A Closer Look At The Marlies “Big Four”


Yesterday was a big day in Leafs Nation.  And I think I speak for all fans when I say it’s about time.  While two teams are currently battling for the opportunity to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup, the Toronto Maple Leafs have been forced to sit on the sidelines and watch, bide their time with the other half of the league who wasn’t fortunate enough to make into the NHL’s playoffs.

And while they have kept themselves busy, and Brian Burke has shown a penchant for rarely letting his team slip into the background, a lot of hype has been leading toward this time of year.

Even without a first-or second-round draft pick, the Toronto Maple Leafs are still making plenty of waves, and it appears Burke is fit to make an impression at the draft, whether he is selecting or not.

Which, although he would never admit it, would be the perfect way to steal the spotlight back from the doom and gloom position of Boston using the Leafs pick to select a potential franchise cornerstone.

Tomas Kaberle, long been rumoured to be on his way out of Toronto, may be inching closer and closer with each passing day.  As the calendar flipped to June yesterday, and now with the entry draft and free agency now firmly in sight on the horizon, it appears Kaberle’s time with the Toronto Maple Leafs is now being measured in days.

The Leafs GM spoke with Hockeycentral yesterday where he spoke candidly-is there any other way with Burke?-about a lot of his plans for the summer, the Tomas Kaberle trade debate among them.

Burke told the hosts that he has let it be known league wide that Tomas Kaberle, a smooth skating, play manufacturing defenseman with one year left on a very reasonable $4.25 million deal, is available.

Enticing the appetite even further, Burke mentioned that he had received calls from a couple of teams who had tabled offers for Kaberle which he told Hockey Central he considered “more than nibbles.”

He also gave a rather glowing endorsement of a group he called the Toronto Marlies “Big Four.”

Simon Gysbers, Keith Aulie, Juraj Mikus, and Korbinian Holzer.

And while I could throw my hat into the ring and post what will likely be the 2,574,204 article that has been or will be published over the next coming days about Kaberle himself, I thought it may be more beneficial to take a closer look at the “Big Four.”

And I couldn’t do it without a little help from my friend, the MLHS resident Toronto Marlies expert, Clayton Hansler.

Juraj Mikus

6’4″ 185lbs

68GP, 5G, 18A, 23pts

Drafted 134th overall, 2007 entry draft

Clayton’s Case: Juraj Mikus stepped up in a large way after Gunnarsson received the call to the Maple Leafs. While his regular pairing with Frogren allowed him to play the more offensive D-man, Mikus’ true talent can be found in his own zone. Calm and patient behind his goal line, Mikus effectively makes that first pass out of the zone. Board play and stick work also can be noted in his “attributes” column, as the tall defenseman often uses his reach and wing span to rob opponents of the puck. Juraj was added to the special teams unit to quarter-back the powerplay, perched at the top of the offensive zone dishing the puck to his teammates along the half boards.

His low point production and preference to taking the puck over the body will never make Mikus a fan favourite, but he will quietly be appreciated by coach and goaltender as he makes a defensive difference on every shift.”

Derek’s Details: I saw Mikus in the summer of 2007, shortly after he had been drafted.  The Toronto Maple Leafs held a rookies and prospects mini-camp in my hometown of Strathroy, Ontario that year.  Mikus, in my personal opinion, was one of the stars of the day.  He was definitely unpolished, and had a long way to go, being drafted merely a month earlier, but Mikus looked to be a player that possessed many of the tools it would take to break into the National Hockey League with the Toronto Maple Leafs, granted he refined those skills.

It appears, in the time I last saw him skate, he certainly has done that, according to MLHS writer Clayton Hansler.  Mikus has developed into the type of offensive player that the Leafs likely expected when they called his name in 2007.  He will likely never put up big points from the back end, though 23 points is nothing to sneeze at.

As Hansler eluded to, there will be those frustrated by the lack of physical play in Mikus’ game, where many feel he could use his 6’4″ frame in a more imposing way.  Still, Mikus is someone who still uses his size, just in alternative ways.  He has seemingly become adept in playing his angles and using his size as a strength in other ways than physicality.

Simon Gysbers

6’4″ 200lbs

14GP, 0G, 1A, 1pt

Signed as a free agent, 2010

Clayton’s Case: As it is with most NCAA grads, the chasm between the University and professional game make it hard to assess Gysbers talents. During the 14 games Simon played with the Toronto Marlies, coach Eakins tried him in many different roles in order to discover his playing preference. Though not offensively effective on the powerplay, his crisp cross-ice D-to-D passes would pull the opponents formation out of position, allowing his partner to make the offensive decision. Without the puck in his own end, Simon at times looked a little lost and often seemed out of position, but once retrieving the puck he would skate it out to safety. Gysbers seems he will be most effective blue-line to blue-line in both an offensive and defensive capacity. He has active feet and a long reach, not allowing much opportunity for the opponents to strip him of the puck.

It will be extremely interesting to watch how Simon adapts himself to the professional game. He will need time in the AHL, the right coaching and a little more defensive-zone focus before he can take on leading minutes on the ice.

Derek’s Details: Gysbers became the latest in what is seemingly becoming a long line of NCAA collegiate free agents that the Toronto Maple Leafs have lured into the organization.  Gysbers is another big bodied blue liner, who at this point, seems to be the player on this list who can perhaps benefit the most from the new Maple Leafs philosophy.

For far too long, the Toronto Maple Leafs treated their farm team as a separate entity, and in the end, it likely hindered the development of prospects.  In head coach Dallas Eakins, the Marlies have a coach who isn’t just teaching the young kids to be hockey players.  He is teaching them to be Toronto Maple Leafs.

Gysbers, in my opinion, is the least likely of the four that will receive the call this season if the Leafs need to fill a hole.  While that isn’t for lack of potential, the fact is that Gysbers, in my opinion, is the least polished of the four, and will need more time in the American Hockey League to acclimate himself with the professional game, and the Toronto Maple Leafs systems.

Keith Aulie

6’5″ 208lbs

48GP, 2G, 4A, 6Pts

Acquired in trade with Calgary, 2010

Clayton’s Case: Keith Aulie hovers around the top defensive prospect spot for the Leafs, but his recovery from shoulder surgery late last season will determine where he sits. Aulie moves strongly up and down the ice, can absolutely rip shots from the blue-line and does not shy away from laying the opposition out on their keister. This is the guy I would want in my development system. He is the offensive-D when up a man and the aggressive one when short one. He can shoulder heavy minutes in a game and play in just about any situation the coach wants to put him in.

At 6’5″ and 208lbs at only 21 years of age, this stalwart of the defensive team will only get stronger. I would compare Aulie’s upswing to Phaneuf, for more reasons than just the fact they both came from the Calgary system. With the depth the Leafs have on the blueline, Aulie may be a minor-league’r for at least one more season.

Derek’s Details: I can only echo the sentiments of Clayton for the most part when it comes to Keith Aulie.  When the Maple Leafs announced that they had acquired Phaneuf and Fredrik Sjostrom from the Calgary Flames, Aulie seemed like an afterthought to most people.

In actuality, he could turn out to be just as big a piece of the puzzle as Phaneuf himself.

Aulie was very solid for Team Canada at the 2009 World Junior Hockey Champipnship, in a shutdown pairing, and brings a lot of things that absolute scream “Burke type player.”  He has size, skill, and swagger that will make him a future mainstay on the blue line.

If he were healthy, I would say Aulie would have the edge to fill the potential hole on defense Burke was alluding to yesterday on Hockeycentral.  However, coming off of shoulder surgery, it will be very interesting to see how quickly Aulie can find his old form.

Korbinian Holzer

6’3″ 190lbs

52GP, 6G, 16A, 22pts

Drafted 111th overall, 2006

Derek’s Details: Korbinian Holzer may in fact be one of the most interesting prospects the Leafs currently have in their suddenly surging stable.  Holzer, drafted in 2006, has had seemingly a meteoric rise to the top of the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect depth charts since being drafted.

On draft day, when his name was called, I spoke to a few scouts and those who deal specifically in prospects, and they all seemed genuinely intrigued with the Leafs choosing of the German-born defender.

Fast forward almost four years later, and it is easy to see why those people were so interested in watching his development.

Holzer has seemingly rounded nicely into a player who can make an impact in the National Hockey League with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and perhaps sooner rather than later.  He is a smooth skater who possesses a high level of hockey intelligence.  He has great on ice vision which allows him to distribute the puck nicely, particularly coming out of his own zone.  He also plays with an edge and is not easily intimidated on the ice.

Holzer has had very impressive runs with the German national team as well recently, in World Championships, and one of the biggest stage of all, at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Holzer appears to have all the tools to make the jump to the NHL.  Although, as Garrett Bauman fellow Maple Leafs Hot Stove writer, critiqued earlier this off-season, Holzer needs to bulk up, and develop more confidence in his offensive abilities if he wants to reach his full potential.

Playing on the line, and not over it, will also be a key to his success.