Maple Leafs 2008-09 NCAA prospects update

By Stuart McDonald

The Toronto Maple Leafs seem to have an affinity for NCAA forwards as eight of their nine NCAA prospects play up front. 

Ben Winnett, LW

Michigan, freshman
4th round, 104th overall, 2007 NHL Entry Draft

With NHL-caliber speed, Winnett was expected to see some top-six ice time this season, however, that hasn’t happened often. As a speedy Canadian winger, there are comparisons of Winnett with former Wolverine Andrew Cogliano. But Winnett’s two goals and seven points in 23 games are a far cry from Cogliano’s 12 goals and 28 points in 39 games as a freshman. Winnett brings more size and grit to the table as the 6’1, 190-pound winger has a nasty streak but it has yet to appear consistently in Michigan. 

After an embarrassing 3-0 home loss to Bowling Green, Winnett’s linemate, senior Brandon Naurato was taken out of the lineup only to see Winnett follow him after a meager 1-0 Michigan victory in Bowling Green. The Wolverines, smarting from the Jan. 16-17, home-and-home split with Bowling Green, kept Winnett and Naurato out of the lineup for a Jan. 23-24, home-and-home sweep of arch rival Michigan State. With the Wolverines ranked eighth in the country, Michigan coach Red Berenson has the depth to be able to bring Winnett along slowly.

Viktor Stalberg, LW

Vermont, junior
6th round, 161st overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft

Yet another big, speedy, left winger, Stalberg’s 6’3, 210-pound frame is especially imposing at the college level. Stalberg is a rarity as most Swedes choose to develop at home and not in the NCAA. Stalberg currently leads the Catamounts with 14 goals and 25 points in 23 games after his game-tying goal at home against Massachusetts on Jan 24. The Catamounts, ranked third in Hockey East and seventh in the country, have leaned heavily on Stalberg and senior Peter Lenes for scoring. Between them they have 24 goals, or 56 percent of Vermont’s offense. Stalberg is fourth among Hockey East goal scorers and tied for fifth in conference scoring.

Tyler Ruegsegger, C

Denver, junior
6th round, 166th overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft

Ruegsegger’s college numbers have gotten progressively worse since his freshman year. Ruegsegger has added 15 pounds of muscle to his frame since he started with Denver but his skating continues to be his Achille’s heel. Without solid skating there is less opportunity to show off his great hands. The fact that Ruegsegger wasn’t chosen for the 2008 US World Junior squad after his successful 2007 WJC campaign shows just how far his star has fallen. Ruegsegger has nine goals and 15 points in 24 games for the fourth-ranked Pioneers.    

Chad Rau, C

Colorado College, senior
7th round, 228th overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft

Still only 5’11, 180 pounds, Rau has not developed the size or blazing speed that the Leafs were looking for when they drafted him as a project at the end of the 2005 draft. Nonetheless, Rau is a gifted goal scorer and is especially dangerous when the game is on the line as his team-leading 11 goals and 28 points can attest. While Rau is the sixth leading scorer in the nation, Rau’s Tigers are ranked a disappointing 27th in the country and are fifth in the WCHA after a dismal one-point, home-and-home series against St. Cloud State Jan. 24-25. To make the NHL, Rau needs to develop something in his game that will set him apart from other smallish, talented centers. If not, he’s destined for a long and productive minor league career.  

Jimmy Hayes, RW

Boston College, freshman
2nd round, 60th overall, 2008 NHL Entry Draft

After putting his team up 2-0 at the 2009 WJC round-robin Canada-US game, Hayes’ taunting of the Canadian bench came back to haunt him. Once leading the game 3-0, the US ran into a determined John Tavares who scored three times, leading the Canadians to a 7-4 victory. After his second goal, Tavares mocked Hayes’ earlier gesture to rally his teammates. Hayes finished the tournament with two goals in six games as the US finished fifth.

With a 6’5, 205-pound frame and with Tom Fitzgerald and Keith Tkachuk as second cousins, it would appear Hayes has all the makings of a power forward. Hayes doesn’t appear committed to that role just yet as his four penalty minutes in 21 games for Boston College are hardly power forward numbers. Hayes is among BC’s top six as a freshman, playing with center Benn Ferriero (PHO). Hayes’ modest six goals and 10 points should improve as he fills out and learns to use his body more.      

Matt Frattin, RW

North Dakota, sophomore
4th round, 99th overall, 2007 NHL Entry Draft

Frattin’s early billing as a sniper is proving to be accurate. The sophomore winger leads the Fighting Sioux with 12 goals in 27 games. Frattin has an excellent shot and the grit to get into scoring areas. While only a modest 5’11, 185 pounds, Frattin is fourth on North Dakota in penalty minutes because he fights for position to release his lethal shot. Frattin’s measly seven assists are a reflection of his one-dimensional offensive game as his skating and passing need work. Nonetheless, Frattin has established a clear niche for himself unlike other Maple Leaf NCAA prospects.  

Pierce Norton, RW

Providence College, senior
9th round, 285th overall, 2004 NHL Entry Draft

Norton needed to build on last season’s breakthrough campaign when he scored 14 goals and 24 points in 36 games. The 45th-ranked Friars have struggled, however, and it has affected Norton’s production dramatically. After finally proving himself last season, the 6’2, 195-pound winger would need a spectacular finish for the Leafs to sign him once his college eligibility expires. 

Alex Berry, RW

Massachusetts-Amherst, senior
5th round, 153rd overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft

The hard-working winger has improved consistently in college. He’s now a point-per-game player and is second on the 19th-ranked Minutemen in points per game. Berry looks and plays like a power forward. His 45 PIMs lead the Minutemen as did his 63 PIMs last season. At 6’2, 215 pounds, Berry has the frame and strength to go into the corners and get the puck, which he does regularly. He’s gone from an injury-riddled freshman who finished his first year with two points, to being a physical and scoring force on a top-20 NCAA team.    

Grant Rollheiser, G

Boston University, freshman
6th round, 158th overall, 2008 NHL Entry Draft

Rollheiser got stuck behind freshman phenom Kieran Millan and has only played eight of the Terriers 24 games this season. It’s odd to have two freshman goalies leading the best team in the nation but that’s exactly what’s happening at Boston this season. The 6’4, 200-pound Rollheiser has put up a 4-4 record, 2.63 GAA, but just a .876 save percentage. It shows that he’s struggled at times but there is a lot of pressure playing for the No. 1 team in the nation. Rollheiser has plenty of time to come out from behind Millan’s shadow.