One could make the case that no other NHL franchise invests more time, salary and attention in its farm club than the Toronto Maple Leafs do with the Marlies, the breeding ground for a healthy chunk of the big club’s core players (Morgan Rielly, Andreas Johnsson, William Nylander, et al). as well as its current general manager.
The Marlies’ scorching start — the AHL threat won six straight to begin 2019-20 — cooled slightly with back-to-back losses this past weekend, but standout individual performances of Toronto’s deep prospect pool have been plentiful.
“Really good,” says Leafs coach Mike Babcock. “Now, they’ve got a really good team, right? They’ve got a good veteran-laden team, but we’ve also got some kids there that are playing well.
“They’ve done a good job to load that team up, and we like our team in the minors to win every night. You like your kids to be around winning versus losing.”
Here is a Marlies-heavy list of five of the winning kids the organization likes best right now.
Rasmus Sandin, Toronto Marlies
GP: 5 | G: 1 | A: 3 | PTS: 4
Sandin has been an all-situations, heavy-minutes defenceman in Year 2 with the Marlies since being drilled by Justin Abdelkader and shocking the Maple Leafs into sending their most prized prospect down for more seasoning before his entry-level contract kicked in. That the teenager has been throwing some heavy hits, contributing on the score sheet, and has yet to commit a penalty shows the rapid maturation of his game.
We’re not ruling out a mid-season return to the big club, although a healthy Travis Dermott will allow Kyle Dubas more time to let his most valuable AHLer ripen for what is destined to be a demanding 2020-21 NHL campaign for the kid.
Egor Korshkov, Toronto Marlies
GP: 8 | G: 5 | A: 2 | PTS: 7
One of the Maple Leafs’ final cuts out of training camp, the formidable import has been putting up sizeable numbers in October to go along with his sizeable frame. It’s telling that, when recently asked a general question about the Marlies’ strong start, Babcock quickly brought up the power winger, who is pacing the farm club in goals, power-play points and shorthanded points.
“Korshkov, you know, continues to score on a nightly basis, which is good for us,” Babcock said. “He’s a big man [six-foot-four, 214 pounds] who has attributes that we could use, for sure.” Should the opportunity arise, it’s not a stretch to see Korshkov making his NHL debut at some point this season.
Pierre Engvall, Toronto Marlies
GP: 8 | G: 2 | A: 5 | PTS: 7
Marlies bench boss Sheldon Keefe has been praising the speed and two-way responsibility of Engvall, which — when combined with his size and early offensive output — forces us to rate the Swede ahead of other wingers in the system worth watching, such as playmaker and power-play threat Jeremy Bracco. To go along with his near-point-a-game pace, Engvall tops all Marlies forwards in plus/minus with a plus-7 rating, and all seven of his points have arrived at even-strength.
Timothy Liljegren, Toronto Marlies
GP: 8 | G: 1 | A: 5 | PTS: 6
Liljegren, the top right-shot defender in the cupboard, was hard on himself after an underwhelming camp, and he’s been forced to watch his friend, fellow Swede and fellow first-round pick Sandin surpass him on the depth chart. But it’s way too early to dismiss a smooth-skating 20-year-old talent on the back end, especially when the blue line remains an organizational weakness. ‘Lilly Pad’ has leapt to a solid start in his third AHL campaign, contributing on the power play, notching a game-winner, and generating O-zone time aplenty.
Nick Robertson, Peterborough Petes
GP: 14 | G: 16 | A: 9 | PTS: 25
Dubas appears to have hit on his first draft pick of 2019 with this charismatic California kid. Robertson, a small, skilled second-rounder, turned heads at development camp and again at the Grand Rapids NHL prospects tournament in September, earning an entry-level deal.
Brimming with confidence, the winger has taken the OHL by storm, averaging more than a goal per game in his third season with the resurgent Peterborough Petes. Tearing it up alongside another creative Leafs prospect, Semyon Der-Arguchintsev (22 points through 12 games), Robertson has flipped from a minus-30 player over his first two seasons to a plus-11.