The Toronto Marlies have had continued success once again this season. They enter the New Year atop the league standings with no signs of slowing down. Every year, they experience this success because of the willingness of the Toronto Maple Leafs to put so much time and effort into their minor league teams. The Toronto Marlies defence has been a huge part of the Marlies success.
Every year, the Toronto Marlies defence is strong and can be relied upon no matter the situation. What is different this year is the fact that they have so many of their prospects on the blueline. Their blueline is one of the younger ones in the AHL. Let us take a look at the mixture of players that have allowed the Marlies to continue their winning ways:
Toronto Marlies Defence Is Young
As many may have read before in past articles, Rasmus Sandin has been the rock on the Marlies blueline all year. Scouts have praised the young man’s maturity and poise on the backend way beyond his years. Not only does he have the ability to control the play with his quick decision making and skating abilities, but his attitude also keeps his teammates calm when the puck is on his stick.
Sandin knows what his teammates are capable of and expects everyone to be at their best when they are on the ice. He has been a voice on the Toronto Marlies blueline all season. He also has the respect of his linemates to make the right plays, even late in the game. The Maple Leafs brass loves what they see from the 19-year old and only expect great things from him as time goes on. Sandin will no doubt be a great leader in the Leafs locker room for years to come.
Timothy Liljegren has been a question mark since the moment the Leafs took him with the 17th overall selection in the 2017 NHL draft. Through all the injuries and struggles over the past few seasons, the Leafs have remained confident that Liljegren would eventually develop. It is without a doubt safe to say that their patience is finally starting to pay off.
Liljegren looks like he is finally starting to discover all his hidden potential. With an expanded role this season, he has looked incredible. As opposed to seasons past, he has enough confidence to rush with the puck and create scoring chances for his teammates. He also looks to be discovering his defensive game. Knowing when the appropriate time to pinch is and when he should stay back. He does not back down in front of the net and takes pride in clearing the front of the net of any danger posed. Leafs fans should be excited about how Liljegren is developing and should not be surprised to see the 20-year old Swede in the lineup in the very near future.
Although the casual hockey fan may not have heard of Teemu Kivihalme, those times should be soon changing. Kivihalme is a defenceman who a coach dreams of having. Not only does he make smart defensive decisions, he’s also the perfect partner for a defenceman who leans more towards the offensive side of the spectrum.
Having played in the Liiga with Karpat, Kivihalme knows how it is to play against tough competition. Transitioning to the AHL has been smooth for Kivihalme and he’s aware of what he is capable of. He brings value to the team that no one else brings and he has been determined to show that throughout the season so far.
Kivihalme is the perfect guy to be relied upon when the Marlies have a lead late in the game. He will stop at nothing to make sure the opposition does not score. Even if that means sacrificing his body blocking a shot. Although he is a dark horse in the organization, people should keep an eye on Kivihalme as he may earn himself a spot on the Leafs in the future.
The proven veteran on the backend, Ben Harpur brings experience to an otherwise inexperienced Marlies blueline. Harpur is a very tall defenceman at 6’6″ and uses his size to his advantage. He is great at driving opposing forwards to the outside and squashing chances through the neutral zone. He can also provide toughness to his team when needed.
Although he does not normally result to toughness, he does stick up for his teammates when they are in a pickle. Harpur is a character guy in the dressing room and all of his teammates love him for that. Leafs management is ecstatic that they have a solid mentor on the farm team to help guide their young players through the rigours of professional hockey.
Jesper Lindgren has quietly become a solid two-way defenceman in the American Hockey League. Having come over from Finland during the Marlies playoff run last year, Lindgren is developing into a nice solid young player in the Maple Leafs organization. Although Lindgren is small, his skill and poise make up for what he lacks in size. He has great vision with the puck on his stick and makes great breakout passes to his forwards breaking through the neutral zone.
Lindgren can also be relied upon to create scoring chances when needed. Although his six points in 21 games this season are not superb, he is very good at getting his shot on net in traffic. At many times throughout the season, forwards in front of the net have been able to clean up a juicy rebound coming from one of his shots. Lindgren is a perfect defenceman for today’s NHL and will only continue to improve as he continues to develop.
Kristians Rubins is one of those feel-good stories that everyone loves to hear about. Having gone undrafted, Rubins impressed the Leafs brass by putting up 27 points in 60 games with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL in 2017-18. They signed him to an entry-level contract and he started last year in the ECHL with the Newfoundland Growlers. Rubins once again impressed Leafs management en route to winning the Kelly Cup with the Growlers last year.
Having a full-time position with the Marlies this season, Rubins continues to show why he is a force to be reckoned with. Using his size to his advantage, Rubins drives opponents to the outside while keeping the middle of the lane clear of opposing players. He also loves to join the rush when the opportunity arises itself, collecting seven points in 19 games so far this season. Although he will need more seasoning in the AHL over the next few years, fans can sleep well at night knowing that the Leafs have another potential gem in their system.
Development Is Paying Off
The Leafs plan to pour as much money into their development of prospects continues to show amazing results every year. They continually produce players that can come in and provide depth around their four stars. Over the next few years, look to see many more NHL organizations take a page out of the Leafs textbook when it comes to putting money into their development systems. As many people agree, it is way better to build from within. The Toronto Marlies defence core is a great example of this.