Year over year, the Toronto Maple Leafs have graduated a ton of personnel from their AHL-championship-winning Marlies to the big time.
Those promotions start with their own GM, Kyle Dubas, but includes Kasperi Kapanen, currently a front-line winger building chemistry with Auston Matthews; Travis Dermott, a bottom-pair defenceman with top-four flair; undefeated backup goalie Garret Sparks; energetic depth winger Andreas Johnsson; and eighth defenceman Justin Holl.
The notion that another wave of Marlies can ultimately push for roster spots is not farfetched. Here’s the latest on the top five Maple Leafs prospects with a shot to become NHL players.
Trevor Moore, LW
As far as hockey traits go, “compete level” is nearly as difficult to quantify as it is desirable to possess. Trevor Moore, the Marlies’ most outstanding player in the early going, has it in spades. Coach Sheldon Keefe has raved about the left winger’s ability to pilfer pucks and win one-on-one battles.
“Mooresy is a guy who is a strong player and has a lot of speed,” Keefe told reporters after Sunday’s home victory over Hartford. “As he’s become more and more confident, he has gotten his body involved that much more in winning pucks. He’s got the speed to get there, he’s got the strength to get underneath guys, and then he’s got the confidence to get really involved and come up with them.”
Just as critical as Moore’s dominance on the score sheet — he’s piled up eight points through seven games, and his six goals rank him second-overall in the AHL — is that aforementioned confidence, which could bode well for a mid-season call-up.
“I think he has a chance to play in the National Hockey League,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock remarked, impressed by the undrafted 23-year-old’s performance at training camp.
“He has a tendency to get in his own way and not have as much confidence as he should have.”
Carl Grundstrom, LW
The momentum power forward Carl Grundstrom built over his meaningful contributions to the Marlies’ Calder Cup run has continued early into the 200-pound Swede’s first full regular season as an AHLer.
An illness forced the 2016 second-rounder to miss two contests, but he already has seven points through five appearances. Grundstrom’s three-game streak of multi-point performances includes Monday’s game-winning goal.
Establishing himself as a top-six fixture with bullish offensive upside, the winger is a key cog on the Marlies power play and leads the struggling defending champs with a plus-4 rating.
When we asked NHL veteran Sam Gagner — currently on loan to Toronto’s farm club via the Vancouver Canucks — to name the Marlies who’ve impressed him most, Grundstrom’s name was the first out of his mouth.
Grundstrom scores from his office pic.twitter.com/zzg1OxFRVU
— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) October 20, 2018
Pierre Engvall, LW
Although he’s dealing with a minor injury suffered in Rochester on Friday night, the big (6-foot-5, 214 pounds) Swedish winger is off to a fine start in his AHL rookie campaign. Fleet and versatile, Engvall can check, create plays (three goals and five points through six games), and get his shots off (an average of four pucks on net per night).
A big fan of Marian Gaborik growing up, Engvall says he’s still adjusting to North American ice, but the affable 22-year-old has enough size and hockey sense that he could eventually push for a bottom-six role in the big leagues. Not bad for a seventh-round (2014) gamble.
“He’s a good kid,” Babcock said. “He’s got good fitness, good skater. He’s probably a year, maybe two [away from being NHL-ready].”
Timothy Liljegren, D
Despite the Maple Leafs’ status as a team open to a personnel upgrade on its blue line, neither of their past two first-round picks, right-shot defender Timothy Liljegren or left-shot defender Rasmus Sandin, had a snowball’s chance in Scottsdale of making the big club out of camp this fall.
“They’re not taking anyone’s job. It’s just flat-out impossible at this point,” Babcock said.
Of the two, Sandin’s composure and smart decision-making stood out during pre-season action, but the kid suffered an undisclosed injury that put his professional debut with the Marlies on an indefinite delay.
The more-hyped Liljegren was a tad sheltered as a rookie during the Marlies’ Cup run, but — context! — he was the youngest defenceman in the entire league. This season, Liljegren is being tasked with more minutes and a prominent role on both the power-play and penalty-kill units. He’s still a work in progress, and he’s still a teenager (until late April), but the Leafs are looking for Lily Pad to take a giant leap forward.
Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, C
The diminutive Russian water bug was ecstatic to skate a pre-season game at Scotiabank Arena, the same ice patrolled by Mitchell Marner, the pass-first small forward he’s trying to model his game after.
Although SDA’s penchant for highlight-reel playmaking has placed the skillsy 2018 third-rounder firmly on the radar of Leafs Nation diehards, the 18-year-old must bulk up and sharpen his defensive game before he’s ready to make a real run at the pros. His third campaign with the Peterborough Petes got off to a slow start — one goal, four assists through 11 games — but give the kid time.
“This year I want it to be big year for me, then two years from now in junior I need it to be a really big year,” Der-Arguchintev told us. “We’ll see what happens when I’m 20 or 21 years old. I don’t want to say much about it. Just work hard every day.”