Marlies restock prospect cupboards with four signings

In a time where there is so much uncertainty around the very status of the sport, the Maple Leafs organization continues to navigate it’s depth chart like it’s business as usual. In a sense, it is – hockey will be there for us eventually, and when that happens, you want to be prepared, and you want the players you’re bringing in to have a feeling of security heading into wherever the future places us.

That all goes to say, the Toronto Marlies have restocked on prospects over the weekend. The Leafs’ AHL affiliate announced the signing of two NCAA captains in Bobby McMann and Gordie Green on Thursday, and Major Junior prospects Noel Hoefenmayer and Jeremy McKenna on Saturday. All four players were signed to two-year contracts.

McMann, a 23-year-old centre from Wainwright, Alberta, played his junior hockey in the AJHL (Junior A in the CJHL umbrella), putting up 129 points in 152 games with the Bonnyville Pontiacs and earning himself a commitment to Colgate University. In his final season with Bonnyville, he was named the MVP of the AJHL and won gold with Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge. At Colgate, he was named to the ECAC Third All-Star Team in 2018/19 and produced 92 points in 145 games, becoming an alternate captain in his junior year and wearing the C this season.

Elite Prospects’ in-profile description of him is as follows:

A big-bodied all-around forward that has good offensive instincts and excellent positional awareness during unfolding plays. Plays a power game and drives the net hard. Fluid skater that has room to improve near the top of his acceleration to become more explosive. His maturity, character, and willingness to do what it takes to win is embodied by his humility in taking the time to improve upon and learn all aspects of multiple roles. Explosive shot release and proficient puckhandling ability. Huge potential as an effective two-way forward with skill.

Green, who carries one of the most stereotypical Canadian hockey names you can think of, is actually from Ann Arbor, Michigan, and has spent his entire career up to this point in the American system, playing his youth hockey for the famous Compuware program before moving to the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL in his later teens, putting up 60 points in 121 games. His efforts earned him a commitment to the University of Miami (Ohio), where he’s been an even more efficient point-producer than McMann, scoring 115 points in 145 games, including two seasons in the point-per-game range. Green was named to the NCHC’s Second All-Star Team this season.

Both players have auditioned at the NHL level in the past. McMann has attended development camps with Buffalo, Columbus, and Calgary, and Green with Carolina. Green, a right-winger, ist he smaller of the two at 5’8, 172, while the slightly older McMann stands at 6’1, 203.

Toronto’s Saturday signings out of Major Junior are likely the most exciting out of the pile. McKenna a right-winger from Canmore, Alberta, stands at 5’10 and weighs in at 174 pounds, and turns 21 in two weeks. He’s spent the last four years playing for the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL, not showing much in his draft year with 26 points and a -38 rating in 66 games, but stepping up with 256 points in 195 games since, including 82 in 57 this season. I asked Friend of the Blog and EliteProspects editor-in-chief JD Burke how he felt about McKenna, and he had this to say:

I’m not as familiar with McKenna’s game as I am Hoefenmayer’s, but he’s hardly foreign to me as a player. He’s played a lot alongside Jakob Pelletier in Moncton, and done a lot of damage offensively in that position, too. Unlike Hoefenmayer, skating is one of McKenna’s strengths. I’m not as sold on his offensive instincts or creativity though. Granted, there’s no risk with this move, and again, it’s value added to the Leafs organization.

As alluded to by Burke, Hoefenmayer appears to be the cream of this crop of four. Originally drafted by the Arizona Coyotes 108th overall in 2017, the 21-year-old defenceman was developed locally, playing his Minor Midget season with Nick Robertson’s brother Jason on the Don Mills Flyers and led the team in scoring. From there, he took a slow burn through the OHL, picking up just five points in his rookie year but upping the ante to 40 in his draft year, establishing himself as an offensive threat on the blue line at that level. Hoefenmayer finished his final season of junior eligibility this season with an absurd 82 points in 58 games from the blue line, including 58 goals and a +52 rating. Burke had this to say about him:

That Noel Hoefenmayer made it to CHL free agency at all was a bit of a surprise, never mind the fact that he signed an AHL contract. The Coyotes took him in the fourth-round back in 2017, and I thought he was a shoo-in for an entry-level contract. They passed, and so did the Carolina Hurricanes after bringing them to a development camp. The big knock on Hoefenmayer has always been his skating, and that’s doubtless the reason that he was available to the Leafs in the first place. Still, he brings a unique step-in slap shot with a lot of pop and is a sneaky good playmaker in the offensive zone. He’s grown to be a fairly reliable defender, too. His skating is probably at a below average level compared to most NHLers, but the Leafs have a strong track record of fixing that. Overall, I love this move for the Leafs organization.

At the end of the day, none of these signings are expected to be make-or-break for the Leafs organization, as shown by the fact that they’ve opted for AHL deals, rather than committing contract spots to hold their NHL rights. But there is a degree of upside here, and the Leafs felt the pains of being overloaded with bubble-aged talents at the development level this year, as the Marlies struggled to take their usual form this year. While having the right veterans isn’t a bad thing, you want to maintain a pipeline of youthful lottery tickets – both for your odds of developing an NHL player, and to promote buy-in and internal competition. It also allows for flexibility with the Newfoundland Growlers, as the Leafs continue to push the three-tier model in a way that no NHL organization has previously attempted.

Truly, these are all “we’ll see” bets, with Hoefenmayer being the most curious. The optimism comes out of respect for good process, which appears to be at play here.

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