By Stan Smith

The American Hockey League affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Toronto Marlies, are seven games into their 2023/24 season. I have access to all of their games and will be watching them and occasionally writing a report on how they are doing.

My goal is to report on them as the season progresses. The Marlies have a number of prospects who might soon find their way to the big club.

The Marlies Play So Far This Season

These Marlies have only lost one game in regulation so far and sport a record of 4-1-2. They are second in the standings in the North Division, two points behind the Rochester Americans who are 5-1-1.  

Alex Steeves, Nick Robertson, and Joseph Blandisi are all tied for the team lead in points with seven. Captain Logan Shaw is one point behind at six points.  

Steeves leads the team in goals scored with four, followed by Robertson with three. Blandisi, Shaw, Topi Niemela, and Bobby McMann have two goals each. McMann has only played three games due to an injury. Blandisi leads the team in assists with five. Robertson, Shaw, and Max Ellis each have four assists.

Niemela leads the defensemen in scoring with two goals and three assists for five points. Marshall Rifai is the only other defenseman with more than one point. He has two assists. 

The Marlies Goalie Situation

The Marlies are using a three-goalie rotation. Keith Petruzzelli has started three games, while Dennis Hildeby and Martin Jones have two starts each.

Hildeby leads in save percentage with 0.902 despite being the only goalie on the team without a win. Hildeby was the goalie in their only regulation defeat, 3-2 to the Charlotte Checkers, and an overtime 2-1 loss to the Belleville Senators. Jones has won both his starts despite having a slightly lower Save Percentage (0.897%) than Hildeby. Petruzzelli’s save pecentage is 0.886. He has two wins and an overtime loss.

Jones has the best goals-against-average at 2.00. Hildeby’s goals-against-average is 2.53, while Petruzzelli’s is 3.22. 

The Marlies Are a Strong Team This Season

I’ve been watching the games and I have been impressed with the team’s play. They have controlled the play for the majority of the games I have watched. They play a similar puck-possession game to the parent team (the Maple Leafs) but seem to have a solid defensive structure. All the forwards are committed to supporting the defensemen. I wish there were more stats available but as far as I can see the AHL and the Marlies only provide basic player statistics. 

By the eye test, Robertson and Steeves have been the most dynamic forwards on the team. Blandisi, while not quite as talented as Robertson and Steeves, plays an agitator style of game similar to what Michael Bunting did when he was with the Maple Leafs. 

I wasn’t surprised when William Lagesson got the call-up when Jake McCabe was injured. Lagesson was a steady defensive presence on the Marlies’ blue line in the five games he played. The Marlies carry nine defensemen. They play them in a rotation with each player having to sit an occasional game.  

Niemela’s offensive strengths are obvious. He is quite at home patrolling the point at five-on-five and while quarterbacking the power play. Like a lot of offensive defensemen, Niemela does need work on the defensive end of things.

Mikki Kokkonen has carried his excellent training camp with the Maple Leafs back to the AHL with him.  He has not played a flashy game but has been steady both with and without the puck. It would not surprise me to see Kokkonen get some games in with the Maple Leafs at some point this season. 

What’s Next for the Marlies?

The Marlies played their first five games at home. They are presently on a seven-game road trip. They played two games in Belleville last weekend losing a 2-1 overtime game they should have won and winning 4-3 in a shootout. 

This coming weekend the travel to Laval to take on the 1-5-1 Laval Rocket on Friday and Saturday. 

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