The Toronto Marlies added two players to their roster this afternoon, announcing the signings of Joshua Kestner and Darian Plouffe to Amateur Tryout deals. The two signings had been gossiped about for several days within their own local circles, but finally became known to their new markets today.
Kestner’s background is interesting before you get to his hockey play; he’s a unique case of an Alabama-born player finding his way into getting noticed through playing in Junior B in Canada, only to end up getting his NCAA commitment extremely close to home, playing his four years of college hockey at the University of Alabama-Huntsville. There, he has steadily improved with each season, culminating with a 24 goal, 32 point season that saw him end up a shade under a point per game.
Kestner, a 24-year-old forward, has a bit of size to him, resting at 6’1, 180 lbs. His success this year led to him leading the WCHA conference in goals, and earned him Second All-Star team honours within the conference.
As far as odds of future success go, he’s not someone who projects extremely well, though maybe there is some hope. Looking at the history of Alabama’s program doesn’t show a lot of translated success: players who had better single-seasons than Kestner in the NCAA mostly moved on from hockey shortly afterwards, with some stringing together some seasons at the ECHL, CHL (former), and SPHL levels. The most successful graduate of the program is likely Jared Ross, who had three point-per-game seasons with at Alabama-Huntsville before stringing together an 11-year pro career, which involved 13 NHL games, 394 games in the AHL and 224 in Germany.
|2013-14||18||Kanata / Smiths Falls||CCHL||36||17||31||48||16.4||22|
Plouffe is a similar longshot-by-numbers. The comes to the Marlies from a bit more of a local rooting, having played at Buffalo’s Niagara University for the past few years, and having played his minor hockey and Junior A hockey in the Ottawa region. A native of Nepean, Ontario, the 23-year-old comes in a little bit smaller yet stockier than Kestner at 5’10, 187lbs.
What is likely most endearing about Plouffe is the comeback story he’s gone through over the past year and change. As you’ll see above, he missed most of 2016/17, but the circumstances of how that happened are on the scarier side. Plouffe fractured his skull when an errant deflection hit him in a sweet spot along the side of his head during a Niagara practice. After three days of intensive care and a month in a wheelchair, Plouffe went back to work on regaining his ability to play again. He eventually worked his way back to skating, got cleared for contact, made it back into the lineup for this season, became Niagara’s captain, and wrapped up his year with a point-per-game season. Plouffe had plans of attempting to return for one more season under the red-shirt injury exemption but missed the cutoff by one game.
Plouffe just turned 23 in mid-January, so he’s still on the younger side as far as graduates go. The spike in numbers, especially with the knowledge that he is, in many ways, still working to catch up to nearly a year of lost development, gives one reason for optimism that there could be some upside to him.
All the same, his conference (AHC) is significantly off-the-map as far as top prospect development goes, so much so that equivalency data doesn’t exist (the above numbers used the weakest other conference available). The top 30 scoring season’s in the school’s history have come from players who have combined for just one NHL game played, belonging to Sean Bentivoglio in 2008/09. Former Marlies forward Matt Caruana also appears on that list of 30; after three point-per-game seasons at Niagara, Caruana landed in a few different spots before playing 47 games for the Marlies in 2011 and 2012, and was out of hockey by 2014, at the Age of 29.
With all of this said, this doesn’t completely rule out either player from finding success; 23/24 is just enough time for a professional group to take a look and see if there’s anything there, and both Kestner’s ability to bury goals this year and Plouffe’s road to recovery and production lead you thinking there might be a chance there. Signing them to Amateur Tryouts is probably the best and most calculated risk for both themselves and the organization; Toronto avoids inching towards the NHL contract limit that they just recently ducked out of, they get some extra bodies and a chance to see if they can help, while the players get to stick their toes in the proverbial water and see if they feel able to compete with the others on Toronto’s depth chart.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the games played for this duo are few, perhaps only occurring once Toronto’s spot in the North Division standings is locked in, or if several injuries/call-ups happen at once. But, with them being as unknown quantities as they are, it’s definitely possible that they can find a way to sneak in sooner.---
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