Maple Leafs 2009-10 junior prospects update

By John-Eric Iannicello

OHL

Jesse Blacker, D – Owen Sound Attack 
Acquired: 2nd Round, 58th overall in 2009

Returning to the OHL, Blacker was hoping that a strong 2009 Memorial Cup run would lead him to a more prominent role on a talented Windsor Spitfire team. Problems arose when Ryan Ellis (NAS) returned, highly-touted American defender Cam Fowler impressed early, and Mark Cundari started playing superb hockey. Sprinkle in returning defender and local captain Harry Young and there’s a recipe for not getting enough ice time.

On Oct. 15, Blacker left the reigning Memorial Cup Champions as he awaited a trade to a team that he would allow him more responsibility. Whether or not this course of action was the right one is up for debate, but there can be no denying that Blacker is getting a more prominent role on his new team in Owen Sound.

While on Windsor, the 18-year-old Blacker managed only three points in nine games. While his offensive numbers haven’t taken off on Owen Sound, he’s been given a chance to play in all situations as a top-four defender. He has two goals and three assists in nine games to go along with 18 penalty minutes (10 of which are for fighting majors) and a -7.

Jamie Devane, LW – Plymouth Whalers
Acquired: 3rd Round, 69th overall in 2009

Projected as a potential late-blooming power forward by Maple Leaf scouts, Devane hasn’t started the year in a way many hoped.

The big 6’4 forward, who was a surprise pick by the Maple Leafs in 2009, started the year on the injured reserve. His injury took place during the Maple Leafs rookie tournament in Kitchener when Devane engaged in a fight with Peter Stevens.

Devane missed the first month of the year and has since played in seven games registering only one assist, 12 penalty minutes and a -1. He’s yet to fight this season, likely due to his injury.

The results of this selection won’t be clear until years down the road.

Nazem Kadri, C – London Knights
Acquired: 1st Round, 7th overall in 2009

After an impressive pre-season with the Maple Leafs, Kadri was returned to the London Knights prior to the start of the NHL regular season.

For whatever reason, Kadri didn’t explode offensively as many thought he would when he returned from camp. He started off slow in the month of October, only recording four points (two goals, two assists) in his first seven games, and bouncing around on different lines. But near the end of October, Kadri began stringing together some consistent efforts and it’s translating on the score sheet.

In his last nine games, Kadri has recorded 12 points (eight goals, four assists) and has even shown a bit of truculence in a Corey Perry type mold with two fighting majors. Another noticeable stat is Kadri’s goal totals. With 10 goals already on the season, Kadri is poised to eclipse his career high of 25 that he set the past two seasons. The success of the London Knights this season relies heavily on the type of effort Kadri brings night in night out.

The next step for Kadri is making the World Junior squad for Team Canada — an opportunity that he missed last season due to a broken jaw. He’s a member of the OHL roster for the 2009 Super Series against Russia.

Kenny Ryan, RW – Windsor Spitfires
Acquired: 2nd Round, 50th overall in 2009

On the same day that Blacker opted to leave the Windsor Spitfires, fellow 2009 second round selection Ryan opted to join the Spitfires from Boston College, where he was a freshman.

In an effort to accelerate his development to the pro level, Ryan joined Windsor on Oct. 22 and recorded an assist in his debut against the rival London Knights. Since then, the stocky 6’0 204-pound forward has been a solid offensive addition to the Spitfires recording two goals and eight assists in nine games. He’s bounced around the Windsor line-up but has recently seen ice time with Taylor Hall and Adam Henrique (NJ). He’s also seen time on the second power-play unit.

While the point totals are impressive, the transition hasn’t been smooth. Ryan seems to struggle with the overall pace of the OHL game over the course of the full 60 minutes. While Ryan’s game is more about opening up space for his teammates, Windsor’s style is more based on a run and gun transition game. His heavy shot, offensive instincts, and commitment to defense are assets at his disposal, but he’ll need to work on his endurance to take his game to the next level.

Still, Ryan has been a welcomed addition and will be given the necessary learning curve of both joining a team a month into the season and also the change from the NCAA. It’s expected that his game should only improve as the season progresses.

Barron Smith, D – Peterborough Petes
Acquired: 7th Round, 188th overall in 2009

Looking to bounce back this season after a bumpy 2008-09 campaign, Smith has continued his physical defensive play with the Peterborough Petes.

He has already eclipsed his point totals from last season (two) with three assists so far this year. The 18-year-old defender is also a +3 on a team that is mostly in the negatives. He’s been rotated in and out of the line-up due to a bit of a numbers game. With the acquisition of Christopher Beem on defense, the Petes are dressing seven defenders some nights.

Dale Mitchell, RW — Windsor Spitfires
Acquired: 3rd round, 74th overall in 2007

Mitchell was assigned to the Spitfires on Nov. 11 after nine games with the Toronto Marlies. His first game was Thursday, Nov. 12 against the Plymouth Whalers. He scored one assist. Mitchell turned 20 in April.

QMJHL

Joel Champagne, C – P.E.I. Rocket
Acquired: 5th Round, 129th overall in 2008

Champagne is continuing where he left off last season. While his offensive production isn’t at the 1.6 point-per-game average it was after joining the Rocket last season, Champagne is still among the leaders on his team in points (only two points behind team lead). In 18 games, he has seven goals, 11 assists and 26 penalty minutes.

The big, checking center is also a top faceoff man in the QMJHL with 524 faceoffs taken and an impressive 59.4% win rate.

Champagne he was unable to secure a spot on the QMJHL roster for the upcoming Super Series against Russia.

P.E.I has postponed its games this weekend due to the H1N1 virus.

Mikhail Stefanovich, C – Quebec Remparts
Acquired: 4th Round, 98th overall in 2008

Expectations were that Stefanovich would be playing in the AHL this season, but with the opportunity for him to play one more season in junior, the Maple Leafs surprisingly assigned him back to Quebec as an overage player.

The 19-year-old sniper, who recorded 49 goals last season, started off slowly this season going pointless in his first four games after being sent down. It wasn’t until he started seeing time with fellow European Dmitri Kugryshev that Stefanovich started scoring. In the last five games, Stefanovich has recorded five goals and five assists for an impressive 10 points. He’ll be expected to score at this type of pace for the remainder of the season now that he’s found his groove.

In early November, Stefanovich left Quebec to join his Belarus national team in a mini tournament in an attempt to secure an Olympic spot. He was absent for two weeks before returning this past week.

USHL

Eric Knodel, D – Des Moines Buccaneers
Acquired: 5th Round, 128th overall in 2009

While one of the older players on the team, Knodel is also a rookie for the Des Moines Buccaneers. Last season, he was a part of the Philadelphia Junior Flyers of the AYHL where he recorded 51 points in 51 games.

As a 19-year-old, Knodel is leading his team in defensive scoring with one goal, seven assists and a -4 in 11 games. He’s also fourth on his team with his eight points.

Knodel will only spend this season with the Buccaneers as he’s committed to the University of New Hampshire for next season.