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Prospects raise NHL stock with Calder Cup performances

McKenzie, L'Esperance among top players in American Hockey League playoffs

by Patrick Williams / Correspondent

TORONTO -- The Calder Cup Finals are going to Game 7 for the first time in 15 seasons.

Texas (Dallas Stars) stayed alive with a 5-2 win in Game 6 at Toronto (Toronto Maple Leafs) on Tuesday. The American Hockey League championship series is tied 3-3.

Game 7 is in Toronto on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN2). 

Here is a look at six players from each team who have raised their NHL stock through four rounds of playoff competition:


Curtis McKenzie

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound forward has a league-leading 11 playoff goals, including four against Toronto. While not the most mobile, the Texas captain shows a knack for being near the puck, providing puck support to Travis Morin and Justin Dowling on the top line, and plays an all-out emotional style.

In his fifth pro season after Dallas selected him in the sixth round (No. 159) of the 2009 NHL Draft, McKenzie, 27, has played 99 regular-season NHL games, including 53 with Dallas in 2016-17. He has 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists) with Dallas. He has scored at least 24 goals in three different AHL seasons.

McKenzie played seven games for Dallas this season; he had 48 points (25 goals, 23 assists) in 51 regular-season games for Texas.

He can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.


Joel L'Esperance

One of the most effective players for Texas throughout the postseason is playing on an amateur tryout contract.

Texas signed L'Esperance near the end of the regular season, and he has made an impact as a center on the fourth line with Colin Markison and Austin Fyten.

L'Esperance, 22, played four seasons at Michigan Tech of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. He had 27 points (12 goals, 15 assists) in 44 games this season and helped to lead Michigan Tech to its second consecutive WCHA championship.

At 6-2, 205, he plays a mature and very physical style. He has four points (one goal, three assists) in 21 playoff games.

He is not signed for next season.


Sheldon Dries

Dries, 24, has 10 playoff goals, ranking him second in the AHL. His most recent goal came Tuesday in Game 6 with Toronto pressing to move within a goal. On the penalty kill, Dries broke loose and finished a breakaway that restored a three-goal lead.

Texas coach Derek Laxdal has trusted Dries (5-9, 180) with key responsibilities throughout the postseason. He had 30 points (19 goals, 11 assists) in 70 regular-season games as an AHL rookie. 

He is on an AHL-only contract.


Trevor Moore

Toronto's depth is unmatched in the AHL as exemplified by the fourth line with the 23-year-old Moore (5-10, 187).

Most fourth lines do not have a player with 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in 19 playoff games, putting Moore second on the team in playoff scoring. He had 33 points (12 goals, 21 assists) in 68 regular-season games in his second pro season.

Moore's game is aggressive and speedy, and it meshes well with the persistent forecheck utilized by Toronto.

Signed as a free agent after three seasons at the University of Denver, Moore has one more season to go on his three-year entry-level contract he signed on July 26, 2016.


Mason Marchment

Yet another undrafted player for Toronto, Marchment is part of the fourth line along with Moore and Adam Brooks.

Skating was one of the biggest knocks on Marchment, 23, but the Maple Leafs have been patient with him. His work with Maple Leafs skating coach Barb Underhill has paid off as he established himself as an AHL regular in his second pro season.

Better mobility has also allowed him to use his size (6-4, 204) more effectively. That size element offers something different to the group of fleet Toronto forwards.

The progress Marchment has shown prompted the Maple Leafs to sign him to a two-year entry-level contract on March 17.


Martin Marincin

With 177 NHL regular-season games, Marincin, 26, offers plenty of experience.

The defenseman was limited to 25 games last season with the Maple Leafs and landed in the AHL this season.

Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe has paired Marincin (6-5, 212) with offensive defenseman Justin Holl. Marincin acts as a steadying anchor and allows Holl to take more risks.

Marincin has seven points (one goal, six assists) in 19 playoff games. 

He is scheduled to become a restricted free agent July 1.

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