The overwhelming story at the Leafs camp this fall has of course been the trade rumours surrounding Felix Potvin. It hasn’t had too much of an effect on the team however, as they improved to 5-0-1 in preseason action with an overtime victory over Montreal. New coach Pat Quinn has brought a much-needed fresh perspective to camp, and has given many prospects extended looks in preseason games. Standing out on occasion has been a crop of good young defensemen, including Marek Posmyk, Tomas Kaberle, Yannick Tremblay, Daniil Markov, and Jeff Ware. Forwards making an impression have been Lonny Bohonos, Mark Deyell, Adam Mair, and Frantisek Mrazek. Their goaltending is of course deep at the NHL level, and their group of four young minor league goaltenders – Jamie Hodson, Marc Robitaille, Francis Larivee, and Doug Bonner – bode well for the future. Here is a look at the Leafs camp and their suddenly promising prospects. (ages as of opening day)
Several marginal veterans were invited to the Leafs camp, including Steven Rice, Nikolai Borshevsky, and Garry Valk. Veteran Steve Thomas was signed as an unrestricted free agent, and will start the season on the top line. The diminutive Borshevsky, for one, has shown that he can still provide some much-needed goals and has a chance to stick, and at least one or two of these additions will take a roster spot away from an otherwise deserving youngster.
Kevyn Adams – 24, 6’1″ 195 lbs – Signed last season as an unrestricted free agent from the Boston organization, Adams saw limited action with the big club. He was however a big part of a lacklustre St.John’s farm club, and he could see more action with Toronto this season. Defensively responsible centre, otherwise nondescript. Had an average camp.
Nikolai Antropov – 18, 6’5″ 190 lbs – Toronto used its first first-round draft pick in three years at 10th overall to select this big centre from Kazakhstan. The Leafs moved down two spots after trading with the Chicago Blackhawks, but many believed they could have dropped even farther and still have been able to take Antropov. Still others believe that Glen Sather, for one, at 13th overall, would have grabbed Antropov. The 6-5, 190-pound center had 13 goals and 24 assists in 42 games with Ust-Kamenogorsk. After signing with the Leafs, he had been sent to play in the Russian League, which is by all accounts about to fold. Apparently there’s not enough money floating around Russia to play the players of this league, especially the team he would play for, Moscow Dynamo. The Leafs would be quick to move Antropov should the team fold, likely to the Finnish or Swedish league.
Lonny Bohonos – 25, 5’11″ 190 lbs – Appearing with the big club near the end of last season after being acquired for underachieving Brandon Convery, Bohonos made an immediate impact with six points in six games on the top line with Mats Sundin and Mike Johnson. Unfortunately the Leafs were already out of playoff contention by that time, although his contributions did not go unnoticed. He will almost certainly make the opening day roster, but if he can’t create goals at a decent clip he’ll be relegated to the press box or perhaps back to the Rock. Subpar defensively, but the Leafs can accept that if he can put the biscuit in the basket.
Mark Deyell – 22, 5’11″ 180 lbs – Has had a typically excellent training camp, although, as in previous years, he has been tailing off as we get closer to the season. He was excellent in the annual “Blue & White” (intrasquad) game, and shone in the early preseason matchups. But he doesn’t have the size to go along with his above average talent and if he sticks with the Leafs to start I don’t expect that he’ll be with them for too long. Led St.John’s in scoring last season.
Jeff Farkas – 20, 6’1″ 175 lbs – This speedy Boston College star didn’t attend training camp in order to maintain his college eligibility, but has a bright future with the Maple Leafs. He was a steal as the Leafs first pick, 57th overall in ’97, and his speed will guarantee at least a short stay in the bigs. He is a few years away, however, but could be able to jump directly into the big time once he finishes at BC.
Ladislav Kohn – 23, 5’10″ 180 lbs – Acquired during the off-season for offensive minded minor league defenseman David Cooper, Kohn has shown a knack for getting points and has realistic hopes of making the goal-starved Maple Leafs. His defensive play hasn’t been particularly impressive, and his size is nothing to hang your hat on. Nevertheless, with the NHL looking to boost scoring, Kohn could see some ice with Toronto.
Adam Mair – 19, above average size – Perhaps the most pleasant surprise at training camp, this 1997 fourth-round draft choice is the last junior still in camp. He went through a gruelling early selection camp for the Canadian junior hockey team during the summer, and it’s fully expected that he will be called back to the final camp in December. He is a natural leader and a hard worker. He will play the year with the Owen Sound Platers of the OHL, and has suddenly become one of the team’s top forward prospects.
Dennis Maxwell – big – Don’t know where this guy came from, but made a definite impression in camp before being sent to the Rock, where he will spend the year, and make a decent contribution. Probably won’t see NHL ice for more than a cup of coffee, but his physical play in the rookie camp and in a few preseason games has certainly raised eyebrows.
Frantisek Mrazek – huge – Big hulking winger who scored 30 goals in the WHL last season and was impressive in his few appearances in camp. Really big, and if he has even some decent talent he can certainly make the NHL. Will return to junior to hone his skills and develop his game.
Ryan Pepperall – 21, 6’1″ 180 lbs – A mid-range prospect who suffered a concussion after taking a heavy hit from Daniil Markov in practice. He was assigned to St.John’s and will spend the season there. Didn’t see enough of him to make an accurate evaluation.
Jason Podollan – 22, 6’1″ 180 lbs – Good talent, acquired from Florida for Kirk Muller, but he had an extremely disappointing camp and was assigned to St.John’s. Many expected him to make the team out of camp and The Hockey News has him listed as a sure-fire NHLer. But he’s going to have to have a good year with the Baby Leafs to stay on management’s good side.
The Leafs finally have a group of prospects to feel good about. After getting into the habit of trading away all of their good defensemen, they have finally realized that a better way to go is to trade away their crap and to hang on to their prospects. The culmination of this way of thinking won’t come fully until a couple years down the road, when this group of promising youngsters is ready for the big time.
Tomas Kaberle – 20, average size – I don’t even think this guy came to camp last year, but he had an excellent season in the Czech league and was the captain of the Czechs’ World Junior Team, anchoring the defense corps along with Marek Posmyk. He has been one of the brightest prospects in camp, and is still with the team with less than a week to go until opening day. Will certainly make the NHL, but not this year.
Daniil Markov – 22, 5’11″ 175 lbs – He played 25 games with the Maple Leafs last year, and constantly outshone his defense partner, veteran Dmitri Yushkevich. Did not disappoint in training camp, and will start the season with Toronto, and could be as high as third on the team’s depth chart by the end of the season. He is fun to watch, and he’s got talent. But more than that, he works so hard every time he’s out there. His love for the game is evident all the time and he does more than you’d expect from someone his size. Solid defensively and has some talent at the other end as well. Drafted 223rd overall in ’95.
Marek Posmyk – 20, 6’5″ 220 lbs – Was the Leafs top draft pick in ’96, at 36th overall, and has developed very well. He had a good camp, but is not yet NHL material and will spend at least one full year in St.John’s. A really big guy with a good shot, his ticket to the bigs will be his defensive maturity and his leadership potential.
DJ Smith – 21, 6’1″ 200 lbs – Appeared in 8 games for the big club at the end of the ’96-’97 season after the Leafs traded away Larry Murphy and Dave Ellett in a purge of crappy old guys. He was poised and confident, and at some times one of the better players on the ice. I figured he would have a good season at St.John’s last year, be called up to Toronto after they were knocked out of the playoff race, and impress again, improving his chances to make the team this fall. However, new management was brought in last summer and Smith never surfaced with the big club. He has looked lost this fall and has lacked the confidence that made his brief stay in ’97 so successful. He was assigned to St.John’s, and his development may have been pushed back a year by the shift in management. Hopefully it’s nothing more serious than that.
Yannick Tremblay – 22, 6’2″ 185 lbs – Spent plenty of time on the Rock in the past, but he spent the majority of the season with the Leafs last year, appearing in 38 games. He was only okay last season, although he was asked to fill a bigger role than he was prepared for. It appears that he is now prepared for the role of an offensive defenseman who is defensively responsible, and will, barring catastrophe, make the opening day lineup. His play this preseason has pleased the Leafs more than the world, and they are hoping that his offensive prowess makes holdout Mathieu Schneider expendable.
Jeff Ware – 21, 6’4″ 220 lbs – Quick, name three Maple Leaf first round picks who are still with the organization! Antropov is only the second, the other being Jeff Ware. One of the factors that led to the dismissal of Cliff Fletcher was the popular belief that Ware had been drafted because of his father’s friendship with assistant GM Bill Watters, who is still with the organization. Ware’s performance, or non-performance, in the ’96 Memorial Cup for the Oshawa Generals did nothing to dispel that notion. Ware was often left off the Gens roster and was no higher than the fifth or sixth string. He saw limited ice (ie nothing beyond the first period) in two games with Toronto last season, and it now appears that the Leafs are interested in trading away the youngster. However, his time in St.John’s last season may have been beneficial as he has appeared confident and capable in camp. He was recently sent back to the Rock, but he suddenly doesn’t seem like such a black mark on the Leafs draft record. His stock is rising and he could become a bona fide NHLer after all.
Dmitri Yakushin – 20, above average size – Druzhba ’78 graduate has finished his average WHL career with the Edmonton Ice and now heads to St.John’s where the Baby Leafs will try to mold him into an NHLer. It won’t be easy, but the Rock is an ideal place to have a player concentrate on hockey. Yakushin has potential, and is adequate defensively, but will have to work hard to make it to the NHL.
No blue chippers on the horizon, but Toronto has solidified their goaltending for at least the next four years with the signing of Curtis Joseph. Currently Glenn Healy will be the backup as Felix Potvin awaits a trade, and an interesting battle will occur in St.John’s for the two spots available there. The Leafs also drafted Jamie Hodson in the third round this summer, and have few worries in goal.
Doug Bonner – Has sort of been the “other guy” on the Rock with Marcel Cousineau, despite putting up decent numbers. Larivee joined the Baby Leafs last year and pushed Bonner most of the way out the door, as he played almost the whole year with Louisiana of the ECHL. He put up good numbers there, and could graduate to the IHL in the foreseeable future, where the Leafs have an agreement with the Chicago Wolves. For now though he’ll do his best to beat out either Larivee or Robitaille in St.John’s.
Francis Larivee – 20, 6’2″ 200 lbs – Splitting half the duties with Cousineau last season in St.John’s, Larivee is sort of a mid-range butterfly style goaltending prospect who was caught in the middle of a nasty dispute in the QMJHL. I can’t remember the details, but one GM’s attempt to spite another resulted in Larivee having to sit out most of a season with his career in limbo. Fortunately the Leafs were able to rescue him and he enjoyed a decent season in the AHL last year. He had an average camp, and will have to work hard to beat out Bonner on the Rock.
Marc Robitaille – 22, 5’10″ 185 lbs – Signed as a free agent out of Northeastern University, where he had a stellar career, he has been all but handed the main job in St.John’s. Glenn Healy, despite a good camp, is getting on in years, and Robitaille has a good chance to be his successor as Cujo’s backup in Toronto, maybe as soon as next season. Most decent college grads who choose to go that way are able to make the jump to the pros smoothly, and the Leafs are hoping that this will be true of Robitaille.
Prospects with a chance to stick this year include Ladislav Kohn, Lonny Bohonos, Mark Deyell, Daniil Markov, Yannick Tremblay, and Kevyn Adams. Tremblay and Markov will surely stick for opening day, and assuming Mathieu Schneider doesn’t sign by then, they will both see a fair bit of ice along with Jason Smith, Sylvain Cote, Dmitri Yushkevich, and probably Glen Featherstone. Kohn and Bohonos should make the team as well, and Bohonos at least should make an impression. Adams and Deyell have a slim chance, and it becomes slimmer still if the Leafs acquire a centre for either Potvin or Schneider. Leaf fans will finally be satisfied though that the Leafs are making moves with an eye to the future, rather than the pointless and damaging moves which have become their trademark, so to speak, the last several years.