With the Toronto Maple Leafs not playing due to the NHL lockout, there is an excellent opportunity for the Toronto Marlies to build upon last season's success. Players that were with the Marlies will continue to develop, but there are players that played with the Leafs last season that are getting a chance to play this season.
With the Marlies now a successful team in the AHL with no reason to believe they will take a step back, the future of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks pretty good.
The reasons why this season for the Toronto Marlies could be a precursor to the Leafs future are actually the players that have the best chance at being impact Leafs for a long time.
Here are 13 players that will give Leaf fans hope as they watch the Marlies this season.
2011-12 Marlies Stats: 48 games played, 18 goals, 22 assists, 40 points
It's always a question at the beginning of the season of whether Nazem Kadri will make the Leafs roster out of training camp. This year, that question can't be asked because training camp isn't happening.
A lot is expected out of Kadri and he spent the off-season working with former Leaf Gary Roberts, so hopefully he takes what he learned and uses it well.
If Kadri can emerge as a leader on the Marlies team, he might finally fulfill his potential and stay with the Leafs whenever they start playing again.
2011-12 Marlies Stats: 65 games played, 16 goals, 23 assists, 39 points
Acquired in the Tomas Kaberle trade, Joe Colborne has developed at a slow pace. Drafted in 2008, it's about time that Colborne breaks out in the AHL so that he can be viewed as a viable call-up for the Leafs this season.
Colborne had a great start to the 2011-12 season but his production tailed off because of an injury that limited his effectiveness. The Leafs are hoping that he can maintain that early production for an entire season.
2011-12 Marlies Stats: 76 games played, 15 goals, 26 assists, 41 points
After a disappointing first season last year with the Marlies, one which saw him sent down to the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL, Jerry D'Amigo stuck with the Marlies last season.
He broke out in the Marlies playoff run, giving hope to the Leafs fans that had lost faith in him. If he can continue to play that way this season, there will be an even bigger question as to how he lasted to the sixth round of the draft.
D'Amigo is a dark horse call-up for Toronto if someone on the third line goes down.
2011-12 OHL Stats: 65 games played, 31 goals, 44 assists, 75 points
If Greg McKegg makes the Marlies roster, he could skyrocket up the Leafs' prospect depth chart. He has done enough in the OHL to validate a spot in the AHL.
He now needs the test of playing pro hockey, and if he can produce anywhere close to what he did with the Erie Otters and London Knights, the Leafs will have a steal of a third round pick.
2011-12 Marlies Stats: 7 games played, 2 goals, 1 assist, 3 points
Acquired at the trade deadline last season, Carter Ashton didn't do very much in his trial with the Leafs.
The Leafs believed in Ashton enough to give up Keith Aulie, so he will be given every shot to become a meaningful part of the Leafs lineup. It might not be this year, but in a couple of years, Ashton could be a big part of the Leafs.
2011-12 Marlies Stats: 3 games played, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point
Signed late last season out of college, Spencer Abbott didn't play very much for the Marlies.
That should change this year. If the Leafs are to find out what they have in Abbott, he has to be given the chance to make an impact with the Marlies.
Abbott definitely has potential, whether that potential can lead him to the NHL could be decided this season.
2011-12 KHL Stats: 46 games played, 11 goals, 13 assists, 24 points
Leo Komarov crossed the Atlantic in the offseason after playing in the KHL the past few years. Komarov was expected to challenge for a spot on the Leafs fourth line as an agitator, but with the lockout, is now playing in the AHL.
If Komarov can use this time with the Marlies well and get used to the North American ice surface, he should be even better prepared when he does get called up to the Leafs.
2011-12 Leafs Stats: 75 games played, 7 goals, 23 assists, 30 points
Jake Gardiner was all set to build on his rookie season and unfortunately the lockout is keeping him from doing that. Now, he will be the defensive leader on the Marlies team, waiting for the call that the lockout has ended.
2011-12 Marlies Stats: 67 games played, 1 goal, 19 assists, 20 points
Another player that was ready to graduate to the NHL, Korbinian Holzer will have to continue developing with the Marlies. Leafs management believes he is ready to be on the Leafs roster, so he will be expected to continue to develop and become better for when he does eventually get called up.
2011-12 Marlies Stats: 58 games played, 1 goal, 15 assists, 16 points
If Holzer falters, there is a chance that Jesse Blacker will be right behind him fighting for that call-up. Drafted in 2009, Blacker is another player taking slightly longer to develop.
He should be ready to make the Leafs roster full time for the 2013-14 season if he doesn't break in this season.
2011-12 Marlies Stats: 39 games played, 22 wins, 2.04 GAA, .926 SV%
After leading the Marlies to the Calder Cup finals last season, he was all set to take over the backup goaltender position and even challenge James Reimer for the starting position. With his new contract being two-way for the first year, Scrivens gets the chance to play during the lockout.
2011-12 Marlies Stats: 22 games played, 11 wins, 2.55 GAA, .910 SV %
Jussi Rynnas got his first taste of the NHL last season because of injuries. Now, he will continue developing with the Marlies because he is at least another season or two away from being ready for the NHL full time.
As long as Scrivens is playing with the Marlies, Rynnas will be forced into the backup position. As soon as the lockout ends, Rynnas will take over the starting position and see if he can do the same thing Scrivens did.
Rynnas definitely has the potential to be the Leafs' starter one day. This season could determine how long it will take.
2011-12 Marlies Stats: 19 games played, 11 wins, 1.94 GAA, .929 SV%
Mark Owuya draws the short straw with Scrivens being down with the Marlies. While he might get the odd start with all three goalies with the Marlies, Owuya will be sitting in the press box for a good portion of the start of the season.
Still known more for his rapping than his goaltending skills in Toronto, Owuya will hopefully find a place in the ECHL so he can continue to develop.