The Maple Leafs lost a few prospects from their system since last fall, but also gained several through trades and free-agency. The foundation of prospects has been established with pro-ready players on the Marlies, but there is still work to be done to keep the pipeline stocked with NHL caliber players.
Gone from last year’s list are Chris DiDomenico, Jimmy Hayes, Philippe Paradis, Viktor Stalberg (all have been dealt to Chicago), Alex Berry, Stefano Giliati (both dealt to Tampa Bay) Joel Champagne, Phil Oreskovic, Chris Peluso, Kyle Rogers, Tyler Ruegsegger, Dimtri Vorobiev (all have had their NHL rights expire).
New to this year’s list (excluding 2010 draft selections) are Keith Aulie (acquired from Calgary), Luca Caputi (acquired from Pittsburgh), Matt Lashoff (acquired from Tampa Bay), Andrew Crescenzi, Simon Gysbers, Brayden Irwin, Marcel Mueller, Jussi Rynnas, and Ben Scrivens (all acquired through free-agency).
Patience is being preached with Brian Burke at the helm, and added depth to the parent club is allowing this process to occur.
Luca Caputi was acquired from the Penguins at the NHL 2010 trade deadline last year and has shown flashes of being a top-nine talent. While he had a successful training camp, a numbers game kept him from starting the year with the parent club. Marcel Mueller is another player who had a successful training camp with the Maple Leafs, but coming over from Europe required acclimatization to the smaller rinks. Mueller has been a dangerous offensive threat for the Marlies early this season although he’s failed to make his mark on the score sheet.
Brad Ross and Greg McKegg are two 2010 draftee’s who have proven to be quality junior players and have started both their years off strong. McKegg, the flashier of the two offensively is second in the OHL for points with eight goals and 11 assists after 10 games.
Jerry D’Amigo has also made the jump from the NCAA to the pro ranks this year after signing an entry-level deal with the Maple Leafs this summer. The speedy winger has displayed a solid work ethic and youthful exuberance that should pay off this season if he can remain consistent.
Rounding out the remainder of the list are more long-term prospects that have the ability to fit into bottom-six roles when they reach their potential.
Daniel Brodin, Jamie Devane, Robert Slaney and Leo Komarov all have the right amounts of truculence, but still need to develop other key aspects of their game. Brodin was drafted as an overage player (20-years-old) this past summer and his contract with Djurgården expires at the end of this season. Similar to Brodin, Komarov’s contract in the KHL expires at year’s end. Under the radar in terms of Maple Leaf prospects, Komarov’s pest style fits into a Burke bottom-six and at 24-years-old he may be able to step into a fourth line role next year. Devane has been given a more prominent role with the Plymouth Whalers this season and is depended on for more than just his fisticuffs. Slaney, for the second year, has failed to secure a spot with the Marlies and was assigned to the Reading Royals of the ECHL.
Jerome Flaake and Ben Winnett’s offensive consistency remains an issue. A transfer to the Hamburg Freezers has seen Flaake’s offensive production increase so far this year scoring five points in 11 games (he had nine in 42 games last season). His contract in the DEL expires at the end of the 2011-12 season. Winnett’s last year at Michigan will need to be his best one if he hopes to earn an NHL contract at the end of the season.
Center depth seems strong, but could change soon as players adjust to pro roles. Tyler Bozak, Christian Hanson and Brayden Irwin seem to have futures at the center position, but forwards Nazem Kadri and Sondre Olden could see their careers shift to the wing in efforts to effectively utilize their talents.
Bozak has been a gem for the Maple Leafs after signing as a free-agent two years ago. He’s found instant chemistry with Phil Kessel and has been a dynamic playmaking threat. He recorded 20 points in just 32 games last year, and this season he’s continuing where he left off recording three assists in the first five games.
Hanson and Irwin are similar players in stature, but project to have different roles at the NHL level. Hanson is being groomed as a grinding defensive center that can crash and bang, while Irwin is slated to project more in a scoring role. Hanson came into camp and played great in a bottom-six role, but (similar to Caputi) was demoted based on his waiver-exemption. He’s been given the primary defensive responsibilities for the Marlies this season in an effort to groom him in the defensive role. Irwin has been successful so far with the Marlies scoring twice and adding an assist in the first four games. Irwin will need to focus on adding strength to his 6’5 frame over the year and also work on his skate balance.
Kadri has had a very average start to his pro career, but has also shown flashes of excellence. He failed to make the Maple Leafs out of camp, and was assigned to the Marlies to work on his weaknesses. In his first four games Kadri has one goal and two assists in four games. He’s been criticized by the Marlies coaching staff for his lack of defensive awareness and offensive zone turnovers, but also praised for his skill set. Kadri has also seen time on the wing and has looked effective.
Olden, Sam Carrick and Andrew Crescenzi are the depth centers in the system. Olden was a standout for the Maple Leafs rookie’s at their annual rookie-tournament, but returned to Sweden to fulfill contract obligations for the season. Olden displayed high-end hockey skill and intelligence in his short North American stint, his focus over the next few seasons will be filling out his frame and finding more consistency in his game.
Carrick and Crescenzi both excelled in grinding roles at the August rookie-tournament. Carrick was a threat at both ends of the ice, and showed a willingness to pay a physical price to make plays. He’s missed time this year with a lower-body injury, but was a point per game in his first three games. Crescenzi was an undrafted invite to the rookie-tournament and played well enough to earn an entry-level contract from the Maple Leafs. He’s a towering center whose long-term potential may be an ideal third or fourth line grinder.
The right-wing depth consists of hardnosed wingers who pride their game on speed and tenacity. Kenny Ryan, Matt Frattin and Dale Mitchell all have great speed and forechecking ability that make them hard players to play against.
Ryan may never develop into a great offensive threat, but his work ethic and two-way ability should make him a fan favorite. Mitchell is a player whose success comes off the energy he creates. He’s a small player, but makes up for his lack of size with his speed and willingness to dig. Frattin may bring more offensive ability to the table, but he’s also a fast grinding forward with a stocky build. He’s off to a great start in his final year at North Dakota with five goals and one assist in four games.
Josh Nicholls brings some size to the right-wing position and solid two-way ability, but is another player who requires time to fill out. He was off to a blazing start before a dangerous hit by Brendan Shinnimin on October 8th sidelined him for a little over a week. Nicholls has recorded five goals and six assists in eight games.
Boom/bust prospect Mikhail Stefanovich has fallen from grace with his inconsistent play over the last year, but he’s still a prospect who has top-six talent if he can find his niche. The added depth to the Marlies has seen Stefanovich’s pro career start in the ECHL. He’s recorded two assists in his first two games with the Reading Royals.
Richard Greenop and Greg Scott are currently depth prospects on the right-wing in the Maple Leafs system. Scott was a very productive Marlie on a team that lacked quality scoring depth, but doesn’t project to be more than a depth player/quality minor-league player. Greenop is a well known junior enforcer who will look to scratch out a pro career over the next few seasons. Greenop was also assigned to Reading in the ECHL at the start of the year.
While the Maple Leafs boast depth at all positions, their tangible depth is on defense. The ‘Big Four’ as Maple Leafs management refers to them, consists of towering rearguards Keith Aulie, Korbinian Holzer, Simon Gysbers and Juraj Mikus – all of which play currently for the Marlies. Matt Lashoff, who was acquired from Tampa Bay in exchange for Alex Berry and Stefano Giliati, is also a member of the Marlies defensive core. At 24-years-old he still has potential to find a niche at the NHL level.
Carl Gunnarsson has shown he can be a capable NHL defenseman after a strong first year with the Maple Leafs. He’ll need to prove himself again this year as he tries to work himself out of an early sophomore slump.
Jesse Blacker projects more as an offensive defender in the system with his ability to move the puck swiftly up the ice and a great shot. He’s likely to find a spot on the Marlies blue line after this season unless something drastic occurs. At 6’1, he’s the smallest defender in the Maple Leafs system.
Long-term defensive prospects Andrew MacWilliam and Eric Knodel continue to hone their craft in the NCAA. While Petter Granberg continues his career in the SEL junior league and Barron Smith still tries to find his own niche with the Peterborough Petes (OHL). Smith needs to be tendered a contract at year’s end or he’s eligible to re-enter the draft.
A year ago the goaltending depth was bare in the Maple Leafs system, but after adding Ben Scrivens and Jussi Rynnas the Maple Leafs now have some healthy competition in the system. James Reimer remains the go-to guy on the Marlies due to a solid 2009-10 season, but Rynnas and Scrivens will both be there to take over if he falters or succumbs to injury.
Scrivens was assigned to the Reading Royals for more playing time and he’s already seen action in two games. In those two games Scrivens has a goals against average of 3.40, and .898 save percentage. Rynnas has also played in two games with the Marlies and has posted a 2.56 goals against average to go along with his .912 save percentage.
25-year-old Jonas Gustavsson has proven to be a capable, if inconsistent NHL goaltender this past year and close to graduating from the Maple Leafs prospect list.