by Kyle Cushman
Although in the midst of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, the Toronto Maple Leafs are not done their rebuild.
Fans may get excited with the youth, speed, and talent on the current establishment of the Maple Leafs, but there is still more to be done. The Leafs still have prospects waiting to get their chance.
Toronto Maple Leafs Straying from Status Quo with Amateur Try-Outs
With the sheer number of unsigned prospects and soon-to-be-used draft picks, tough decisions lie ahead for Leafs management.
I wrote a piece last month discussing the prospects set to expire this summer. The decisions only get tougher in the coming seasons.
Following the 2017-18 season, the Leafs have to decide on ten players. This list includes 2016 31st overall pick Yegor Korshkov and 2015-16 WHL leading scorer Adam Brooks.
The Leafs are getting their looks in now in preparation of these upcoming decisions. Everyone loves to hoard draft picks and develop prospects. There are simply not enough roster spots to develop all of your draft picks.
The try-outs for jobs have already begun, taking place at the Ricoh Coliseum in downtown Toronto.
The Amateur Try-Out
It is common for NHL clubs to sign their junior prospects to an amateur try-out (ATO) to give them a taste of the professional game in the American Hockey League. In recent years, Toronto has done so with players such as Travis Dermott (OHL), Rinat Valiev (WHL), and Josh Leivo (OHL).
Much more uncommon is a European player signing an ATO. After playing a full professional season, it is very rare to see a European come over to play in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Beautiful goal and celly by Pierre Engvall. Huge 2-0 win for Mora as they fight for promotion to the SHL pic.twitter.com/vlJcCsUKMl
The Toronto Maple Leafs have strayed away from this status quo. 2015 draft pick Jesper Lindgren and 2014 draft pick Pierre Engvall were both signed to ATOs in the past two weeks, joining the Toronto Marlies for their Calder Cup Playoff run.
The Swedish Duo
Both played in the Allsvenskan this past season, the second division of Swedish hockey. Lindgren’s MODO team was eliminated early in the playoffs, while Engvall’s Mora IK went deep, winning promotion to the SHL.
It is very unlikely either of them signs an entry-level contract with the Maple Leafs this summer. However, both are candidates in the next couple of years.
As 18-year-olds drafted out of Europe, the Leafs retain their rights for four years following their draft. Engvall, a 2014 draft pick, expires following the 2017-18 season. Lindgren, who was drafted a year later, expires following the 2018-19 season.
Jesper Lindgren keeps the puck in the zone on the power play and passes it to former Atlanta Thrasher, Jordan Smotherman, for the goal pic.twitter.com/lUw1S2SWxH
The Swedish duo play at positions of need in the organization. Jesper Lindgren is a right-handed defenceman, while Pierre Engvall can play both wings.
Engvall and Lindgren get an incredibly important chance this upcoming Calder Cup Playoffs. Transitioning to North America will be difficult, but first impressions last a long time. If either of them impresses in the Marlies run at the Calder Cup, they could soon find themselves with a contract.
Not Afraid to be Different
This isn’t the first time Toronto has brought over a Swede for the Calder Cup Playoffs either. The Leafs made a similar move last spring when Andreas Johnsson came over to the Toronto Marlies from Frolunda. Johnsson had already signed an entry-level contract with the Maple Leafs when he joined the Marlies, but it was still a rare occurrence. Unfortunately, Johnsson was limited to less than two games after being injured.
Obviously, Toronto’s management isn’t afraid to do something a bit different. In utilizing the amateur try-out, the Leafs are able to take an early look at a couple of European prospects who otherwise would need an NHL contract to come over and play in the AHL. If Engvall and/or Lindgren impress, they will be in a good situation to be signed in the near future.