The Toronto Marlies Will be Fine With Kapanen, Nylander at World Juniors

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For most of this season, the Toronto Maple Leafs have been content to just leave their farm team alone. This has suited the Toronto Marlies just fine, as they have started the season with an AHL best 21-5-2 record and are four points into first place.

The lack of call ups has been unsurprising with Mike Babcock in charge, who with the Red Wings was known for his philosophy of over-developing prospects, rather than risking their underdevelopment. This means the Marlies have kept their best all year.

That hands off approach ended this month, albeit by necessity. Injuries and poor play from the big club sent the Marlies goaltending into a blender: Garret Sparks was called up, Jonathan Bernier was sent down, Antoine Bibeau was called up and then sent down, Bernier was called back up.

Now it’s the Marlies forward group that is about to take a hit, this time not due to the big club but instead the World Junior Championships. AHL leading scorer William Nylander will be leaving to join Sweden while Kasperi Kapanen is joining Finland.

The Toronto Marlies Will be Fine With Kapanen, Nylander at World Juniors

Missing Nylander will be the biggest story, just as he has been all year for the Marlies. The 19-year-old has looked significantly better than his competition through 26 games, during which time he has scored 14 goals and 34 points.

Kapanen, on the other hand, has had an up and down season after returning from injury. But with five goals and 10 points in 17 games he has still be respectable most nights, and dominant on others.

On most teams, missing two players of this calibre for a possible nine games could be damaging to the momentum and chemistry that has been built all year. But don’t count on it with the Marlies.

This team hasn’t just been beating opponents this year, they have been destroying them. In 28 games the Marlies have scored 109 goals, while only allowing 68. That means their average game this season is a 4-2 win, in other words goals to spare.

Those goals are coming from everywhere, not just Nylander and to a lesser degree Kapanen. The Marlies have three other players in the league’s top 20 scorers: Josh Leivo sits in 12th with 24 points, T.J. Brennan sits in 14th with 23 points and Richard Panik sits in 19th with 22 points.

That’s far from the end either. Excluding Nylander and Kapanen the Marlies have six players on pace for 20 -seasons. Those same players will only get more ice time in favourable situations with the European duo gone.

It’s going to take a lot more than the World Juniors to derail the Marlies, and the developmental possibilities of the tournament outweighs the risk, anyways. It’s billed as the tournament where stars are born, and has consistently lived up to that hype.

How Nylander fairs at the tournament should be interesting. This season he has shown himself to largely be too good to stay at the AHL level for long, meaning that the World Juniors should be a breeze for him.

Should is the key phrase here, as it is worth remembering that not only will the opponents be a step down for Nylander, the teammates will be as well. This is what Ryan Nugent-Hopkins learned during the 2013 tournament. It will be interesting to see if Nylander has a similar fate.

This may have been why the Leafs took a while to consider whether or not they were going to send Nylander, but it wasn’t a mistake. Regardless of his point totals he will get an opportunity to be a leader that he wouldn’t have otherwise been presented having played in men’s leagues for most of his career.

For Kapanen, the upside to this tournament is obvious: it will give him an opportunity to remind him of his star potential. He hasn’t been bad for the Marlies this year, but he certainly hasn’t been consistent. This will give him a chance to shine.

So while the Marlies may have debated keeping their talented young stars, sending them to World Juniors was the right choice. Their absence will be noted, but not all that noticeable as the Marlies will continue to roll.

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