After an impressive 2015-16 campaign, the Toronto Marlies have carried their momentum into a new season.
Last year’s edition of the Marlies rang up 54 regular season wins and 114 points before being eliminated by the Hershey Bears in the Eastern Conference final, all the while churning out several prospects now playing with the parent Toronto Maple Leafs.
The AHL club can count William Nylander, Connor Brown, Connor Carrick, Zach Hyman and Nikita Soshnikov among their contributions to this season’s NHL roster.
Despite significant personnel losses this past off-season, the Marlies are relying on last year’s formula: an offence that attacks in waves, a dangerous power play, and an emphasis on controlling the puck.
Head coach Sheldon Keefe’s team currently ranks second in the AHL in goals per game at 3.75. The power play, fifth in the league, is motoring along at 26.3 per cent.
With a returning crease duo of Antoine Bibeau and Garret Sparks, the Marlies’ 2.25 goals against per game is third best overall. The AHL even named Bibeau its top goaltender in October thanks to his 5-0-1 mark, 1.64 goals against average and .944 save percentage.
More talent could be on the way to Air Canada Centre.
Forward Brendan Leipsic’s 13 points leads the AHL, and the league made him its player of the month for October.
Kasperi Kapanen has picked up four goals and nine points in his first eight games — a particularly impressive start, considering he managed nine goals in 44 games last season.
Fourth year pro Josh Leivo, who chipped in 17 goals over 51 regular season games last season, joined the Marlies this week on a long-term conditioning loan from the Maple Leafs.
After skating in 56 NHL games last season, Byron Froese is back in the AHL and has posted five goals in his first eight games.
In addition to Carrick, who is now settling in on the Maple Leafs’ blue line, the Marlies lost Eddie Shore Award-winner T.J. Brennan (top defenceman) to free agency this past summer. Fortunately for Toronto, rookie Andrew Nielsen, a 2015 third round pick by the Leafs who does not turn 20 years old until Nov. 13, has helped soften Brennan’s departure. Nielsen has three goal and four assists in eight games.
The AHL season is still young, but Ricoh Coliseum could be busy again come April.
1. Toronto (6-1-0-1, 13 points)
A six-game road trip continues this weekend with a visit to the St. John’s IceCaps.
2. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (5-1-1-0, 11 points)
Positioned in what should be a strong Atlantic Division, the Penguins are off to their customary quick start.
3. Tucson (4-1-1-0, 9 points)
AHL affiliates of the Arizona Coyotes have struggled for years. However, the Coyotes’ new AHL team in the Arizona desert is off to a strong start in the Pacific Division with an intriguing mix of quality prospects and proven AHL experience.
4. Albany (6-3-0-0, 12 points)
After a 5-0 beginning, the Devils have cooled off slightly. But a team anchored by Scott Wedgewood in net should be an Eastern Conference presence all season.
5. Ontario (3-1-2-0, 8 points)
A team built around a strong commitment to responsible defensive play, the Reign have spent much of the season without their top two netminders in Peter Budaj and Jack Campbell because of injuries in the Los Angeles Kings’ crease.
An answer in net has yet to arrive, but the Reign have survived so far.
AWAITING THE CALL
The Utica Comets do not figure to have defenceman Troy Stecher around very often.
The parent Vancouver Canucks recalled the 22-year-old defenceman from the Comets on Friday afternoon — his second NHL promotion this season. With Vancouver having a weak blue line, a puck-mover like Stecher could be an asset.
THE BIG GAME
In the AHL’s answer to the Leafs-Canadiens rivalry, the Marlies and IceCaps start their long season series. Toronto’s offence will test the IceCaps, who have surrendered 3.50 goals per game.