Marlies ready for the big stage

Marlies coach Dallas Eakins says defenceman Korbinian Holzer is ready for an “audition” with the...

Marlies coach Dallas Eakins says defenceman Korbinian Holzer is ready for an “audition” with the Maple Leafs. (STAN BEHAL/QMI Agency file photo)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:09 PM ET

TORONTO - Some Maple Leafs were getting stage fright this Oscar weekend, but many Toronto Marlies are ready for their close-ups.

With the NHL trade deadline set for 3 p.m. on Monday, the playoff-challenged Leafs on eggshells, and general manager Brian Burke having trouble making any kind of deal, the only changes in March could come from the first-place farmhands at the Ricoh Coliseum.

Toronto is allowed four call-ups after the deadline, other than under emergency injury conditions. And with more talent than in previous years to tap, be it a goalie, defender or forward, coach Dallas Eakins has no doubt his guys are ready for prime time in a volatile hockey environment.

“If you can’t handle the market here, you better ask Brian to be traded,” Eakins said Sunday after the Marlies demolished the Hamilton Bulldogs 6-1, improving to 31-19-6.

“It is what it is, and if you can’t embrace it, be excited about it, you should go somewhere else. I don’t think one of our players is afraid of the market.”

The Marlies weren’t blind to the presence of almost the entire Leafs hockey hierarchy at Ricoh on Sunday, including pro scouts in town for the deadline.

Those players who could see promotion include familiar names such as Joe Colborne, Nazem Kadri and Keith Aulie, but some darkhorse candidates are emerging.

Winger Nicolas Deschamps, acquired for Luca Caputi at mid-season, had a five-point game on Sunday as part of good two-way progress. Korbinian Holzer, the giant German defenceman, is getting good reviews, too.

“I firmly believe he’s ready for an audition,” Eakins said of Holzer. “And not to just throw him in a game and see what he does. I mean a good five or six-game audition.

“He has been very patient. He has been called up a few times and not been able to get into a game. I hope he stays in our organization, but if he is turned into an asset where he can play somewhere else in the NHL, I’ll be happy for him, too.

“We have guys who can fill short-term holes, fill skill positions, we have penalty killers who can go on the fourth line. We have a little bit of everything. Brian has made some trades, we’ve acquired guys via free agency, to the point where you don’t have just one or two guys to use, you could call up a left shot, a right shot. “We don’t have young guys just knocking on the door, we have guys ready for some serious auditions.”

Mark Owuya’s 27 saves on Sunday gave him four straight wins with just six goals against, a streak intersected by Ben Scrivens allowing just five goals over three games, including two losses.

It’s about to get more interesting when Jussi Rynnas makes an expected return from Reading of the ECHL in the next few days.

“Mark is a very interesting prospect, whom we’ve done the least body of work on,” said vice-president of hockey operations Dave Poulin. “Jussi was a planned placement in Reading because they were playing 12 or 14 games in a short period. He just had a 37-save, 1-0 shutout and he’s ready to come back up.

“Jussi didn’t have that piece of work in Reading, but James Reimer and Scrivens did. The Monster (Jonas Gustavsson) never got that piece, he never even got an AHL piece.”

The Leafs have been reluctant to talk about using a farm goalie to arrest their slide, but Reimer and Gustavsson are struggling and other teams want the same veterans Burke has targeted for the deadline. If not this spring, next year’s camp will be very interesting.

“We’re top three in the AHL in goals-against right now, we might even be second after today,” Eakins added. “I have no problem with any of our goalies. Our team works hard in front of them. we blocks shots and clear the net. But even being No. 2 is not good enough. We want to be No. 1 in all departments.”

Being left alone by the Leafs for the rest of the season wouldn’t be the worst thing for the Marlies, either. The organization hasn’t enjoyed a good run in the spring for a while and such an experience would help breed confidence later on.

“I’ll point to Ottawa,” Poulin said of their Binghamton Senators winning the 2011 Calder Cup. “You look at their run last year and the players (now in the NHL). There’s Colin Greening, Erik Condra, Kaspars Daugavins, Zack Smith, Bobby Butler, Jared Cowen ... and I’m missing guys. That’s the importance of having guys in a winning culture.”


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