of the top markets in the world for hockey. To come here, just the excitement around, the buzz around the city, how they get behind the Marlies for this playoff run, it's pretty exciting and I'm happy to be here."
Where Smith ultimately fits in the Marlies' lineup is still up in the air with so many of his teammates up with the Leafs. Keefe has used Smith primarily at centre and has complimented his face-off skills, as well as his play in the defensive zone. Whether Smith stays at centre when all eligible Leafs join the Marlies for their playoff run is still a mystery.
Speaking of the NHL, will it be Colin Smith's turn next?
"Nah, I haven't heard anything," he said. "I've just been trying to play. I just see it as a great opportunity to be here, that's why I've been trying to get better and play solid and, you know, whatever happens, happens."
A man of few words and many points — which I imagine suits the Marlies just fine.