Toronto Maple Leafs have small but promising group of prospects at junior level

By Ed Dermit
Cody Donaghey - Toronto Maple Leafs

Photo: Defenseman Cody Donaghey is one of five prospects representing the Toronto Maple Leafs in the CHL and USHL. Donaghey was signed as a free agent in September. (courtesy of Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

 

The Toronto Maple Leafs have four prospects playing in Canadian junior hockey during the 2014-15 season and one in the USHL. All of the prospects playing at the CHL level are signed to NHL entry-level contracts with the Leafs, and will play in their minor pro system in 2015-16.    

QMJHL

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

The 2014-15 season did not begin well for Gauthier. He suffered a rib injury during a September NHL rookie tournament that saw him miss all of Maple Leafs training camp, and the first 17 games of the Rimouski Oceanic’s season. Since returning to the team on October 24th, Gauthier has played 11 games, scoring five goals and nine points, which is slightly below the pace he set in his previous two seasons in junior.

The Oceanic had the best record in the QMJHL after their first 28 games. Despite missing a significant part of the season, Gauthier played a prominent role in his first game back by taking 35 of the team’s 79 face-offs. Since his return, he has led the team in face-offs, while filling a role as the Oceanic’s shut-down center. He uses his hulking size and a defensive awareness that he displayed since coming into QMJHL, to neutralize an opposing team’s top lines. While this experience will help him as he moves into the pros, the Oceanic’s depth in scoring means Gauthier is not always put into situations where he can develop his offensive talents. Regardless, his development should benefit from leading the best team in the QMJHL, and one that is expected to contend for the Memorial Cup.

Gauthier served as team captain on the QMJHL all-star team that faced Team Russia in the Subway Super Series in November.

Cody Donaghey, D, Quebec Remparts
Acquired: Free agent signing, September, 2014

Donaghey was passed over in the 2014 NHL draft but signed with the Leafs as a free agent in September 2014. The 6’1, 185 pound, right-handed shooting defenseman played 67 games for the Quebec Remparts in 2013-14, scoring nine goals and 29 assists. Donaghey’s strength is in his puck possession skills and plays on the top defensive pairing for one of the top five teams in the QMJHL.

OHL

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

Verhaeghe returned for his fourth OHL season in 2014-15. Over the course of his previous three OHL seasons, he improved his point totals in each consecutive season, however early indications are that trend will not repeat itself.

Verhaeghe is off to a slow start. In the Niagara IceDogs first 24 games of the season, he has 10 goals, 18 points and is a minus-five. Part of that may be due to playing on one of the worst teams in the OHL. Not all has been negative for Verhaeghe this season as he was named to the OHL all-star team that played against Team Russia in the Subway Super Series in November.

WHL

Rinat Valiev, D, Kootenay Ice
Acquired: 3rd round (68th overall), 2014

Much like Gauthier’s start to the season, Valiev also began the season hurt and missed the first 12 games of the WHL season. Without Valiev in the lineup, the Kootenay Ice began the season with only three wins in that 12 game span. Initially, things did not seem to get much better for the Ice when he returned, as they lost the first three games he played in, with Valiev a minus-eight in those games.

Come November, however, the Ice seemed to turn things around in a dramatic way. With Valiev having a few games under his belt, and the return of their star forward and the second overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft Sam Reinhart (BUF), the Ice have improved dramatically and are 8-2 in their past 10 games. Valiev is a respected leader on the team and plays a three-dimensional game that includes contributions on offense, strong defensive play, and a willingness to play it tough when necessary. Through 15 games this season, he has 18 points. Valiev also played in the exhibition Super Series for Team Russia against all-star teams from the OHL, QMJHL, and WHL.

USHL

Dakota Joshua, C, Sioux Falls Stampede
Acquired: 5th round (128th overall), 2014

Dakota Joshua may be as many as five season’s away before he turns pro with the Leafs, however when they selected him 128th overall in the 2014 NHL, they knew that could be the case. Joshua is fulfilling his early promise as a potentially dynamic offensive centre by leading the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL, with 10 goals and 10 assists in 20 games this season. He has committed to play at the University of Ohio next season.

Toronto Maple Leafs Top Performing Non-Junior Prospects: October

The Leafs AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies, had eight rookies on the team to start the 2014-15 season. The most notable start out of that group is last year’s Memorial Cup MVP, Antoine Bibeau, who is sharing the Marlies’ number one goaltender position with Christopher Gibson. Bibeau finished the month of October with four appearances, a 1.68 goals against average, .943 save percentage, and one shutout. He struggled in November however, allowing 14 goals in three games played.

In Sweden, highly touted William Nylander, Andreas Johnson, and Pierre Engvall, were off to strong starts with their respective teams. At the close of Leafs training camp, Nylander chose to return to the SHL where he was loaned to Modo. Despite missing the Modo’s first 11 games to open the season, Nylander quickly established himself as a key offensive leader as an 18-year-old. Last year’s SHL Rookie of the Year, Johnson is continuing where he left off last season, by emerging as one of the Frolunda’s leading goal scorers in the early going. Meanwhile, Engvall, the Leafs seventh pick in the 2014 draft and 188th overall, returned to the Swedish junior league where proved he averaged around a point-per-game. He was recalled to Frolunda’s SHL team and has since been loaned to Oskarshamm, Sweden’s Division II men’s league.

In US college hockey, center Dominic Toninato, the Leafs 126th overall selection in 2012 and in his sophomore season at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, got off to a fast start with six goals and eight points in the team’s seven games in October. The 6’1 center’s creativity with the puck stood out at the Leafs 2014 summer rookie camp, and he seems to have carried that over into a strong start to the 2014-15 season. Fellow teammate and a 2012 Leafs draft pick Tony Cameranesi, is off to a modest start after entering the season with expectations that he would be one of the offensive leaders on the team.

Toronto Maple Leafs Prospect of the Month: October

The message from Leafs team management at the start of training camp was that a number of their AHL prospects would be given an opportunity to make the NHL team. Carter Ashton, Josh Leivo, and Brandon Kozun were able to earn their way onto the roster, but none had Stuart Percy - Toronto Maple Leafs Prospect of the Month, October, 2014quite the impact of Stuart Percy. Percy was perhaps the biggest surprise in Leafs training camp. In the early going, he showed strong defensive poise and surprising creativity with the puck, registering one assist in each of three games to start the season. However, his inexperience began to show with some costly turnovers and defensive lapses that led directly to goals by the opposition. By early November, he was returned to the Marlies.

Despite a rough half dozen games with the Leafs, Percy remains a solid NHL prospect that projects as a good two-way defenseman. Still only 21 years old and in only his second year of professional hockey, Percy showed glimpses of that potential in his opening three game introduction to the NHL.