3 Marlies that could make the Toronto Maple Leafs next season
The Toronto Maple Leafs have a number of top prospects playing for their AHL counterparts, the Toronto Marlies, but which of them could realistically make the jump up to the big leagues next season?
Andreas Johnsson, Left Wing
Swedish winger Johnsson has had a long development process since being selected by the Leafs in the 7th round of the 2013 NHL draft.
After being drafted, he spent three years developing his game in the SHL with Frolunda, where he improved his offensive production each season – climbing from 24 total points to 35 and then 44 in his final season in Sweden.
The increase in production grabbed the attention of the Leafs, who brought him over to begin transitioning his game to a North American still.
His rookie campaign with the Marlies was strong, scoring 20 goal and 47 total points in 75 games before scoring a further six goals in 11 playoff games.
But this season, Johnsson has turned things up again and now leads the team in goals (24), assists (28) and overall points with 52 in 52 games so far.
He plays on the Marlies top line and is a driving force for one of the best teams in the league.
The Leafs have questions to answer regarding some of their free agents this summer, particularly with James van Riemsdyk.
The Leafs have plenty of talented wingers, but if JVR walks then that opens up a potential roster spot on the left side.
Johnsson is older than most prospects at 23 and could thrive in the NHL if given the right surrounding cast and support.
He has improved his points production each season since being drafted and appears ready to make the step up next season.
He’ll likely have a chance to impress during pre-season in the summer and if he can play as well as the NHL regulars on the team, he could find himself sticking in the top league for the foreseeable future.
Aaltonen has had a strong first campaign in the AHL, with 36 points (15G, 21A) in 51 regular season games.
He has performed well enough to be the Marlies top-line centre, playing alongside the aforementioned Johnsson.
The duo have combined for one of the best performing lines in the AHL and look like potential NHL players.
Aaltonen’s development has been similar to Johnsson’s, having been drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in 2013.
He developed in his homeland of Finland before spending last year in the KHL, attracting the Leafs’ brass and securing a place on the Marlies.
He has similar size to Mitch Marner and also prefers to play as a centre, though his position in the NHL could change to a winger if Mike Babcock deems it necessary.
Aaltonen is less likely to make the Leafs out of the gate next season and may find himself back in the AHL to develop further.
But with an upturn in offensive output it is reasonable to expect Aaltonen to at least be given an audition at some stage next season, be it early on or towards the end.
With the Leafs potentially losing three of their current NHL centres in Bozak, Plekanec and Moore, Aaltonen could become a necessity in the long-term of the team.
Bozak should remain with the Leaf, but Plekanec will most definitely head back to Montreal and Moore’s production hasn’t lived up to expectations.
A future centre that could step in on the third line, however, could be a nice, cheap luxury for a Leafs team that will see top players earn big contracts over the next couple of years.
Liljegren is the top prospect in the Leafs’ system at present and is the youngest player on the Marlies by two years.
He was once rated the second-best prospect in last year’s draft but his stock fell due to him catching mono and missing significant playing time.
Dropping to the Leafs at 17 was a delight for fans and management alike as they see him destined for the NHL sooner rather than later.
He is developing his game well in the AHL, paired alongside Andrew Nielsen most of the time.
His chance to shine will come in the pre-season, where he can show what a year in the AHL has done for him and persuade management to give him a trial run at the start of the NHL campaign.
Given his injury history, however, the Leafs management will take things cautiously and will likely send him back to AHL for further development rather than rush their star prospect.
With the Leafs struggling on defence for many years, however, Liljegren could find himself with a spot on the Leafs come the end of next season if his development continues in the desired manner.