The Toronto Marlies have been busy in the past week, acquiring a new assistant coach and three players for next season.
It was announced on Monday that Rob Davison will take up the position of Assistant Coach, continuing a trend of the Marlies hiring younger staff. Davison, 37, joins A.J. MacLean (33) and Sheldon Keefe (36) behind the bench, while recently-hired Hockey Operations Analyst Will Sibley is just 27.
Davison was a defenceman during his playing days and a veteran of over 500 games between the National and American Hockey Leagues. After stops in the UK, Czech Republic and Austria towards the end of his playing career, the Ontario native returned to Europe to begin his first coaching assignment in 2014.
His first two years as an Assistant Coach of EC Red Bull Salzburg were highly successful as the Austrian outfit won back-to-back championships. Last season, Davison ventured further east to Belarus, assisting fellow Canadian Craig Woodcroft at HC Dinamo Minsk (KHL). A winning season ensured the team qualified for the Garagin Cup playoffs, but they fell at the first hurdle.
This will be Davison’s third coaching role in four years and his first in North America.
Still lacking depth at the defense and centre positions, the Marlies looked to shore up those needs with the addition of three new faces for 2017-18 in the past week.
Signed to an AHL deal this week was former University of Vermont captain Michael Paliotta, a third-round (70th overall) selection of the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
The American blue liner went on to make his Chicago and NHL debut in April 2015 after signing a two-year entry-level contract. After registering an assist during his first taste of the professional game, Paliotta stayed on to train with Chicago but did not feature during the Blackhawks’ 2015 Stanley Cup run. His tenure in the windy city proved short lived as he was traded to Columbus in July in the Brandon Saad trade.
The following season, Paliotta featured just once for the Blue Jackets and was a mainstay on the Lake Erie Monsters defence. He suited up for 68 regular season games, netting on eight occasions and recording 23 points — good for second among Lake Erie defencemen. The Monsters went on to win the Calder Cup, but Paliotta was limited to just eight games due to injury.
Paliotta has been able to transfer some of the offensive ability shown in the last two years of college into his game as a professional, and he certainly isn’t shy about shooting the puck (an example can be found below as his big shot provides a rebound and easy tap-in for Daniel Zaar).
After signing for the New York Rangers on a one-year, two-way contract, 2016-17 was a season to forget for Paliotta. The Connecticut native didn’t garner any NHL time and spent the entirety of the season with Hartford Wolf Pack, the AHL’s worst team in 2016-17. Hartford mustered a mere 24 victories and allowed 280 goals.
A right-handed shot, Paliotta is on paper an excellent depth signing for the Marlies and has something to prove on the first AHL deal of his career. GM Kyle Dubas has made a habit of this kind of acquisition (think Byron Froese or Justin Holl).
At 24 years old and with only 122 games under his belt, he’s something of a project for Toronto with little risk attached and plenty to gain. An added bonus with his relative inexperience is that he hasn’t played enough games to qualify as a veteran in the American League, a rule which hamstrung the Marlies at times last season.
Listed at either 6”3 or 6”4 (depending on which website you’re reading) and around 210 pounds, he also brings some size to a not-overly-large Marlies blue line.
Since finishing his five-year junior career with the WHL’s Everett Silvertips, the transition to the professional game hasn’t always been smooth sailing for 23-year-old Joshua Winquist.
Starting out the 2014-15 season with Bakersfield Condors, Winquist got off to a promising start with 23 points in 18 games. That was enough to earn an AHL contract with Oklahoma City, where he produced eight goals and 11 assists in 46 outings.
Since his rookie year, the Alberta native has struggled with injuries and only managed to dress for 88 regular season games in the past two years with the Condors (now AHL) and Bridgeport Sound Tigers. When healthy, he was able to post 23 goals and 62 points at a combined points-per-game rate of 0.78.
The undrafted forward can play centre or left wing, with recent Calder Cup champion Todd Nelson using him primarily on the left side in Oklahoma. He was well thought of as a prospect during his time in the Edmonton organization, scoring on a par or better with his peers, but it didn’t pan out and he was let go.
You may have seen Winquist in action for the Sound Tigers last season thanks to his game-winning goal that was featured on ESPN back in February:
Listed at 5”11, Winquist’s known for his play-making abilities and puck skills more than his goal scoring (15 goals last year was his best haul in a single season since he turned professional). If he can stay healthy, the Marlies will have themselves a highly-skilled forward who should provide them with another option on the power play.
Stick tap to @Artful_Puck for the insight on Winquist
Defenceman Matias Cleland completed his college hockey career at the University of New Hampshire this past spring. In his fourth and final season, the 23-year-old served as team captain, accrued 36 points in 40 games and was named a “Hockey East Honourable Mention All-Star.”
After finishing his senior season at UNH, Cleland was signed to an Amateur Tryout Contract by the Wheeling Nailers (ECHL). In his professional and Nailers debut in March, Cleland scored on his first shift and went on to suit up on four more occasions.
The Colorado native is a left-handed shot and — like Winquist — has been signed to a two-way AHL contract. He’s certainly the likelier of the two to spend time in the ECHL in what will be his rookie professional season.