Maple Leafs 2008-09 junior prospects update

By Stuart McDonald

Three of the Maple Leafs six junior prospects look like they’ll spend some time in the pro ranks. Two CHL prospects are long shots and the lone Junior A prospect is headed to the University of North Dakota next season.  

Mikhail Stefanovich, a 6’2, 205-pounder, had an excellent first half of 2008. June 21st, the second day of the NHL entry draft, however, was a disappointing day for the Quebec Remparts winger. Stefanovich was drafted well below (fourth round) where he would have gone had the draft taken place a few months earlier.

In April 2008 Stefanovich won the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Trophée Michael Bossy as the league’s best professional prospect. Stefanovich, a Belarusian from Minsk, led the QMJHL in goals as a rookie with 32. He had the second most rookie points behind Nicholas Deschamps and was ranked as the 16th best domestic skater by NHL Central Scouting in their January rankings. Despite this, Bossy trophy runner-up Deschamps was picked 32nd by the Anaheim Ducks and eight other QMJHL skaters were taken before Stefanovich heard the Leafs call his name with the 98th pick. 

Stefanovich’s stock took a nose dive between March and June because of his inconsistency and lack of physical play. Although very big for his age, Stefanovich is a soft player which scared teams away. Usually a 6’2, goal-scoring winger means power forward, but not in this case, at least not yet. Teams were also scared away by the big winger’s inconsistency, which is often a scouting euphemism for laziness and a lack of intensity. 

Stefanovich’s play has improved marginally this season. He is 33rd in QMJHL scoring with 11 goals and 26 points in 24 games. He’s the Remparts second leading scorer up from fourth last season. Although quite big for an 18-year-old, Stefanovich needs to work on his acceleration and consistency before he’ll see time in the pros. 

Chris DiDomenico can pretty safely be considered a draft-day steal. A sixth round pick in 2007, DiDomenico is 21st in QMJHL scoring with 10 goals and 31 points in 24 games. He is 16th in QMJHL assists with 21, and is the leading scorer on the St. John Sea Dogs.

DiDomenico has been exceeding expectations since he went undrafted in the 2006 Ontario Hockey League Priority draft. Despite being an undersized 5’10, 160 pounds, he scored a point per game in the expansion Sea Dogs’ inaugural season. He followed that up with 95 points in 2007-08. Not only does DiDomenico lead the Sea Dogs in scoring this season, he has grown three inches since his draft year and is now listed at 6’1.

Although DiDomenico’s height is no longer an issue, his slight frame is a concern. He missed the 2008 ADT Canada/Russia Challenge along with four QMJHL games after an injury in Gatineau on Nov. 12. He returned on Nov. 25.

Once he fills out, DiDomenico has some potential as a top-six NHL forward. At 19, and currently only 170 pounds, he’s at least three seasons away.   

The Maple Leafs first pick in the 2007 draft was stocky winger Dale Mitchell, currently playing for the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL.

With the Oshawa Generals when drafted, Mitchell, 19, was taken 74th overall by the Maple Leafs. They had traded away their first and second-round picks prior to the draft.

Although listed at 5’9, Mitchell plays between 200 and 207 pounds, quite heavy for an OHL player. If you combine Mitchell’s heavy frame, low center of gravity and energetic style you have an ideal forechecker. Mitchell’s forechecking ability is one reason the Leafs signed him to a three-year, entry-level deal last season. The Leafs obviously have plans for Mitchell as they played him in two American Hockey League playoff games last season with the Toronto Marlies.

In 2008-09, Mitchell is part of a very strong Windsor Spitfire team which is currently ranked No. 1 in the CHL. Mitchell is 16th in OHL scoring with 13 goals and 29 points in 25 games but is still only tied for fourth in scoring on the Spitfires. Mitchell is playing well at both ends of the ice as his +13 indicates. He’s 11th overall in plus/minus in the OHL. Mitchell projects as a third or fourth-line pro and is much closer to the NHL than any other Maple Leaf CHL prospect.

Chicoutimi center Joel Champagne and Seattle right winger Greg Scott are both borderline NHL prospects. Champagne, 18, was selected in the 5th round, 129th overall in the 2008 NHL entry draft while Scott signed with the Leafs as an undrafted free agent out of the WHL. Champagne, 6’4, 220 pounds, is clearly a project. He’s slow on his skates and is underwhelming offensively with only 9 goals and 16 points in 23 games in 2008-09. Champagne needs to improve his skating to the point where he can use his size effectively in the pro ranks.

Scott, 20, was signed by the Leafs because of his 38-goal performance for the Seattle Thunderbirds last season. Scott more than doubled both his goal and point output from 2006-07 to 2007-08. Unfortunately for the Leafs, last season is starting to look like an anomaly. While Scott was +40 last season he’s -1 so far this season. He only has seven goals and 16 points in 22 games and is a far cry from the production that earned him a contract.

Andrew MacWilliam, 18, committed to the North Dakota Fighting Sioux in late January. At 6’2, 215 pounds, MacWilliam is a physical, defensive defenseman playing in the Alberta Junior Hockey League for the Camrose Kodiaks. MacWilliam was the Leafs seventh pick, 188th overall in the 2008 NHL entry draft.

He played 54 games in the 2007-08 season without scoring a single goal but has four goals and 15 points in 29 games so far this season. He’s 18th in the AJHL in penalty minutes with 107.