There is help on Leafs' farm

TERRY KOSHAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:51 AM ET

There is no Mats Sundin or Norris Trophy candidate among them, but several Maple Leafs prospects have demonstrated in the American Hockey League playoffs the organization's cupboard is not bone dry either.

"It's the old story," Marlies general manager Mike Penny said. "When you run something like this, you have a lot of people nobody knows anything about. People say, 'Who are these guys?' And they find their way to the NHL. You follow the trail back, and surprise, surprise, they were right in your own backyard."

Leafs interim GM Cliff Fletcher has stressed that the club will undergo an overhaul in the off-season, with the implication being that the Leafs plan to be active with trades and free agency. But if their performances in the playoffs are an indication, a few young Marlies will challenge for jobs when training camp opens in September.

Forward John Mitchell, the 158th pick overall by the Leafs in 2003, has a team-high eight goals and on many nights has established himself physically. Jay Harrison was named the team's top defenceman in the regular season and has had a solid playoff.

Kris Newbury has been the Marlies' best forward as a whole through the post-season, though he will have to reign in his emotions if he hopes to one day stick full-time in the NHL. One who has struggled is Jiri Tlusty, who has two goals in 18 games. Robbie Earl, meanwhile, has missed all of the playoffs with a groin injury.

They're not stars in the making, but each has the ability to be a serviceable part.

"Mitchell has caught a lot of people's attention," Penny said. "He got out of the gate great, had a little bump in the mid-season but came back strong and he has been really good throughout the playoffs. It's maturity and playing experience for him. I'm sure he will get an opportunity (in the fall)."


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