Digging, Drafting and the AHL

Marlies team boasted 11 Maple Leafs draftees through the regular season.

by Clayton Hansler
June 22, 2012

I was told a funny story the other night about time capsules.

Enamoured with the idea of uncovering forgotten treasures at a future time, a younger version of a close friend teamed up with a neighbour to begin burying pieces of their life. As the story goes one capsule turned into three; which turned into seven; which then evolved into more than a dozen.

One weekend of fervour resulted in holes all over the backyard, each with its own piece of the day buried in the earth.

This process is not unlike the draft; especially from an American Hockey League perspective.

Stipulations surrounding the construction of an AHL roster are quite sticky. An agreement with the three Canadian major junior leagues (WHL, OHL, QMJHL) prevents a player from joining the American league until the age of 20, or following the completion of four seasons of play. Therefore the fate of the CHL prospects drafted this weekend will rest in either the big league or back home; at least for the coming season.

Those drafted from Europe and elsewhere abroad aren't confined to the same NHL or No-HL rule, however (depending greatly on their graduating league) prospects are often required to fulfill their present obligation prior to departure. This may come into play for those selected out of the SEL, Swiss-A, DEL and KHL among others.

We may not have covered all the bases, but it's enough for an in-field triple.

In a league devoid of the Mark Scheifele's and Brett Bulmer's, draft day becomes much like that afternoon in the backyard - spade in one hand and capsule in the other - where the fun is not found as much in the burying as later with the uncovering.

On the Marlies front, the past two seasons have unearthed much of this talent.

In a historic season that saw the Toronto AHL club propel to the Calder Cup finals for the very first time, 26 of the 44 players dressed in the blue-and-white during the season entered their career by way of the draft. Eleven had been selected by Toronto and were handed their new sweater at the podium sometime over the past five years. Their production as a whole did not let their bosses down.

The 11 combined for nearly one quarter of both the team's goals and points during the regular season (53/217 and 149/591 respectively).

Between time in Anaheim and Toronto, Brian Burke selected seven of the 26 directly. Nazem Kadri, Jerry D'Amigo, Nicolas Deschamps, Jesse Blacker, Jake Gardiner, Stuart Percy and David Broll combined for 42 Marlies goals and 130 points despite the latter three combining for only eight games.

And the numbers become more impressive in the playoffs.

Seventeen games brought the Marlies their elimination in the Calder Cup's final round. Of the 48 goals, 16 can be attributed to selections made by Burke (one third) and 22 by the Leafs organization. An interesting side note shows that of the three selected by the club's general manager in his first draft with Toronto in 2009, they amassed roughly 20 percent of the club's post-season points (24/127).

The uncovering of these capsules of talent has truly been more fun.

One part to the story however I was remiss to include was my friend never returned for all of the capsules. As time passed the neighbour moved away. Without an 'X' to mark the spot, specific locations were forgotten. As with hockey, sometimes too those selected are are never unearthed; at least not by the team that originally chose them.

Josh Nicholls, originally selected 182nd overall by Toronto in 2010, will re-enter the upcoming draft. A two-year signing window along with a 50 contract ceiling makes for some tough choices. The same decision was made for Barron Smith selected in 2009. Mike Zigomanis, point leader on the ice and dressing room leader off it, was twice drafted. As was former Maple Leafs and Marlies forward Tim Brent. Sometimes that's just how it goes.

Draft day is a funny one for those around the AHL. I will spend the weekend making notes, collecting links and filing them away; knowing all the while that as much fun as this process is, it will be far better when I dig it back up.

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