Mid-Term Maple Leafs Prospect Rankings, Part 1

By Doug Evinou

Here is Part 1 of our Mid-term prospects re-ranking. Despite a poor start to the season in St. John’s, the few prospects on the Rock have been progressing quite nicely. As well, for the second year in a row, the Maple Leafs were well represented at the World Junior Championship, indicative of the fine seasons many of the club’s recent draft picks have been having in the junior ranks and overseas. This list was compiled by the three Toronto writers here at Hockeysfuture.com (Kevin Kelly, Steve Gandour, and Doug Evinou), plus the expert opinion of a fourth, nameless party who is well-respected throughout the hockey community. Each participant submitted an independent list of their top 20 prospects. The players were then given points for their individual rankings (20 for a first place vote, 19 for a second place vote, and so on), and the four point totals were added and the final rankings were tabulated. Without further ado, here is the January 2003 Top Prospects list for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

1. Carlo Colaiacovo – D (19, 6-1/185)

Acquired: 1st Round, 17th Overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft
Season Stats
Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL): 2GP, 0G, 1A, 1Pts, 2PIM
Erie Otters (OHL): 16GP, 5G, 12A, 17Pts, 6PIM
Canada (WJC): 6GP, 1G, 9A, 10Pts, 2PIM

Steve’s Take: World Junior leading scorer (tied), preseason scoring leader, OHL Playoff prime time performer, what can he do for an encore? The Leafs can’t wait to find out!
Strengths: Shot, hockey sense, patience, and ability to read the play and pinch in at the right time, stick handling, hands.
Areas to Improve: Defensive zone coverage can be inconsistent at times… may take too many chances leaving his partner alone. Physical strength needs work too.

Doug’s Take: Carlo has shown proficiency in all aspects of his game. He has the tools to become a dominant defenseman in the NHL. He still makes a lot of youthful mistakes, and his over-exuberance can get him in trouble at times. With age and experience, his overall game will become much more consistent. Carlo is extremely competitive and tenacious. Still needs to gain strength and weight to compete in front of the net at the NHL level.

Projection: Top 2 Power Play Point man

2. Brad Boyes –C (20, 6-1/180)

Acquired: 1st round, 24th Overall in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft
Season Stats
St. John’s Maple Leafs (AHL): 47GP, 15G, 19A, 34Pts, 18PIM

Steve’s Take: One bad preseason does not ruin his potential. A star in Erie, and in the OHL playoffs, he has put his poor preseason behind him and is now starting to shine in St. John’s. There is a reason he won the Wayne Gretzky 99 award last year, and he has similar hockey sense. Still has potential to be a number one Center and captain in the future. Boyes’ most obvious strength is his hockey sense (CAN NOT EMPHASIZE ENOUGH – comparisons to Gretzky on occasion here people but only in hockey sense and savvy). Boyes is a patient player, with soft hands, and a great ability to read the play. He is an offensive wizard, always cool and composed. Boyes may need a little work on physical play though not all forwards will be power forwards. As well, Boyes does not have world class skating ability.

Kevin’s Take: Brad Boyes is the top prospect in St. John’s and has had a solid start to his pro career on the Rock. With 34 points, Boyes has been making a significant impact,
especially since being paired with newly acquired vets Nathan Perrott and Dwayne Hay.

Doug’s Take: Brad has earned all the decorations he has received throughout his career. A classy hockey player, Brad is as intelligent a hockey player as there is. In only half an AHL season has already become an indispensable member of the St. John’s squad. Boyes owns a deadly wrist shot and the ‘sixth-sense’ to find his teammates in the clear.

Projection: 2nd line Center with offensive upside

3. Alexander Steen – C (18, 5-11/185)

Acquired: 1st Round, 24th Overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft
Season Stats
Frolunda (SWE): 34GP, 3G, 9A, 12Pts, 16PIM
Sweden (WJC): 6GP, 3G, 3A, 6Pts, 10PIM

Steve’s Take: Comparisons to his father Tomas Steen should be enough. Steen was tied for top point producer on Sweden at the WJC. Steen is a highly skilled two-way forward, a playmaker and a heart and soul guy who can handle the physical game, a natural leader, and fluid skater with good acceleration.
Areas to Improve: Very few appear and for one so young that is a compliment. More of a criticism then an area to improve is he does not have the huge upside people look for in top prospects in any one area; he is just very consistently solid in all areas.

Doug’s Take: A solid, all-around hockey player who was one of the few players who showed up for Sweden at the WJC. Steen grew up playing hockey in Winnipeg until his family moved to Sweden when he was 12. He has improved immensely in the last few years, surprising many by earning a regular shift with Frolunda’s elite team last season. A solid skater who plays a nice two-way game, Steen should develop into a second-line player in the NHL. Expect him to spend at least one more year in Sweden.

Projection: Second line center in the (you guessed it) Tomas Steen mould. Steen has the potential to be a number one line center. Steen could be compared to Rod Brind’Amour, but with a little less edge maybe.

4. Mikael Tellqvist – G (23, 5-11/185)

Acquired: 3rd Round, 70th Overall in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft
Season Stats
St. John’s Maple Leafs (AHL): 30GP, 7W, 18L, 3T, 3.54GAA, 0.905%
Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL): 2GP, 1W, 1L, 0T, 3.20GAA, 0.889%

Kevin’s Take: Despite another horrible win-loss record (only seven wins thus far), Tellqvist has won games for the Leafs this season with his solid play between the pipes. On a regular basis, he has been asked to make over 35 saves a game and has bailed out the defense on a number of occasions with big time saves. Still trying to accustom himself with the North American game; he is getting lots of opportunities to play from Leafs coach Lou Crawford.

Doug’s Take: A small, quick goalie in the mould of Curtis Joseph. Lightning quick glove hand. Has the ability to make the spectacular save. Tellqvist has slowly but surely acclimatized himself to the North American game. Weak St. John’s defensive coverage has resulted in less then spectacular statistics this season. He has faced the most shots in the AHL of any goaltender. Tellqvist still needs to work on his positioning on smaller N.A. ice, and could improve his ability to read NHL-style shot selection.

Projection: NHL starter

5. Matt Stajan – C (19, 6-1/180)

Acquired: 2nd Round, 58th Overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft
Season Stats
Belleville (OHL): 34GP, 27G, 35A, 62Pts, 46PIM
Canada (WJC): 6GP, 1G, 1A, 2Pts, 9PIM

Steve’s Take: Named OHL East’s most under rated player last year despite posting 85 pts in 68 games and posting a 6th best in the OHL plus 36. Finalist for best defensive forward in the OHL coaches poll. Stajan is a well liked junior star in all areas. Fluid and deceptively fast speed, incredible defensive zone awareness, great playmaker with accurate hard shot, hard forechecker, great along the boards, reliable leader and faceoff man, hard working heart and soul, blood and guts type guy. Many feel Stajan’s scoring will not translate from junior to the pros, but his explosive career year to date has people re-evaluating him. He certainly was underrated by many last year. His only weakness may be the scoring, but I would not be surprised if that turns out not to be a weakness at all.

Doug’s Take: Stajan is a consummate hockey player, and has no significant weaknesses. He is an extremely good penalty killer, as witnessed by his excellent performance at the WJC paired with Jay McClement. Stajan is still quite lanky; his 6-1 frame will fill out with time. Has excellent on-ice vision and is a deadly shooter. Has strong leadership skills and good hockey I.Q. Stajan is Mr. Hockey for the Belleville Bulls, who have been one of the top teams in the Canadian Junior Leagues when he has been in the line-up. Stajan could do with spending some time in the weight room, and could also work on his foot speed.

Projection: Second or third line Center, a checking-line center role would be a great fit but a waste of his skills. Stajan is in the Mike Peca-mould, but with less attitude but no less heart or guts.

6. Alexei Ponikarovsky – LW (22, 6-4/200)

Acquired: 4th Round, 110th Overall in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft
Season Stats
St. John’s Maple Leafs (AHL): 39GP, 12G, 4A, 26Pts, 44PIM
Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL): 5GP, 0G, 2A, 2Pts, 0PIM

Kevin’s Take: Named to the Planet USA all-star team in the AHL; the only Leaf to be so named, Ponikarovsky is a player who always puts in a solid effort. Not afraid to dish out a hit if he has to, and his recent recall to Toronto shows that he has no problem fitting into their lineup. Shows offensive flair at times, and has been very solid defensively this season on an undefensive squad.

Steve’s Take: Raw skill talents are starting to develop and translate into pro success (albeit in the AHL). Alexei’s strengths are his size, skating, and puckhandling abilities. I project him to be a third line winger comparable to Scott Thornton but without the tough guy act. While Ponikarovsky could improve his physical play, there is nothing wrong with becoming even more closely compared one of the NHL’s premier third liners last year.

Doug’s Take: The tall winger has developed into a strong two-way player in St. John’s. Always impresses in his brief stints with Toronto. He is a strong forechecker, and works well cycling the puck down low. Lou Crawford has developed Ponikarovsky into a decent penalty killer. While offense doesn’t come naturally to Ponikarovsky, he has improved on all his totals this season. With his size, Alexei should be more willing to play the physical game. It is only a matter of time before he is taking a regular shift in Toronto.

Projection: 3rd or 4th line winger.

7. Sebastien Centomo – G (21, 6-1/195)

Acquired: signed as a Free Agent in September, 1999.
Season Stats
St. John’s Maple Leafs (AHL): 19GP, 7W, 10L, 1T, 3.90GAA, 0.878%

Steve’s Take: How many goalies can boast being named rookie of the year in a league they barely played in for half the season? Sebastien was, and posted incredible numbers in the AHL for the other half of his season. Three shutouts in the playoffs also spoke volumes. His strengths are his reaction speed, positioning, and willingness to challenge the shooter.

Kevin’s Take: Centomo’s stock has dipped this season. The young Montreal native who was the Baby Leafs’s #1 goalie last season hasn’t played a lot since the emergence of Mikael Tellqvist as #1 in St. John’s. However, Centomo has six wins this season and when called upon, has played relatively well.

Doug’s Take: A bigger goalie then Tellqvist, Centomo burst onto the scene in a big way in 2001/02. He is a strong stand-up goalie, who has the speed to get from post to post quickly. The young goalie just needs to remain patient and bide his time behind Tellqvist. We haven’t forgotten the tremendous season he had last year.

Projection: NHL back-up goalie.

8. Luca Cereda – C (21, 6-2/205)

Acquired: 1st Round, 24th Overall in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft
Season Stats
St. John’s Maple Leafs (AHL): 40GP, 4G, 14A, 18Pts, 12PIM

Doug’s Take: Former 1st rounder has shown unparalleled character in coming back from heart surgery. Lou Crawford has moulded Cereda into a strong defensive center and an excellent penalty killer. Shows flashes of offensive prowess when on the powerplay and when he is paired with more skilled players. One of the few Leafs’s prospects who has size and skating as prominent skills. Sometimes it is easy to forget Cereda is still only 21. Cereda should develop more offensively at the AHL level. Cereda could do with getting more involved physically and improve on his conditioning (perhaps a reason for his slow starts the past two seasons?).

Kevin’s Take: Like last season, Cereda is starting to recover nicely from a lackluster first half of the year. Cereda has been getting some powerplay time with the recalls and has great passing skills and the ability to make things happen offensively. Cereda is also becoming a decent penalty killer. Expect a strong second half.

Projection: 3rd/4th line center.

9. Kyle Wellwood – C (19, 5-10/190)

Acquired: 5th Round, 110th Overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft
Season Stats
Windsor (OHL): 35GP, 29G, 40A, 69Pts, 0PIM
Canada (WJC): 6GP, 1G, 4A, 5Pts, 0PIM

Steve’s Take: Scoring potential, highlight reel plays, great OHL numbers and former OHL scoring race winner… chased Boyes for the Wayne Gretzky 99 award (playoff MVP) last year.

Doug’s Take: Perhaps the most offensively gifted player in the organization. Wellwood is a Gretzky-like magician with the puck and a pure finisher. Wellwood displayed excellent face-off ability at WJC. He did not look out of place on a top line alongside team captain Scottie Upshall. Smallish by NHL standards, Wellwood showed a willingness to get involved at the WJC. Wellwood must improve footspeed and quickness to overcome his size disadvantage. Proponents cite his new commitment to conditioning and his desire as strong reasons to think he’ll make it. He must also improve his defensive zone coverage.

Projections: Leafs should sign this guy by June 1st, and let him develop in the AHL for the next 2-3 years. Upside is as a 2nd line center, downside is a career AHL star.

10. Jay Harrison – D (20, 6-3/200)

Acquired: 3rd Round, 82nd Overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft
Season Stats
St. John’s Maple Leafs (AHL): 43GP, 2G, 3A, 5Pts, 47PIM

Kevin’s Take: In his rookie season with the Baby Leafs, Harrison has had some struggles, but they have been few and far between for the most part. Not afraid to hit when needed and has a great shot. Harrison continues to develop and with continued seasoning will develop into a solid two way defenseman.

Doug’s Take: The big defenseman from Oshawa has started to assert himself at the AHL level. Mainly focusing on defensive play early in is pro career, Harrison has shown to be strong in front of the net, and can clear the zone. His offense was slow to develop in the OHL; perhaps this will be mirrored at the professional level.

Steve’s Take: Punishing hitting defenseman are in short supply in the NHL and even shorter supply within the Leafs organization. Harrison plays a bruising punishing physical game, clears the net, and plays hard and strong along the boards. Leadership skills could emerge.

Projection: 5/6 defenseman in the mould of Edmonton’s Jason Smith.

We hope that you have enjoyed this look at our top prospects in the Maple Leafs organization. Look for Part 2 of the new Maple Leafs Prospects update, where the writing team here at Hockeysfuture will look at our picks for the #11-20 Top Maple Leafs prospects, plus profiles of a few honorable mention candidates!