With the Toronto Maple Leafs set to enter the post season for the first time in many years there is a lot of uncertainty as to how members of this Leafs team will be able to perform once the intensity heats up. There are sixteen players (Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur, Nazem Kadri, Matt Frattin, Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov, Nikolai Kulemin, Joe Colborne, Ryan Hamilton, Frazer McLaren, Carl Gunnarsson, Jake Gardiner, Mark Fraser, Mike Kostka, James Reimer and Ben Scrivens) currently on the blue and white roster that have yet to experience the NHL playoffs. That is a staggering number and one that creates a little anxiety. A source for optimism could be found in the fact that many of those players were major players for the Toronto Marlies during their run to the Calder Cup Final last season (Kostka was also a major player for the Norfolk Admirals who eliminated the Marlies). Of course the NHL playoffs are dramatically different than the AHL playoffs, but I for one think the experience the current Leafs gained last spring will become a big factor in the near future.
When looking at that Marlies run the play of Frattin jumps out especially. Frattin was the main cog in Dallas Eakins’ Marlies machine during the first three rounds of the AHL playoffs. In 13 games Frattin registered 10 goals and 3 assists. His final goal clinched the Western Conference Final. On that play Frattin out-battled the opposing defenseman to bury the puck, only to crash into the net damaging his knee. The injury sustained on that play knocked the Marlies top player out for the final round and it was an injury that many believed ended all hope for the baby blue and white. Dominating their way to an 11-2 record through the first three rounds, Frattin was establishing himself as a player that was a cut above in the AHL. Despite not taking part in the Final, he still led all AHL players in goals scored and finished sixth in overall scoring. It was a pretty impressive display for a fanbase starved for positives.
Looking back on that Marlies run last season you can claim it to be a turning point for Leaf fans. After having watched the NHL boys stumble and crash to a 25th overall finish, it is obvious that we had reached rock bottom as a fan base. The Marlies playoff run (followed by the drafting of Morgan Rielly 5th overall and the Luke Schenn for JVR trade) got the ball rolling in a good direction following the dismal ending to the 2011-12 Leafs season. The play of Frattin during those playoffs also deserves to be included in that list of positives considering how he excited many during a truly bleak period.
Is This Really An Issue?
While the praise for Frattin is certainly deserved due to his 2012 spring, the question becomes whether he can translate some (even the smallest amount) to the NHL level. Secondary scoring is a significant area that successful teams need in the post season. If Frattin can pitch in to help Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul and Kadri on the scoresheet there really is no knowing how far this young Leafs team can go in the wide open Eastern Conference playoffs. At his worst though, Frattin is a capable third line winger who forechecks hard and is not afraid to throw the body. Before we can begin counting on contributions from Frattin though, it must be established if he will even be in the lineup once the playoffs commence.
After a torrid start with the Leafs this year (7 goals and 3 assists through his first 10 games) Frattin was forced out of the lineup by the same knee injury sustained on that empty net goal. Upon his return, Frattin’s production dropped, and he has apparently fallen out of favour with coach Randy Carlyle. Of the 20 games the Leafs have played following Frattin’s return to health, the 25 year old winger has only seen action in 13 of them. Most recently Carlyle has scratched Frattin for 6 of the Leafs’ last 8 contests. Registering only 2 assists and 21 shots in those 13 games, there is no denying that Frattin can perform better.
When looking at the wingers being used ahead of him it would seem that an asset as useful as Frattin would find his way back into the lineup sooner rather than later. Ask yourself, are the Leafs are better team with or without Frattin in the lineup? Keep in mind when answering that question the fact of overtime playoff hockey. Is someone like Frattin (that can end the game with one shot) more important than a teammate who will probably watch overtime from the bench? Considering the way Frattin elevated his play in the playoffs before, it would be nice for him to be given another opportunity to make this city and the blue and white fanbase proud.