The Maple Leafs system has been stockpiled over the years, and looks like it will start to turn out a handful of solid NHL players in the near future. While they’ve supplemented the loss of their own first-round draft choices by trading for two former highly touted prospects in Joe Colborne and Jake Gardiner, they’ve also added 16 selections over the last two years (including two, first round selections in June 2011).
The club has a number of players looking for their chance to make an impact, in all positions. At their immediate use are Keith Aulie, Jesse Blacker Joe Colborne, Nazem Kadri, Matt Frattin, Jake Gardiner, and Ben Scrivens who have displayed varying degrees of success early in the season. Throughout the amateur leagues, the likes of Sondre Olden, Greg McKegg, Stuart Percy, Tyler Biggs, Josh Nicholls and Brad Ross have given the Maple Leafs a new wave of fresh depth options for the parent and farm club in the near future.
Gone from last year’s list are Tyler Bozak (graduated), Robert Slaney (trade with Nashville), Jerome Flaake (rights expired), Ben Winnett (rights expired), Christian Hanson (signed with Washington), Brayden Irwin, Mikhail Stefanovich (trade with Dallas).
With Kadri being groomed as a winger, it’s allowed the Maple Leafs to have a threat option on the left-hand side. While some may question his ability to truly showcase his playmaking talent from the wall, Maple Leafs management feel it’ll allow him to focus more on the offensive side of the puck rather than the defensive.
Arguably the next high-level talent behind Kadri is Swedish forward Sondre Olden who is off to a strong start on a poor Otters squad. He’s performed at a point-per-game pace and at times has looked a step ahead of his competition.
Behind those two talented forwards is a mix of complimentary hardworking players who will look to compliment the bottom six spots with the club in the next few seasons.
Jerry D’Amigo is back with the Marlies after being re-assigned to the Kitchener Rangers (OHL) mid-season. He’s had a good start to the season paired on the top-line with Colborne and veteran forward Joey Crabb. Fellow Marlie forwards Marcel Mueller and Luca Caputi will look to shake of varying degrees of injuries that hampered their seasons last year. Caputi, who was out for most of the season, will have to work especially hard to crack a strong Marlies forward group that has been rolling recently.
In the Canadian junior ranks, Brad Ross will be looked on to provide more of an offensive portion to his game as he’s already mastered the ‘pest’ role. Over in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), David Broll is looking to find more consistency in all areas of the game with the Sault St. Marie Grey Hounds. The 6’2 forward is a fridge on skates, and has already signed an entry-level deal with the club. Jamie Devane has been returned for an overage season with the Plymouth Whalers and will also build on a strong second half last season that saw him score 31 points in 32 games. Recent third-round pick Josh Levio is also well on his way to proving that he’s more than just a big bodied forward – scoring over a point per-game pace currently with the Sudbury Wolves.
Over in Europe, 21-year-old Daniel Brodin isn’t due to make his North American debut until the 2013-14 season. When he does, he’ll be 23-years-old and should be expected to make a push for a roster spot in the bottom-six.
Not an area of great depth due to a few players switching to the wing, the Maple Leafs will count on the offensive development of two players over the next few seasons: Colborne and McKegg
The 6’5 Colborne has been sensational the AHL level with the Marlies after failing to win a spot on the Maple Leafs. The 21-year-old has held the team lead in points with a mind-blowing 15 points in only seven games and has been jockeying for position atop the AHL scoring leaders. 19-year-old McKegg is looking to improve on strong OHL numbers last year (49 goals, 92 points in 66 games), but may be in tough as he captains the last place Erie Otters (OHL).
Andrew Crescenzi, Sam Carrick, and Tony Cameranesi are all long-term options that may fall into depth roles in the future. Both Crescenzi and Carrick look destined for over-age duty next year while Cameranesi is looking toward the NCAA in 2012-13. Crescenzi is off to a strong offensive start with 11 points in 10 games for Kitchener which is intriguing for a player with his physical attributes.
The Maple Leafs have great size on the right-wing and a good mix of players who combined that size with a nose for the net. Whether or not they develop those offensive instincts at the NHL level is yet to be seen.
Frattin was a standout at the collegiate level last season with 36 goals and 60 points, but he’s yet to find the back of the net with the Maple Leafs. Although he hasn’t been offensively dominant so far in his young NHL career, he’s shown great offensive instincts and has been noticeable most nights.
While Frattin has graduated from the NCAA ranks, Biggs has started the season much like Frattin has in the NHL – unable to find the score sheet. The 18-year-old has been a physical menace most nights, but hasn’t contributed much offensively. Skating is also a work in progress for the young forward.
Kenny Ryan, Tyler Brennar, Greg Scott are the current depth options on the Marlies while Dale Mitchell and Richard Greenop recover from injuries sustained last season. Scott returns as one of the few Marlie veterans and will be relied on for his two-way game. Ryan and Brennar have both been rotated in as extra forwards on the fourth line and have displayed great physical tools at the AHL level which should find them a permanent home as the roster shakes out over the season. There is still the option to return Ryan to the Spitfires as an over-age player if management feels he’s not receiving enough ice-time.
Nicholls is the lone right-winger in the junior ranks for the Maple Leafs. He put himself on the management’s radar after a great season last year on a stacked Sasaktoon Blades team. He’s off to another strong start leading his team in scoring with 14 points in 12 games played.
Arguably the strongest position of depth in the system is the Maple Leafs defense. They have added quality prospects to their farm system over the last two years and those players are now pushing for NHL positions.
Gardiner has already taken a spot in the Maple Leafs starting-six due to his strong preseason performance. His speed has been a welcomed addition to a slow-footed defence, and his recover ability has made him an asset defensively.
Aulie was the team’s rookie-standout defender last season, but a sub-par sophomore season has seen his year start with the Marlies. Although he’s started slow, Aulie has been quietly efficient over the last few games.
Other Marlie defenders: Blacker, Korbinian Holzer, Juraj Mikus, and Simon Gysbers are also chomping at the bit for NHL action. Blacker has started to adjust quite well at the AHL level and is becoming a mainstay on the team’s power play. Holzer and Mikus have also seen big minutes on special team’s duty. Holzer more of a defensive specialist, seeing minutes in defensive situations, while Mikus has seen ice-time in all situations. Gysbers has been the odd-man out on a deep Marlies blueline, but should secure a spot as injuries arise. Gysbers started the season as a depth defender last year and ended up being the most productive blueliner.
The remainder of the Maple Leafs defensive depth will hone their craft in their respective leagues over the next few seasons. Stuart Percy, the clubs 25th overall selection, will look to gain more strength and add more of an offensive side to his game. Petter Granbeg and Tom Nilsson are long-term Swedish prospects who could provide the club with interesting options down the road. NCAA defenders Andrew MacWilliam, Dennis Robertson, Max Everson and Eric Knodel are also expected to play out their four-years with their respective collegiate clubs.
Goaltending has been an area that has grown in depth over the last few years. James Reimer has shown flashes of being a legitimate starter for the blue-and-white, but will need to be tested over a full NHL year. With James Reimer close to graduating from Hockey’s Future’s rankings, the attention will be turned to the two AHL goaltenders in Scrivens and Jussi Rynnas.
Scrivens, the more established of the two, is looking to make his NHL debut while Reimer is on the mend from a head injury. After a successful season with the Marlies last year, he’s started the season a little slow – but has started to heat up coming off a shut-out in his last game with the club. Rynnas, on the other hand, is just looking to play. After a strong November, he started to struggle as the season wore on. He eventually lost his job to Scrivens after missing time with a broken finger. With only 30 games played with the club last year, Rynnas will look to bounce back more consistently and more frequently.
Down the depth chart at the pro level is Mark Owuya, who was signed as a free-agent from Sweden. The 21-year-old started the year with the Reading Royals (ECHL), but is likely to join the Marlies on their up-coming road trip with Scriven’s re-called to the parent club.
At the junior level Garrett Sparks is slowly establishing himself as the starter for the Guelph Storm. After playing in only 19 games last season, it will be important for Sparks to condition himself with a full goaltending load. Similar sentiments could be echoed for NCAA goaltender Grant Rollheiser. After three seasons in the NCAA, Rollhesier has only played in 24 games.