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Leafs see prospects' AHL experience as invaluable

by Dan Rosen
TORONTO -- While the Maple Leafs stare down the prospect of their seventh straight silent spring, their baby club that plays just down the road is preparing to go to the Calder Cup Playoffs.
To Brian Burke, Dave Nonis, Dave Poulin and the rest of Toronto's braintrust, a Marlies playoff run is a worthwhile consolation prize if the Leafs fall short of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"We want our players to experience AHL playoff success. We think that augers well for them in the future," Burke said. "I've told people this before, the miracle in Anaheim (in 2007) wasn't just that we won a Cup, we played in 14 playoff rounds in three years between the two teams. The big club played in eight and the American League team, the Portland Pirates, played in six. These were vital stepping stones for that franchise."


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The Marlies haven't been to the AHL playoffs since 2009, when they were knocked out in six games, but under coach Dallas Eakins they're currently second in the AHL's Western Conference. Burke even made sure to keep Jake Gardiner and Matt Frattin eligible for the AHL playoffs by sending them down to the Marlies so they would be on the team's clear day roster before recalling them in time to be back in the Leafs lineup.
Gardiner and Frattin are now among the 22 players eligible to play for the Marlies in the Calder Cup Playoffs. Joe Colborne, Nazem Kadri, Jesse Blacker, Jerry D'Amigo, Nicholas Deschamps and Korbinian Holzer are also on that list. They are the guys Poulin, the Leafs' V.P. of Hockey Operations, identifies as the organization's prospects closest to being NHL ready.
"Look at the Binghamton Senators," Poulin told, referencing Ottawa's AHL club that won the Calder Cup last season. "Colin Greening, Erik Condra, Zack Smith, Jared Cowen, Robin Lehner, Bobby Butler, (Kaspars) Daugavins -- go through how many of those kids played huge roles down there and won the championship. I think it speaks for itself. I think it speaks directly to what we want to do."
It has always been part of Burke's plan to have the Marlies in line with everything the Leafs are doing. The two organizations not only share owners and a practice facility, they basically share a brain.
That the Marlies may be a step or two ahead of the Maple Leafs is notable because it means the prospects that could wear the blue and white down the road, or could at least be used in trades, are getting invaluable experience.
"You'd love to accelerate the process, but you can't accelerate the aging process," Poulin said. "Do I think some of these kids are going to play here? I know some of them are, but they're not quite ready. In an imperfect world we would have rushed them, had them up here now, but to what good?"
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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