Toronto Maple Leafs: Playoff exit boosts Marlies’ Calder aspirations

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 17: Andreas Johnsson
TORONTO, ON - MARCH 17: Andreas Johnsson /

While the Toronto Maple Leafs crashed and burned in Game 7 against Boston, some of their young talents can still continue their seasons in the AHL.

Let’s put this bluntly. There are no positives to take away from the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Game 7 defeat at the hands of the Boston Bruins.

The team went into the third period looking to hold a one-goal lead. However,  they ended the game searching for answers as to how a four-goal swing by the opposition led to the end of their season.

Now, the Leafs have more questions to address in the offseason, as several key players likely will be leaving via free-agency. Not to mention the defensive issues that now need to be addressed through signings and trade.

One team did benefit from the Leafs first-round exit, however. That team is the Toronto Marlies.

The AHL-best Marlies quickly jumped out to a 2-0 series lead on the Utica Comets. They had the chance to close out the series on Wednesday, but dropped Game 3 by a 5-2 score.

With Game 4 of the five-game series coming up on Friday, there’s a chance the Marlies could boast arguably their strongest lineup of the entire season.

Kasperi Kapanen, Travis Dermott and Andreas Johnsson will almost certainly join the team to help make a push for the Calder Cup, following the end of their respective NHL campaigns.

Both Kapanen and Dermott will return to the AHL following lengthy stints in the NHL with the Leafs. Following the NHL trade deadline, the pair were involved in a paper transaction which made them eligible for the AHL playoffs. Johnsson was still on the Marlies when this transaction took place, so he is also eligible.

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All three players are waiver exempt.

Kapanen joined the team at the tail-end of October and played three games before being sent back down. He would come back up for another short stint in December before coming up for good in late-January.

Through 38 games this season, Kapanen had seven goals and nine points while averaging 11:15 in ice time on the Leafs fourth line.

The Finnish speedster fared significantly better in the AHL this season. In 28 games with the Marlies, Kapanen had 12 goals to go along with as many assists, while playing on the top line.

Sheldon Keefe played Kapanen on the penalty kill as well, which came in handy several times with the Leafs during the playoffs. The winger just missed on a few shorthanded opportunities before potting one of the biggest goals of his young career in Game 7.

When he returns to the Marlies, Kapanen will once again assume a position on the top line, where he will be able to be a top producer.

**Editor’s Note: Kapanen has announced that he will play for Finland at the World Championship**

Dermott played just a game less than Kapanen this season. But his stint with the big club started after the New Year.

While he secured his first career NHL point with an assist in his debut, Dermott didn’t find the back of the net until his ninth game.

Dermott also added an assist in that contest. However, that would be the last marker he would get in the regular season. Dermott finished the year with 13 points in 37 games.

With the Marlies, Dermott spent a good amount of time with 2017 first-rounder Timothy Liljegren, creating one of the more exciting young defensive pairings in hockey.

It would be interesting to see the two together upon Dermott going back down. Seeing what he has accomplished in the NHL this year, he should be able to anchor the blueline for the Marlies.

For Johnsson, he’ll be looking to continue his solid AHL campaign by piling on some more point in the playoffs.

If he stuck with the Marlies all season, chances are he would have ended the year as the team leader in scoring. But due to his stellar play, there was no choice but to give the Swede a shot with the Maple Leafs.

Through 54 games, Johnsson tallied as many points, with 26 goals and 28 assists to his name. He quickly became the Marlies’ top scoring threat on a line with Ben Smith.

In his nine regular-season games in the NHL, Johnsson managed three points. It only took him two games to bury his first career goal, which came against Montreal.

It’s more than likely that the first line will consist of both Johnsson and Kapanen. The pair played together down the stretch and were effective at driving offence and bringing reliability at both ends of the ice.

While all three of these individuals will now be set to wreak havoc on the AHL playoffs, it will also likely be the last significant time any of them spend with the Marlies again.

With the Leafs having several openings on the roster up for grabs, the Marlies will see more turnover as many of their top players vie for NHL positions.

With Kapanen, Dermott and Johnsson playing major roles in the playoffs, they are the main candidates to be replacements.

The Marlies already have a wealth of talent in their lineup. With Carl Grunstrom and Pierre Engvall coming over from Sweden on amateur-tryouts, along with a solid defensive core and the best goaltending duo in the league, the Marlies look poised to make another deep run.

Next: The evolution of Tomas Plekanec

With the help of these send-downs, we could see the Marlies make the Calder Cup final for the first time since 2012. Regardless of the Leafs’ exit from the NHL playoffs, these are exciting times for hockey fans in Toronto.