With all the talk surrounding the NHL calibre talent on AHL rosters this fall due to the national league’s lockout, one Toronto Marlies forward is flying under the radar.
Mike Zigomanis has seemingly been lost in the commotion of having skaters Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner, Korbinian Holzer, eventually Matt Frattin and goaltender Ben Scrivens in the Marlies’ lineup, many of whom will challenge for spots with the big club when the labour dispute ends.
The simple fact is, despite all the incoming talent both from the NHL and CHL ranks, Zigomanis will again need to play a major role for the Marlies if they wish to repeat their successes of last season.
Throughout his time with the blue and white, Zigomanis has always seemed as if he was just on the edge of stepping into the NHL and playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs in a bottom-six role. In fact, no other player, aside from Kadri perhaps, has had as many minutes of Coach’s Corner devoted to his ability to help the Leafs than Zigomanis.
However, when general manager Brian Burke traded for six-foot-six pivot David Steckel last October, the writing seemed to be on the wall for the Marlies centre iceman. The signing of Jay McClement in July only further cemented the fact that Zigomanis, barring a slew of injuries to the big club, is destined to ride the bus for the remainder of his time with the Leafs organization. But what may be a roadblock for the 31-year-old’s NHL potential is definitely a positive for the organization’s Calder Cup aspirations.
As he was last year, Mike Zigomanis will be counted on in more ways than one if the Marlies hope to recreate their deep playoff run this season. First and foremost, the Toronto native will be looked at to provide leadership to a relatively young Marlies team. Young centres Kadri and Joe Colborne would be wise to take notes from the veteran minor leaguer on how to approach the pro game and endure a long season, in addition to learning the intricacies of the position they both hope to one day play on Air Canada Centre ice.
As well, with the emergence of draftees Brad Ross and Greg McKegg, Zigomanis will be counted on to assist captain Ryan Hamilton in breaking the young men into professional hockey both on and off the ice. One thing that is often forgotten about is that Zigomanis, while spending the majority of his career thus far in the minor leagues, does have nearly 200 games of NHL experience. That experience is undoubtedly the currency with the most value when trying to guide young and impressionable players.
Leadership is key, no doubt, but at this point in his career, Zigomanis cannot rely solely on guiding the youth of the Marlies. Beyond his leadership and veteran presence, the six-foot, 200 pound swing man will be counted on to provide some offence as well.
In 68 games with the Marlies last year, Zigomanis recorded 61 points and a plus-11 rating. That same type of solid two-way play will be a great asset for coach Dallas Eakins, providing some stability at the centre ice position that is otherwise filled with young, developing and sometimes mistake-prone players. His ability to win faceoffs and produce on both the power play and penalty kill will be a big key to the Marlies once again winning the Western Division and competing for another shot at the Calder Cup Final.
Having been swept at the hands of the Norfolk Admirals in last year’s final, the argument could be made that with a few less injuries, including that of Zigomanis’, the Marlies may have been in line to pull off an upset to capture their first Calder Cup. Now, with a team that, on paper, is undeniably improved over last year’s squad, Mike Zigomanis will once again be a main cog in their championship aspirations, even without the hype of some of his peers.