Envision this scenario for a second.
You are a young, talented prospect with NHL aspirations. You have logged a notable amount of games in the NHL yet you still haven’t quite proven you can be an every day asset to your team. With a new season ahead, you have worked hard during the off-season and you itch with anticipation as training camp begins. September arrives and NHL hockey is nowhere to be found. You must then stay in the minors for an indefinite amount of time while the rest of the hockey world waits with you. What could this mean for you and your career?
There are a few Toronto Maple Leafs players who fit this bill. The following NHL statistics from last season will be beside each player’s name in the following order for reference: game played, goals, assists, points, plus/minus.
Jake Gardiner (75-7-23-30-[-2])
Even though he’s a very young (22 years old) and has only 106 total games of pro hockey experience, fans are getting excited about Jake Gardiner.
This dynamic blue-liner has shown the ability to perform in both clutch offensive and defensive situations while maintaining unnaturally good poise for a player of his age. He is also an extremely talented skater which helps his recovery and limits the attention placed on the small flaws of his game.
As all young players do, however, Gardiner is prone to make the odd mistake whether it be a bad pass or holding onto the puck for too long. The future looks bright and some time in the AHL will help turn Gardiner’s raw talent into more complete skill. All his game needs is a bit of maturation and professional experience before he can be more of an asset than he already has been to the Maple Leafs’ blue line.
This lockout will force Gardiner to spend some time in the minors instead of the NHL and will only benefit him as a player in the future.
Matt Frattin (56-8-7-15-[-4])
An explosive 36-goal scorer joining the Leafs through the NCAA route, Matt Frattin has shown a few flashes of offensive flair.
The biggest stand-out to his game is his poised puck handling to compliment his good shot release. Frattin seems to also have a pretty good nose for the net; his vision showed this season. When Kulemin was struggling, Frattin was placed on a line from time to time with Clarke MacArthur and Mikhail Grabovski. Although it was clear that he was still a bit raw in terms of his player status, Frattin didn’t look out of place on most nights.
While showing some good promise at the NHL level this season, I feel this lockout does nothing but benefit his player development. Similarly to Gardiner, Frattin has not accrued many professional hockey games and could definitely work on being stronger on the puck.
This extended AHL period can also really build up Frattin’s confidence as it did when he managed 10 goals in 13 games last season for the Toronto Marlies during the AHL playoffs. With that being said, he is coming off injury and will probably need some time to re-adjust before hitting that mid-season form he had from that last AHL post-season.
Nazem Kadri (21-5-2-7-2)
As probably the most talked about prospect in the Leafs’ system since arriving in Toronto as a teenager, it has been anything but a smooth ride for Nazem Kadri.
Coming into this season, many were saying that this would be the last season the Leafs would give Kadri the chance to crack a permanent spot on their roster. With the NHL on delay, Kadri has even more time to develop into that quality player we all thought he would turn out to be.
Some would debate that Kadri never flourished because the Leafs have never gave him a full-season sample. Others think he’s too lazy and this whole body fat scenario at training camp this year has not helped his cause.
As one of the best players on the Marlies over the past two seasons, some would say his minor league development should be complete by now. What people forget is that he is still just 21 years old. Time in the AHL can only benefit Kadri at this point because it will build his confidence.
I personally think that might be the most important factor influencing Kadri’s play throughout his time playing pro. If he has a better player in him, now would be the time to show it. When the season begins again, it will be up to his mental toughness to decide if he can handle the rigours of the NHL or not.
Carter Ashton (15-0-0-0-[-10])
Acquired in a trade for Keith Aulie with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Carter Ashton was a late first round pick whom many have high hopes for.
He has been made up to be a big, physical winger who is good down low and has some scoring touch. While Ashton looked like he was working hard in the Leafs’ lineup during his brief call-up last year, he is still noticeably raw and will do nothing but benefit from some time in the AHL.
While only playing 63 AHL games so far, Ashton has racked up a respectable 38 points. That being said, this also shows that he still has some room to grow before making the jump to the NHL.