TORONTO - Apparently the Maple Leafs were on to something with those “every game is a tryout” commercials they are using to sell tickets to Marlies games.
For without the influence of their top farm club, where would the big club be right now?
In back-to-back road wins in Boston and Buffalo this week, no less than six players who have spent more time with the AHL affiliate than with the NHL team were not only in the lineup with some of them playing a significant role.
From Joey Crabb’s game winner against the Sabres on Wednesday, to Darryl Boyce’s hustle and James Reimer’s play in net, the transition of Marlies players into the main lineup has been crucial through the latest stage of the ongoing rebuild.
That group has played a combined 196 games on the farm this season and almost half that in the NHL.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who have been called up from the Marlies and they come up here and don’t look out of place,” Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn said. “Everyone is working hard and playing with nothing to lose.”
Four of those six (Crabb, Boyce, Rosehill an Hanson) were free agent signees by general manager Brian Burke, brought in to add depth. One (Keith Aulie) was a key component in the trade that brought captain Dion Phaneuf here and the final player (goalie James Reimer) was the lone draft pick in the bunch.
Remember as well that the team’s most recent first-round pick, Nazem Kadri has spent the bulk of his rookie season with the Marlies.
How many of them will be around for the long haul remains to be seen, but in the short team at least, the farmhands are making hay with the opportunities they’ve been giving and helping the Leafs strong play since the all-star Break.
Here’s a look at the six players who have spent the bulk of the season with the Marlies but were in the Leafs’ lineup on Wednesday:
F Christian Hanson, 44 games with Marlies, 5 with Leafs.
Big forward was just recalled to give some needed presence in front of the opponent’s net.
F Jay Rosehill, 32 games with Marlies, 15 with Leafs.
Enforcer made his mark in training camp and with Colton Orr out he’s not going anywhere.
F Joey Crabb, 34 games with Marlies, 26 with Leafs
Journeyman minor-leaguer adds speed. What a way to score his first as a Leaf with Wednesday’s dazzling game winner.
F Darryl Boyce, 35 games with Marlies, 23 with Leafs.
Coach Ron Wilson applauded him for his speed and forecheck the past two games.
D Keith Aulie, 36 games with Marlies, 16 with Leafs.
Now on the top defensive pairing with Phaneuf and earning the big minutes that go with it.
G James Reimer, 15 games with Marlies, 14 with Marlies.
Looks like he’ll be the go-to guy the rest of the way with the Leafs net being a danger zone lately.