High-scoring duo highlight Toronto Maple Leafs’ junior prospect pool

By John-Eric Iannicello

Carter Verhaeghe - Toronto Maple Leafs

Photo: Forward Carter Verhaeghe is one of several high-scoring junior prospects for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Verhaeghe was selected in the third round of the 2013 NHL Draft. (courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

The Toronto Maple Leafs' dynamic duo of Connor Brown and Carter Verhaeghe are taking the OHL by storm this season. The two are among the most offensively gifted prospects in the Maple Leafs system, though both still have ways to go before becoming NHL players.

Forward Ryan Rupert rounds out the forward group at the OHL level, playing his fourth season for the London Knights. Matt Finn is the lone defensive prospect in the OHL, playing for the powerhouse Guelph Storm.

The Maple Leafs have no prospects playing in the WHL, but they have a trio playing in the QMJHL. Forwards Frederik Gauthier and Fabrice Herzog have both impressed enough to earn national team recognition for the World Juniors, while goaltender Antoine Bibeau has been a bright spot for the Charlottetown Islanders.

OHL

Matt Finn, D, Guelph Storm
Acquired: 2nd round (35th overall) in 2012

Coming off an injury plagued season last year, Matt Finn has rebounded extremely well and is rounding into one of the top defenders in the OHL. The 19-year-old is fourth in defensive scoring with seven goals and 19 assists for 26 points in 29 games. Finn also logs major minutes in all situations for the Guelph Storm. For his efforts, he was signed to a three-year entry-level deal on November 19th.

Finn was highly regarded by the Maple Leafs scouting staff in his draft year and his recent play can certainly give reasons to why. He is an effective player under pressure and is known as a strong, sound defender in his own zone, with potential to contribute offensively. He will require additional focus on his strength however, as he stands only 6'0 tall. The 19-year-old will have the opportunity to play pro next season for the Toronto Marlies.

Connor Brown, RW, Erie Otters
Acquired: 6th round (156th overall) in 2012

An explosive offensive season has Connor Brown leading the OHL in scoring at the season's mid-way point. The 19-year-old captain of the Erie Otters has 21 goals and 44 assists through 32 games this season. Like Finn, Brown's season has earned him an entry-level which was signed on November 22nd. Brown scored eight goals and 16 assists through 13 games in November.

While his season is impressive, there are concerns over his pro potential. The 19-year-old is not a large forward by any stretch, at 5'11 and 170 pounds, and is not considered a top-end skater. Offensively however, Brown is as dangerous as any in the OHL. Brown has a strong shot and above-average set-up ability. He also has a good motor and strong IQ which allows him to find open ice. Turning 20 in March, Brown will also be eligible for the Marlies next season which may be telling of the type of player he will be at the next level.

Carter Verhaeghe, C, Niagara IceDogs
Acquired: 3rd round (82nd overall) in 2013

After an impressive session of camps in the summer, Carter Verhaeghe had high expectations heading into the season. With the opportunity to take a prominent role with the Niagara IceDogs this season, Verhaeghe has not disappointed. Playing on a top unit with 2014 potential first-round selection Brandan Perlini, Verhaeghe has been one of the top offensive players in the OHL. The 18-year-old has 16 goals and 29 assists for 45 points in 30 games.

Similar in development to Maple Leaf top prospect Josh Leivo, Verhaeghe has all the tools at his disposal to be a major threat in all areas of the ice. Verhaeghe is likely to spend another season in the OHL and should find himself at the top of the scoring race again. He had five goals and 10 assists through the month of November. He also participated in the Subway Super Series again Russia where he scored a goal for Team OHL in a 3-2 shootout loss.

Ryan Rupert, C, London Knights
Acquired: 6th round (157th overall) in 2011

Entering his fourth OHL season, Ryan Rupert returned to the London Knights in a similar role he has played in years past. The super pest is producing at a lower point pace than last season, but has also reduced his penalty minutes per game. After 75 penalty minutes through 54 games last season, Rupert has only 25 through 31 games this year. Rupert also has nine goals and 16 assists in that span.

The 19-year-old has strong playmaking ability and is considered more of a passer than a shooter. At 5'9 he is very undersized, but makes up for it with a solid 190 pound build. He is also a strong defensive forward which will likely be the role he inherits at the pro level.

QMJHL

Antoine Bibeau, G, Charlottetown Islanders
Acquired: 6th round (172nd overall) in 2013

One of the few goalie prospects in the Maple Leafs system, Antoine Bibeau had a solid first half of the season for the struggling Charlottetown Islanders. Through 23 games, he has the third best save percentage in the QMJHL at .914 percent, though a fairly bloated goals against average of 3.37. He has seen a lot of shots all season long, averaging 36 a game, and his record stands at 7-10-1-4.  

Bibeau is a big, athletic goaltender and will be eligible for the pros next year, as he will turn 20 in May.

Frederik Gauthier, C, Rimouski Oceanic
Acquired: 1st round (21st overall) in 2013

Gauthier came into the season looking to build his offensive game. That has not quite happened however, as he is on a similar pace as last year, with seven goals and 17 assists through 29 games. Gautheir has continued to be a force in the defensive zone though, and is one of the CHL's best defensive forwards. With his 6`5, 214 pound frame and long reach, Gauthier can be a lot to handle.

In the offensive zone, he can play a good possession game down low thanks size and strength. He is a project pick in the sense of his offensive development, but he is a safe pick due to his size, skating, and defensive acumen. Faceoffs are another area he will grow into as he learns to use his body. Currently, the 18-year-old is sporting a 47 percent faceoff rating.

Even with less than impressive offensive numbers, Gautheir was invited to Canada's National Junior Team selection camp which gets underway December 12th.

Fabrice Herzog, RW, Quebec Remparts
Acquired: 5th round (142nd overall) in 2013

Coming over from Switzerland, there was a bit of intrigue surrounding what type of season Fabrice Herzog would have after being selected by the Quebec Remparts in the 2013 Import Draft. Herzog has not disappointed for Quebec. He has been one of the clubs top forwards sitting behind only Anthony Duclair (NYR) and Adam Erne (TBL) in team scoring. Herzog ranks 13th in the QMJHL in goals scored with 19, and has 28 points through 33 games. Of his 19 goals, seven came on the powerplay and two were game-winners. Herzog has also been added to Switzerland's roster for the 2014 World Junior Championships.

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