The Maple Leafs rebuild process has been a slow one, but the emergence of a few minor-league prospects could accelerate the process as soon as next season. Both Jesse Blacker and Jerry D'Amigo garnered multiple honors in the inaugural edition of the Maple Leaf's prospect awards.
There haven't been many standout performances from any Maple Leaf prospect this season. It can be argued that the best season came from recent signee (and Hobey Baker finalist) Spencer Abbott, or perhaps the play of Swedish defender Petter Granberg who's played as a member of Sweden's U-20 team and in the Swedish Elite League (SEL) as a 19-year-old. But this season, 25-year-old Ben Scrivens takes home Prospect of the Year honors for his play with the Toronto Marlies in the AHL. Scrivens appeared in 39 games for the Marlies this season and had a 2.04 goals against average, and also a .926 save percentage. His statistics cemented him atop the American Hockey League (AHL) as one of the league's best goaltenders. His 2.04 goals against average earned him the Holmes Memorial Award for the goaltender which allowed the fewest goals in the regular season. He also saw a short 12 game stint in the NHL where he played well given the circumstances, posting a 3.13 goals against average and a .903 save percentage. Currently, he's backstopped the Marlies to the AHL Western Conference finals.
Best Defensive Prospect: Jesse Blacker, D, Toronto Marlies (AHL)
Fending off strong pushes from Korbinian Holzer and Stuart Percy, Jesse Blacker comes away with the title of top defensive prospect in the Maple Leafs system. What makes him the clubs top blue line prospect is his combination of skill, size, and skating. He is also arguably one of the clubs more dynamic defensive prospect. Blacker's first season with the Marlies saw him hit some injury trouble playing in only 58 games, but still managed to finish third in club defensive scoring with one goal and 15 assists.
Breakout Player for 2012-13: Tyler Biggs, RW, Miami Redhawks (CCHA)
After a solid freshman season with the Redhawks where Tyler Biggs recorded nine goals and eight assists for 17 points in 37 games, expectations of a breakout season await Biggs for the 2012-13 season. Originally believed to be returning to Miami (Ohio), Biggs has recently come out about his desires to continue his career as a member of the Oshawa Generals (OHL). Wherever he plays, the 2011 first-round selection will be expected to be more of a dominant force as he projects as a prototypical power forward at the NHL level.
Fastest Skater: Jerry D'Amigo, LW, Toronto Marlies (AHL)
There's a handful of prospects who could have their names linked with the Fastest Skater in the system, but this season Jerry D'Amigo takes home the inaugural honors. It's almost expected that in any given game, D'Amigo will come away with a breakaway opportunity, and not even just on the man advantage or at full strength – D'Amigo is just as dangerous in short-handed situations. Forward Matt Frattin and defenseman Jesse Blacker were also given serious consideration for the award.
Hardest Shot: Matt Frattin, RW, Toronto Marlies (AHL)
Few Maple Leaf prospects possess the scoring ability that forward Matt Frattin has. The 24-year-old forward can bury the puck in a variety of ways, and with the Marlies he's showing more of a penchant for finding the back of the net. Whether it's a bullet slap shot, a hard wrist shot, or a stationary one timer from the slot, Frattin's offensive arsenal makes him a consistent threat.
Hardest Worker: Jerry D'Amigo, RW, Toronto Marlies (AHL)
It's hard to deny the pure hustle that D'Amigo brings each night for the Marlies. He's usually the first player in on the forecheck due to his speed, and is doing a better job winning puck battles down low as a result of his strong work ethic. D'Amigo is one of the teams most dependable players, seeing key ice-time on the penalty kill with Greg Scott. D'Amigo keeps his motor going all the time, and has turned into a valuable player because of it.
Highest Risk/Reward Prospect: Nazem Kadri, C, Toronto Marlies (AHL)
Nazem Kadri's name seems synonymous with the title of 'high risk/high reward' prospect the last few seasons in Toronto. His high skill level takes you out of your seat, but his short comings have seen him stuck in a full-time top-six role with the Marlies. At his best, Kadri plays a tough, tenacious, high skill game that infuriates his opposition. At his worst, he can be a selfish player who turns over the puck trying to be too fancy or holding onto the puck too long. The skill is always evident with Kadri, however the Maple Leafs coaching staff is still trying to find ways for him to become a more consistent offensive threat night in night out. He's been one of the Marlies top players in the playoffs scoring three goals and adding seven assists in 11 games.
Most Improved Prospect: Jerry D'Amigo, RW, Toronto Marlies (AHL)
Taking home yet another prospect award for the Maple Leafs, D'Amigo takes the honors of the systems most improved prospect this season. D'Amigo joined the Marlies last season after a successful NCAA campaign with R.P.I., but was unable to sustain a roster spot over the course of an entire season and was re-assigned to the Kitchener Rangers (OHL). This season, D'Amigo has been a much more effective player in his role with the Marlies. From a fringe player a season ago, to one of Dallas Eakin's most trusted soldiers this year; D'Amigo is starting to come into his own at the professional level.
Overachiever: Josh Leivo, LW, Sudbury Wolves (OHL)
The word 'overachiever' comes with a negative connotation that the player did something he likely isn't to repeat in the future. In Leivo's case, he overachieved more due to how explosive his season was vs. the year he had a season ago. Maple Leafs scouting staff knew that Levio possessed the ability to be a top producer in the OHL, but the jump in production was a bit unexpected. His draft year saw him score only 30 points, but had a bit of a coming out party in the playoffs scoring 13 points in eight games. This season he had a 42 point increase in production, finishing the season with 72 points in 66 games. Leivo certainly set high expectations for himself heading into the 2012-13 season, but his skill level should allow him to at least maintain his production.
Underachiever: Sondre Olden, LW, Erie Otters (OHL)
Coming over as a 19-year-old from Europe and playing in a new country is never an easy thing, it's even harder when you join a team that's one of the worst in Canadian junior hockey. Sondre Olden had the unpleasant experience of joining a struggling Erie Otters squad this season and was very inconsistent. Many expected the highly skilled Norwegian to be a primary contributor for the Otters, and play a key role with fellow Maple Leaf prospect Greg McKegg, but it didn't play out that way. Olden appeared in only 48 games with the club, and finished fifth in team scoring with 32 points. He joined the Marlies at the end of the season on a try-out agreement, but was let go due to a rumored injury. It's uncertain whether or not the 6'4 forward will earn an entry-level deal with the club, as his rights with the Maple Leafs will expire this summer.