Playoffs, not golf for these Leafs

Defenceman Jake Gardiner is one of a handful of young Leafs eligible to skate for the Toronto...

Defenceman Jake Gardiner is one of a handful of young Leafs eligible to skate for the Toronto Marlies in this year's AHL playoffs. (QMI Agency)

Terry Koshan, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:42 PM ET

For some members of the Maple Leafs, harsh reflection won’t start right away in April.

Though several Leafs will book trips for beaches somewhere once the regular season is done — though one Leaf said on Friday: “We don’t deserve it” — others will have to try to forget about the atmosphere of gloom and motivate themselves for a playoff run.

Forwards Matt Frattin, Carter Ashton, Jay Rosehill and defenceman Jake Gardiner (as well as goalie Jussi Rynnas) are eligible to join the Marlies for the American Hockey League playoffs.

“It’s an experience that can only be a positive — it can’t be a negative for them,” Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. “And for them to compete in the American league playoffs, it is a different atmosphere, expectations had better be tempered, because they can’t go down there thinking because they have played in the NHL, it’s going to be easy. It is not going to be easy. Playing in the American league or the Calder Cup playoffs is an experience that can sometimes get pretty wild. You play a greater number of games in a shorter period of time. That really is the difference.

“You have to be prepared to approach it from a true professional standpoint. Go down there and do what you do best, go down there and work and make sure you make a contribution, and don’t think your contribution is going to be one that is automatic. You’re going to have to earn it.”

Whether Rosehill gets a lot of ice is debatable, but the other three all have the ability to help lead the Marlies. Gardiner has been the best of the bunch, leading NHL freshmen defencemen in points. Carlyle did not see Gardiner when the 21-year-old was with the Anaheim Ducks organization, but in 14 games as coach of the Leafs, knows what he likes in the Minnesota native.

“A dynamic young player who is still just testing the waters,” Carlyle said. “There are parts of the game where he really surprises you, as is his ability to skate and get away from people. Some situations, he does not want to seem to want to skate and you ask yourself why. That is a young player, the maturing of a young player, reading and reacting to the situation he is presented with.

“I don’t think you can say anything other than the sky is the limit for the kid.”

Asking the soon-to-be Marlies about the playoffs can be touchy, considering they don’t want to give the impression they’re thinking past the end of the Leafs season.

For Gardiner, trying to fit a personally successful year into the bigger scope of the Leafs’ disaster is not easy. “I wasn’t expecting to play the whole season with the Leafs,” Gardiner said. “From that sense, it has been good and I am happy with it. But with the team struggling, you never want to think of yourself first. It has been tough. I have never been part of something like this before.

“I’m really excited (about joining the Marlies). I hope we do well.”

Frattin will try to find a scoring touch that mostly has deserted him with the Leafs. He has six goals and six assists in 52 games.

“Any chance you have to try to win a championship, you want to be a big part of it,” Frattin said. “You want to produce and support your team and be a character guy down there that can take the team as far as you can.

“Statistically it was not the best for me, but I succeeded in one of my goals in that I made the team.”

Carlyle’s message for those who head to the Marlies will be simple: “If you go down there with your work boots on and be prepared that way, that would be the best-case scenario. They would be better-served if they went there with that attitude.”


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