Brad Ross leads strong group of CHL prospects for Toronto Maple Leafs

By John-Eric Iannicello

Photo: Brad Ross, a second round pick in 2010, is among the top offensive prospects for the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Photo Courtesy of www.whl.ca

)

WHL

Josh Nicholls, RW, Saskatoon Blades
Acquired: 7th round (182nd overall) in 2010
Apr. 27, 1992. Ht: 6’2, Wt: 186 lbs

Selected with the Maple Leafs last pick in the 2010 draft, Josh Nicholls has played extremely well in the first quarter of the season. After being on the receiving end of a gruesome hit by Brendan Shinnimin that kept Nicholls out a week, the forward has put together a solid offensive résumé.

He’s third in team scoring for the Blades with 10 goals and 14 assists through 19 games. While he may not be the purest offensive threat, the 18-year-old forward has a solid work-ethic and interesting size attributes. He’s continued to build on his offensive game and could be an interesting prospect for the Maple Leafs in a few seasons if he progresses properly.

Brad Ross, LW, Portland Winterhawks
Acquired: 2nd round (43rd overall) in 2010
May 28, 1992. Ht: 6’1, Wt: 173lbs

Brad Ross has continued where last season left off for the Winterhawks. The third-year forward has 19 points through 18 games and is third on his team in scoring. He’s second on his team in penalty minutes with 44, and has two fighting majors. He was named the WHL player of the week for October 3rd when he scored five goals and one assist as well as being a plus-six in four games.

The main challenge for Ross will be to continue adding muscle in order to handle bigger pro defensemen; this of course should come with maturity. Should he reach his potential he will be an integral ingredient for the Maple Leafs forward group. His combination of grinding ability and his ability to contribute offensively continue to make him a player to watch going forward.

Ross was also named to the WHL roster for the Subway Super Series.

OHL

Jesse Blacker, D, Owen Sound Attack
Acquired: 2nd round (58th overall) in 2009
Apr. 19, 1991. Ht. 6’1, Wt: 190 lbs

Blacker’s offensive game in the OHL has started to evolve over the last two seasons. While he hasn’t dominated offensively from the blue line, he’s starting to harness his natural ability in a more productive fashion.

He’s second in defensive scoring for the Attack with three goals and nine assists in 16 games, and has seen his plus/minus improve to a plus-six (minus-23 a season ago). Blacker was also named to the OHL roster for the Subway Super Series.

Blacker looks poised to join the Marlies next season if he’s able to continue his strong play in the OHL. His skating and puck moving ability bring a unique talent to a Maple Leaf system that is primed with big shut-down types.

Sam Carrick, C, Brampton Battalion
Acquired: 5th round (144th overall) in 2010
Feb. 04, 1992. Ht: 6’0, Wt: 188 lbs

Sidelined for a chunk of the early season with a lower-body injury, Sam Carrick has made the most out of his short season. The Stouffville, Ontario native has three goals and two assists for five points in his first nine games.

The 6’0 forward is a feisty player who is capable at both ends of the ice. He’s a key player for the Battalion, and will be looked upon to provide an offensive spark for the rest of the year.

Carrick also made the OHL roster for the Subway Super Series and recorded a goal against Russia on November 11th.

Andrew Crescenzi, C, Kitchener Rangers
Acquired: Free Agent, 2010
July 29, 1992. Ht: 6’5, Wt: 200lbs

Impressive in his pre-season camp with the Maple Leafs, Crescenzi earned an entry-level deal after being passed over in last summer’s entry-draft.

Through 16 games this season he’s scored six goals and assisted on one. He’s also improved from a minus-five a year ago to a plus-five.

The towering 6’5 center is a long-term project for the Maple Leafs. There is hope he will develop into a tough bottom-six forward who can throw checks with aplomb. At 18-years-old, it will take a few seasons to judge exactly the type of player Crescenzi will pan out as. At 6’5, his full-potential may not be reached until his mid 20’s.

Jamie Devane, LW, Plymouth Whalers
Acquired: 3rd round (68th overall) in 2009
Feb. 20, 1991. Ht: 6’4, Wt: 212 lbs

In his third season with the club, Devane has seen his role expand from just a primary enforcer. He’s seen special teams time this year, and has looked more comfortable with the puck then in years past. While his offensive numbers haven’t taken a huge spike, they have gradually increased. In the first 16 games of the season, Devane has scored three goals and recorded two assists.

The 19-year-old forward is already under contract with the Maple Leafs which will make him eligible to play pro next year.

Greg McKegg, C, Erie Otters
Acquired: 3rd round (62nd overall) in 2010
June 17, 1992. Ht: 6’0, Wt: 195 lbs

The captain of the Otters had a tremendous October. He was named OHL player of the week during the first week of October after tallying seven points (three goals, four assists) in three games and was the OHL scoring leader at points. He also had a streak of four games where he put up 11 points (six goals, five assists). He’s also a member of the OHL roster for the Subway Super Series.

While his offensive production has slowed a bit recently, he’s still well above a point per-game with 11 goals, and 16 assists in 21 games and in the top ten for OHL scoring. McKegg is proving to be a very gifted junior player, and the Maple Leafs would love to have his offensive ability translate to the NHL in a few years.

Kenny Ryan, RW, Windsor Spitfires
Acquired: 2nd round (50th overall) in 2009
July 10, 1991. Ht: 6’0, Wt: 200 lbs

Kenny Ryan entered the season with a chance to take a primary offensive role with a Windsor Spitfire team who, on paper, looked to be a strong contender in
their conference once again. While he’s seen his offensive game improve, the Spitifres as a club have had a rollercoaster season.

Ryan has recorded five goals and nine assists in 18 games with the Spitfires this season, and has continued to be one of the team’s strongest grinders. On November 10th, Ryan was suspended two games for a fight with Michael D’Orazio of the London Knights.

With the news that Cam Fowler would not return to the OHL, the Spitfires are starting to shop some of their star talent in Zack Kassian and Ryan Ellis in hopes of landing future pieces. Ryan may also be a player on the move if there are enough teams expressing interest.

Barron Smith, D, Peteborough Petes
Acquired: 7th round (188th overall) in 2009
April 2, 1991. Ht: 6’5, Wt: 210

The biggest challenge Barron Smith has faced over the last few seasons has been getting into the lineup regularly. Whether it’s being scratched or injured, Smith has been unable to crack an OHL roster full-time.

This season he’s already missed time due to a two-game suspension and an off-ice incident that kept him out of a handful of games. With only 11 games under his belt this season, the 19-year-old Smith has only one assist and 38 penalty minutes.

He has bloodlines and size on his side, but the lack of playing time over the last few years may have stunted his development for the moment.