The last day of the regular season has come and gone, meaning the Calder Cup Playoffs are finally here. In preparation, Toronto has reunited the entire team calling back the plethora of players sent up to play with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Among those returning are AHL All Star T.J. Brennan, Garret Sparks, Nikita Soshnikov, and of course William Nylander.
The Toronto Marlies have been a dominating force in the AHL this season, posting a record of 54-16-5. Their franchise record setting 114 points on the season have solidly put them at the top of league and have turned them into a Goliath of a team.
BRENNAN’S VETERAN PRESENCE IN PLAYOFFS
The first player that comes to my mind is Toronto’s star defenseman, T.J. Brennan. Third in the AHL in scoring and chosen for the AHL all star team, T.J. Brennan has been a rock for the Toronto Marlies. Over 69 games, Brennan has produced at almost a point a game pace getting 68 points (25G, 43A). On the back end, this year Brennan has achieved a personal best with a +/- of plus-34 on the season. In addition to his scoring and solid defensive play, the Marlies will be looking to Brennan for his five years of playoff experience (two of those being with the Marlies).
SOSHNIKOV’S GRITTY PLAY
The next player to keep an eye on during the 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs is Nikita Soshnikov. Despite a complete lack of playoff experience, he is definitely a player to watch out for this post season. With the Marlies, Soshnikov was able to put up 28 points (18G, 10A) in 52 games and while playing with the Maple leafs he was able to put up 5 points (2G, 3A) in 11 games.
Though his scoring isn’t nearly as impressive as some of his other teammates, Soshnikov has made a lasting impression with his teammates. Garret Sparks described him to the Canadian Press as a player who “definitely gets under the skin of his opponents, but he’s not a guy who’s out there looking to goon it up.” Not only is Soshnikov able to agitate other teams, the 5’11, 186 lb 22-year-old packs a punch. In his 11 games, he gave out 34 hits, averaging at 3.09 hits a game. Compared to other NHL players, that frequency puts him at 28th in the league.
The final skater to keep an eye for the playoffs is William Nylander. The 19-year-old has had quite an impressive season with both the Marlies and the Maple Leafs despite a head injury early on in the season during World Juniors. Nylander also has 5 games of playoff experience under his belt, though less than some of his teammates, he understands the pressure and what it’s like play in the AHL playoffs.
The poster boy for the new generation of Toronto hockey has played 38 games this year and put up 45 points (18G, 27A) with the Marlies, putting up points at a 1.18 points per game (PPG) average. Nylander was able to continue to find the back of the net while playing 22 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs this year getting 13 points (6G, 7A) with .59 PPG. Though this is a marked decrease, it is still impressive considering he was playing in the NHL the team that finished dead last in the standings.
IN THE CREASE
The Marlies goal tending is severely lacking when it comes to AHL playoff experience, with just over a games worth of experience between Antoine Bibeau, Garret Sparks, and Kasimir Kaskisuo. What does stand out is their solid performance between the pipes, that combined with Toronto’s power upfront will hopefully be able to make up the lack of playoff history.
Antoine Bibeau has a regular season record of 28-9-1, and has a .909 SV% and 2.70 GAA putting him in the AHL’s top 25 goaltenders. Bibeau’s consistently impressive performance has been one of the big reasons the Marlies were able to clinch a playoff spot so soon and have such an impressive season overall.
Meanwhile, Garret Sparks recent performance might not look nearly as impressive posting a record of 6-9-0 ( .893 SV% and 3.02 GAA) while playing with the Maple Leafs, it is important to keep in mind what level and what team he was playing for. While playing 21 games with the Marlies he posted a record of 14-4-3, with a .928 SV% and 2.33 GAA. Hopefully after gaining some experience in the show, he’ll be able to find success in during the Marlies playoff run.
Finally we have Kasimir Kaskisuo as the third netminder for Toronto. Having only played two games with the Marlies he has a record of 1-0-1, a 906 SV%, and 2.40 GAA. Though this doesn’t tell us much, his successful history with University of Minnesota-Duluth tells us more. Over two years he had an average SV% of .920 and an average GAA of 2.11. Despite the fact that college and AHL are different levels of play, this consistency could prove beneficial as a backup to Sparks and Bibeau.
FIRST ROUND MATCH-UP
The Marlies will be facing the Atlantic Division’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The Tigers finished the regular season with a record of 40-29-4, giving them 87 points. Despite the fact that there is a large point difference between the two, the Marlies have yet to play against Bridgeport Sound.
The Tigers, a farm team for the New York Islanders, have depended heavily on their leading scorer Bracken Kearns, a 34 year old out of Vancouver, BC. This season he has 53 points (23G, 30A) in 72 games with a +/- of 20. Bridgeport Sound’s goaltenders Christopher Gibson has been playing with the Islanders, but is still able to return to the Tigers for the playoffs. In the AHL Gibson posts a posts the same goalie stats as Bibeau but a worse win/loss record of 19-11-6.
Since the Marlies and Tigers have not met this regular season, it is hard to predict how this series will turn out. The Marlies’ solid net presence combined with their collection of high scoring forwards will be able to maintain pressure up front. As long as Toronto is able focused on their game plan and not underestimate the 5th ranked Atlantic Division team, they shouldn’t have a problem wrangling the Tigers and advancing to the next round.