Jeremy Bracco, RW, U.S. National U18 Team (USDP)
2nd round, 61st overall
Height: 5-9 Weight: 170 lbs
The Leafs used their other second round pick to obtain a diminutive forward who was ranked as a first-round talent by two scouting agencies. Bracco is another extremely skilled and creative forward that the Leafs selected despite his small size, a factor that was likely caused other teams to pass him over. Despite his stature, Bracco’s eye-popping offensive production cannot be ignored. He finished the 2014-15 season with 30 goals and 94 points in 65 games, and had 13 points in seven games representing the U.S. at the U18 World Junior Championships. Last season, Bracco set the USNTDP single season assist record with 65, and now holds the mark for most career assists with 122—a record previously held by Patrick Kane. His 168 USNTDP career points rank third highest all-time behind USNTDP alumni Phil Kessel and Kane.
Bracco uses excellent on-ice vision, strong puck possession skills and a low panic threshold to find open line mates in the offensive zone. His strength is in stick handling around the opposition and making accurate passes, although he has a strong shot too. By the same token, there is much for Bracco to work on. He will need to add strength, work on his speed, and become much more aware of his defensive responsibilities, skills that the Leafs believe are much easier to teach than Bracco’s already innate hockey sense.
Decisions about his immediate future are up in the air according to Bracco.
“Next season my focus is on Boston College, but if the Leafs think a different route is better for my development, that’s a conversation I’ll be having with them.” said Bracco. His OHL rights belong to the Kitchener Rangers.
Bracco spoke with the media following his testing session at the 2015 NHL Scouting Combine, with his comments being captured in this HF video.
Andrew Nielsen, D, Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)
3rd round, 65th overall
Height: 6-3 Weight: 205 lbs
Having gone with small and skilled picks with their first three selections, the Leafs used the 65th overall pick to select a big, raw defenseman in Nielsen. Nielsen is far from polished, having played below the double-A minor level in Alberta only three years ago. His strength is in the defensive zone where he uses his size and bulk effectively.
Nielsen played on a poor Lethbridge team that won only 20 games all season, yet he was entrusted with a heavy workload even as a rookie. Despite not having played against elite levels of competition at an earlier age, Nielsen is emerging as a late bloomer and showing promise as a physically imposing defender. His 101 penalty minutes in 59 games were second on the team.
Neilsen`s offensive game will never be his calling card although he possesses some tangible qualities. He has a heavy shot, albeit not always accurate, and he looks to make the safe pass rather than higher risk plays. Neilsen led all Hurricanes defensemen with seven goals, and also had 17 assists. He will return to Lethbridge next season.
Martins Dzierkals, LW, HK Riga (MHL)
3rd round, 68th overall
Height: 5-11 Weight: 169 lbs
With the third pick they obtained when trading out of the first round, the Leafs picked a small, fast, skilled and feisty Latvian playing in the Russian junior league. Dzierkals is a dynamic offensive player who despite his size, combines high end skill with a willingness to take the body. In 32 games with HK Riga, Dzierkals scored 10 goals and 28 points, and also had 49 penalty minutes. Dzierkals was an offensive standout representing the U18 and U20 Latvia teams at the respective world junior tournaments where he scored seven goals and 20 points in 17 games combined.
Dzierkals is the type of high risk/high reward asset the Leafs have been looking to target. Making a proper assessment on how Dzierkals’ skill set fares against stiffer competition was answered in part during his impressive international performances. He may get closer to answering that question in 2015-16, as it is likely he will play next season for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL, who selected him in the CHL Import Draft.
Jesper Lindgren, D, MODO (SuperElit)
4th round, 95th overall
Height: 5-11 Weight: 161 lbs
Lindgren`s elite puck moving skills, passing ability and strong shot translated into excellent offensive production for a defenseman. Playing primarily in Sweden`s top junior league, Lindgren scored 6 goals and 33 points in 37 games. He even suited up for four games for MODO in the SHL as a seventeen year old. True to form, the Leafs were unfazed by Lindgren`s rail thin frame because puck moving defenseman with strong puck possession metrics and hockey IQ are hard to find.
Lindgren is more than a one dimensional player. He battles for pucks in one-on-one situations and is defensively aware. He can get away with using his body to angle players off the puck in junior, but he will have to add much more strength given that he weighs approximately 160 pounds. Regardless, Lindgren`s calling card will be his offense, and given Toronto’s willingness to be patient, Lindgren will have the time to add the strength necessary to make him an intriguing pro prospect. He will return to Sweden next season with a good chance to play in the World Junior Championships and perhaps even spend a portion of the season in the SHL.
Dmytro Timashov, LW, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)
5th round, 125th overall
Height: 5-9 Weight: 190 lbs
Timashov was one of the most impactful players in the QMJHL last season on his way to winning the league`s Rookie of the Year award. A Ukrainian by birth, Timashov played his youth and junior hockey in Sweden before moving to the CHL.
This season, he had 91 points, including 71 assists in 66 games, leading a dominant Remparts team to the Memorial Cup. Although Timashov scored a modest 19 goals, that relatively low number is a reflection of his propensity to act as a playmaker. Timashov`s 14% shooting percentage indicates he can score as the number was in line with the league`s top goal scorers. However, he took less than 140 shots, a number that is approximately half that of the league`s leading goal scorers. In the Memorial Cup tournament he scored three goals in five games.
Like most of the other Leaf forward picks in this draft, Timashov is highly skilled yet relatively short, although he is a hefty 190 pounds. He is slated for a return to the QMJHL next season.