While many AHL camps have gotten underway in recent days largely with the early cuts from their NHL affiliates and ECHL hopefuls as “campers”, the Toronto Marlies drew some attention today when they announced a 40-man initial roster featuring several familiar names.
Among the many in attendance are NHL veterans Jordan Caron, Brandon Gormley, Matt Hackett, and Mackenzie Skapski. Caron and Gormley are especially interesting as past first-round picks, while Hackett and Skapski are two of the very few remaining free agent goaltenders on the market. All four players have value in their own right, yet end up not on NHL contracts, or in NHL camps, or even on AHL contracts. Why?
Skapski may be the easiest to explain. After two impressive spot starts at the young age of 21 with the New York Rangers in 2014-15, Skapski’s career has been in free fall. The next year, Skapski posted a 3.00+ GAA and nearly a .900 save percentage in the AHL and ECHL. Those numbers continued to plummet this past season, with Skapski making 13 rough starts in the AHL and spending the majority of the season in the ECHL.
The once-promising Hackett also made his NHL debut at 21 years old with the Minnesota Wild back in 2011-12. Hackett made 12 appearances with the Wild in his rookie season and had an impressive 2.37 GAA and .922 save percentage. While that level of performance was unsustainable, Hackett continued to make a living as a backup or third-string option for the Wild and Buffalo Sabres for years, before taking on more of an AHL depth role for the Anaheim Ducks since 2015. However, too much depth in net, as well as injury issues, limited Hackett to only seven starts last season, in which he was less than spectacular. More of an unknown commodity now than the future-starter tag from years ago, Hackett needs to prove himself once again at the pro level.
Gormley, the 13th overall pick in 2010 by the Arizona Coyotes, has not had the career expected of him when he was selected before fellow defensemen like Derek Forbort, Mark Pysyk, and Justin Faulk early in the draft. Gormley has just 58 games of NHL experience and has not played at the highest level since midway through the 2015-16 season. However, Gormley had been a productive AHLer, with 75 points, more than half a point per game, through his first three pro seasons. In the past two seasons? Only 21 points in 91 games. With the points disappearing, Gormley faces the possibility that his career could be coming to an end soon at just 25 years old. Gormley could use a big camp to keep that from coming to fruition.
Caron is probably the most notable player in any AHL camp on a tryout basis, not just the Marlies’, as the Boston Bruins’ 2009 first-rounder was a “black ace” call-up by the St. Louis Blues mere months ago. While Caron has the appearance of having stuck around the NHL, in actuality he has only played in four NHL games since the end of the 2014-15 season. Nevertheless, the 6’3″, 205-lb. power forward is still a veteran of over 150 NHL games and has shown flashes of ability from time to time. If any of these four player can make the Marlies – and make a difference – it is Caron.