Leafs Draft Feeds Marlies

The Leafs draft has often meant talent waiting in the wings for the AHL Marlies.

by Clayton Hansler
June 28, 2011

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Success in the National Hockey League is more a journey than it is a destination. Those who venture down the long path of professional puck spend countless seasons climbing the ranks through everything from midget to major league, and all that lies between. It is not uncommon for even the most accomplished players to spend time after being drafted bouncing between the NHL and the American Hockey League. And for the nine drafted by the Maple Leafs in Minnesota this past weekend, ones who already have spent countless years forging their way to the top of the pack, still may experience another step or two before cracking the Leafs lineup.

As adjustments to the professional life are made and bad habits are curtailed, the AHL's doors have been opened to developing players for 75 seasons and developed some 87 percent of today's big-leaguers. A look into the Marlies past shows that a little time with the Toronto AHL club may be exactly what the Leafs latest additions have in store.

Leafs draft selections spanning ten years have appeared on the Marlies roster over the team's six year course back in Toronto. With exception to Tuukka Rask who left the organization in a trade, five of the seven first round selections by Toronto in the past decade ventured through the AHL en route to the NHL club - three having wore the Marlies sweater. With neither Tyler Biggs nor Stuart Percy expected to make the Luke Schenn-esque jump directly to the Leafs, the likelihood of them joining Carlo Colaiacovo (2001), Jiri Tlusty (2006) and Nazem Kadri (2009) as Marlies alumni is high.

Josh Leivo will be in good company if his development carries him through Toronto's AHL club. Twelve players previously selected by the Leafs in the third round have made their way onto the Marlies line card. Dale Mitchell, drafted in 2007, is still with the club and expected to make a larger contribution next season as fellow round three choice Greg McKegg, who scored his first AHL goal in only his second game, completes his career in major junior prior to making the permanent jump to pro.

The Leafs prosperity with translating picks into pros does not end in the early rounds. James Reimer, who at the completion of the 2010-11 season was a household name in Toronto, honed his talents in the AHL after being selected in the fourth round, as did Korbinian Holzer who made his NHL debut with the Leafs this past season. Marlies defender Juraj Mikus was a fifth round selection and recently renewed Leafs blueliner Carl Gunnarsson was selected in the seventh, plenty of reason for Tom Nilsson to be confident in his future professional career.

From rounds six through eight Toronto's AHL system has seen nine players emerge from the prospect pool and continue careers in either the AHL or NHL. Fans can look forward to David Broll, Dennis Robertson and Tony Cameranesi hopefully continuing this trend. Garret Sparks, drafted in the seventh round with Max Everson, is in line to be the first drafted prospect to take net for the Marlies since Reimer - certainly big shoes to fill.

Success for Toronto's latest nine isn't a destination, it is a journey. It is not a journey for the faint of heart or the weak of knees, but one of patience, hard work and constant effort. The Maple Leafs however have created a pattern of success starting at the draft, in all rounds, and continuing straight up through the Marlies. All 2011 picks from Biggs to Everson have before them a path that has been previously traveled, an example to follow. Now all that's left to ask is; who will be the first to make the step?

Notes: For those curious, the amount of drafted Leafs to enter the Marlies by round are as follows: First - three, Second - three, Third - twelve, Fourth - five, Fifth - three, Sixth - four, Seventh - three, Eighth - one and Ninth - one.

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