The Toronto Maple Leafs' system includes extensive depth at all positions, which should soon pay major dividends. Pending an extended lockout, there is expectation for strong competition from within, as a number of players are expected to graduate to the professional level. Recent draftees Morgan Rielly and Matt Finn find themselves ranked in the top-five for the Fall Top 20 rankings. Other new faces to the list include NCAA forward standout Spencer Abbot and Swedish defenseman Petter Granberg.
1. (NR) Morgan Rielly, D, 8.5C
Drafted 1st round, 5th overall, 2012
An injury riddled WHL season that limited Rielly to only 18 regular season games, did not sour scouts opinions of the young defensive talent. Rielly is the highest selection the Maple Leafs have made in the draft since selecting Luke Schenn fifth overall in 2008. Unlike Schenn, Rielly's game is based around his ability to move the puck at both ends of the ice. He possesses elite offensive ability and top-end skating ability even after recovering from a torn ACL.
Maple Leaf fans had a taste of what Rielly offers in early August when he suited up for Canada in the Canada/Russia Challenge. The 18-year-old defenseman was one of the clubs stronger defensemen in the tournament. He recorded one goal and three assists in four games. With a shortened 2011-12 WHL season, it's a strong bet that Rielly returns to the WHL. He projects as a top-pairing defenseman who excels in transition and has elite offensive ability from the blue line.
2. (1) Nazem Kadri, C, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 7th overall, 2009
Many have waited for a consistent version of Kadri to emerge from the Toronto Marlies the last few seasons. This last year he was a strong player through the regular season, and was one of the Marlies go-to players in the postseason before succumbing to a shoulder injury just prior to the Calder Cup Final. He recorded 18 goals and 22 assists through 48 AHL regular season games last year with the Marlies, and went on to tally three goals and seven assists in 11 playoff games.
While 2012-13 is not necessarily a make or break year for Kadri, a summer spent training with Gary Roberts has expectations heightened that he can come to camp in the best shape of his professional career. Skill has never been in question when it comes to Kadri, but it can only get you so far. He will have to continue working on all elements of his game to find a consistent spot with the Maple Leafs. He still projects as a top-six player at the NHL level, and should he add the necessary strength to his frame, he could become a more versatile threat.
3. (3) Joe Colborne, C, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 16th overall, 2008
After a year of injuries and general bad luck, the 2012-13 season could be a breakout year for the 22-year-old Joe Colborne. He's shown flashes of dominance at the AHL level, but has yet to put it together on a consistent basis. He's had to deal with a serious wrist injury and also a small growth-spurt that effected his knees mid-season. The 6'5 forward possesses all the traits of an ideal top-two center: size, skill, and solid skating ability. While he had issues packing on pounds, it is an issue that should sort itself out as he matures.
The questions entering the season are what type of player will Colborne be in his third AHL season. He has shown what he is capable at when on his game, but also shown how far his game can fall when dealing with certain hardships of a long, physical season. In any case, Colborne remains a key prospect moving forward and another year of AHL seasoning should be in the cards for the 2012-13 season.
4. (4) Jesse Blacker, D, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 58th overall, 2009
Defenseman Jesse Blacker followed up a successful OHL career, with a solid rookie campaign with the Marlies this past season. Like Colborne, Blacker had to deal with his own injury woes at points during the season which limited his overall effectiveness as a top-six defenseman. He suffered a neck injury mid-season which kept him out briefly, an injury to his oblique suffered in February, and then a shoulder injury which shut him down the remainder of the season.
Blacker offers a unique blend to the defensive system in that he plays with a great amount of sandpaper, but can also be a threat offensively. His skating ability, matched with his strong play at both ends makes him an interesting prospect moving forward. He requires the standard adjustment period to the pro game, but is definitely one of the clubs top defensive prospects. He's expected to take a primary role in the Marlies top-four next season.
5. (NR) Matt Finn, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 35th overall, 2012
Matt Finn joins a growing group of Marlies defensive prospects that is starting to give the system a solid jolt of skill in the back-end. Finn was the Guelph Storm's go-to defenseman last season playing tough minutes in all situations. Much like Blacker, Finn possesses a solid all-round game and already has a thick build at roughly 6'0, 200lbs. It's hard for Finn to do much more than he did last year for Guelph, but he should have a deeper supporting cast this season.
Over time, Finn could prove to be an astute pick for the Maple Leafs in the second-round. For now, he projects to be a top-four defenseman with all-round ability.
6. (6) Matt Frattin, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 4th round, 99th overall, 2007
Bounced around in various roles throughout the year, Maple Leafs brass will hope that the Matt Frattin of late last season is the one that arrives in training camp this fall. After failing to find his scoring touch consistently at the NHL level, Frattin was able to make a serious offensive statement at the AHL level scoring 14 goals in 23 games. He carried over his performance with an impressive playoff run of 10 goals in 13 games before a freak late-game knee injury sidelined him for the Calder Cup Finals. His injury required post-season surgery in June, and is still approximately a month away from skating.
At 24-years-old, Frattin is more of a finished product in his physical development. Many would argue the only thing his game was missing at the NHL level was finding the back of the net – his overall game was strong. If his offensive prowess from the AHL shows at the NHL level, the Maple Leafs could have a very strong top-nine forward on their hands.
7. (9) Stuart Percy, D, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 25th overall, 2011
Few players have had to deal with the severity of injuries that Stuart Percy went through this season in the OHL. The 19-year-old had suffered two concussions at various points in the season, and also dealt with an early season knee injury in October. When he did play, Percy did well scoring five goals and 20 assists in 34 games. He also performed very well in a late-season stint with the Marlies for a player who missed the majority of his season with serious injuries.
For Percy, the focus will be on getting a full-season under his belt. He missed a bit of development time due to his injuries, but also had the benefit of joining and playing in the Marlies playoff run. He's still a work in progress physically, but thinks' the game at a very high level which was evident in his Marlies stint.
8. (5) Carter Ashton, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 29th overall, 2009
The addition of Carter Ashton at the NHL trade deadline allowed the Maple Leafs to add another pro-eligible player to their ranks who has top-nine upside. Ashton, while not a top offensive threat, has shown a penchant for scoring in his career. He had 21 goals through 63 games in his rookie campaign with both the Norfolk Admirals and Toronto Marlies. He saw 15 games with the Maple Leafs, but did not do much going pointless in all games and was a minus-10.
Ashton at 21-years-old still requires AHL seasoning, but if he can build on his rookie-season totals he could become a solid top-nine contributor. He's growing more into his physical game which should make him a harder player to play against.
9. (8) Tyler Biggs, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 22nd overall, 2011
Similar to Ashton, Tyler Biggs does not offer a ton of flash in his game. He is more of a meat-and-potatoes type player where you know what he's going to bring to your team every night. What he brings is a high level physical game, strong skating, and a bit of offense. Expectations should be tempered with Bigg's offensive game as he's not expected to produce at a high rate, but should hold his own if he is able to find a niche in scoring garbage goals. Possessing a man's body at 6'3, 210lbs, Biggs should develop into a very strong cycle player. He already playing in He recently signed his entry-level deal with the Maple Leafs and is eligible to play for the Marlies, but is likely headed to the OHL for one season.
10. (10) Brad Ross, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 43rd overall, 2010
With a strong WHL career under his belt, super-pest Brad Ross is expected to make his pro-season debut with the Marlies this year. For Ross, it will be the first step in cementing the type of player he'll be at the professional level. It will be a challenge of walking the line between what is legal and illegal on the ice; trying to ply his trade of shift disturber, without getting into too much penalty trouble. Ross is also a work in progress physically and may not be able to play the same game he's use to at the junior level. He will also look for ways to assert himself offensively so that he's not just a one-dimensional player. A full packaged pest with scoring ability is a valuable commodity in the league – something the Maple Leafs will hope that they have in Ross.
11. (7) Greg McKegg, C, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 62nd overall, 2010
A point-per-game or better in his last three seasons of OHL play, it will be interesting to see how much offense Greg McKegg can produce at the professional level. Without much of a complete game, McKegg will have to rely on his offensive instincts to etch himself a long-term pro career. Expectations are for McKegg to develop into a top-six player, but he has some key flaws in his game that could prevent him from reaching his potential. He will need to continue working on his overall speed to become more of a threat off the rush, and will need to find ways to be more consistent from game-to-game. Too often McKegg will have stretches of games where he is ineffective, but also has games where he is dominant offensively. He may be hard pressed to find top-six ice-time with the Marlies this season, so developing other areas of his game may be crucial in maintaining a full-time roster spot.
12. (11) Ben Scrivens, G, 6.5B
Signed as a free agent, April 28th, 2010
Ben Scrivens was one of the AHL's best goaltenders last season, and for his efforts, he put himself firmly on the radar when it comes to Maple Leafs goaltending solutions from within. While his year was one of note, Scrivens also had the luxury of playing behind a strong defensive team and will be 26 years old in September (an older player in regard to prospects). At this point in his career, he should be making his mark at the NHL level and may have the opportunity to do so with a vacant goaltending position on the Maple Leafs currently. With a bit of uncertainty surrounding James Reimer at the moment, there is a prime opportunity for Scrivens to see more than his fair share of starts this year. Should the Maple Leafs bring in a veteran goaltender, it is likely Scrivens spends another season as the Marlies starter. In any case, it is a very big year for Scrivens to prove he is NHL capable should the opportunity arise.
13. (12) Korbinian Holzer, D, 6.0B
Drafted 4th round, 111th overall, 2006
One of the Marlies most dependable defenseman last season, the 6'3 German defenseman Korbinian Holzer is looking to make the jump to the NHL full-time next season. In order to do so, Holzer will need to bring his strong, simple, defense-first game to the Maple Leafs. The 24-year-old has come a long way over the last two-years in North America and continues to improve each season. Holzer is a strong skater, but like most big defenseman requires fine tuning on his agility at the next level. He is also not much of a threat offensively, though he does possess a strong slapshot. For Holzer, he will be looked on to provide stability to the defensive core and play key penalty killing minutes. Expect him to compete for ice time in the NHL this coming season.
14. (13) Mark Owuya, G, 7.0C
Signed as a free agent, April 28th, 2011
Silently putting together a stellar season was 23-year-old goaltender Mark Owuya. The Swedish netminder made a strong North American debut last season playing in both the AHL and ECHL this past season. With the Marlies, he had a winning record of 11-5-1 while posting a 1.94 goals against with a .929 save percentage. In the ECHL with the Reading Royals he appeared in 30 regular season games sporting a 16-5-3 record with a 2.63 goals against and a .930 save percentage. The talent is there with Owuya. He has great athletic ability, and a confident personality that is a benefit in the Toronto market. Owuya is expected to compete for a roster spot with the Marlies this season and should Scriven's graduate to the NHL, Owuya could very well win over the starting duties with the farm club.
15. (14) Jerry D'Amigo, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 158th overall, 2009
Jerry D'Amigo really came into his own in his second go around with the Marlies this past season. D'Amigo was demoted to the Kitchener Rangers (OHL) late in 2010-11 after failing to really assert himself in the lineup. Maple Leafs management made that decision to re-assign D'Amigo in an effort to bring back his offensive confidence. In 2011-12, D'Amigo has oozed confidence at both ends of the ice making him a threat at all times. He finished fifth in Marlies team scoring with 15 goals and 41 points in 76 games. He followed up his regular season performance with eight goals and five assists in 17 playoff games. D'Amigo has great physical attributes, and has a penchant for raising his game when he is needed most. His work ethic is second to none and is the type of player that can make a coaches life a lot easier. Should this season continue where last season left off; expect D'Amigo to get a call-up or two with the Maple Leafs throughout the season.
After being brought in via trade with Anaheim, Nicholas Deschamp's was looking to shake off a brutal first-half of the 2011-12 season. Prior to joining the Marlies, Deschamps only managed seven points in 31 games. With the Marlies, he was one of the teams most productive forwards scoring 30 points in 40 games. He also followed up his regular season with a strong playoff performance where he managed three goals and nine assists in 17 games. Deschamps has good offensive vision, but is not necessarily a stand-out in any one area. He is willing to engage physically, but is not much of a bruiser. A summer of strength training could really allow some of his skill to flourish. Deschamps expected to return to the Marlie's lineup and should have a permanent spot in the clubs top-nine.
17. (NR) Spencer Abbott, C, 6.5C
Signed as a free agent, March 28th, 2012
Landing one of the NCAA's most highly sought after free-agents always carries with it the burden of expecting a lot quickly. In Spencer Abbott's case, he had a very quiet pro debut with the Marlies. He received sheltered minutes, and really didn't have a chance to display his talents in situations that would allow him to. He played the way any smart player would who is joining a winning team late in the season. The window for Abbott is a short one given his age and playing style. The 24-year-old finished very strong in his final NCAA season, but will need to translate some of that offensive ability to the pros if he hopes to win a permanent roster spot. He will have a good role model in AHL star Keith Aucoin to learn from this season, but will be in tough to earn a top-nine scoring role.
18. (NR) Petter Granberg, D, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 116th overall, 2010
Having turned 20 years old on August 27th, Petter Granberg has made some strong strides in his game since being selected in 2010. He had the opportunity to play consistently in the Swedish Elite League (SEL) with Skellefteå and even made it all the way to the SEL championship. This past summer, Granberg signed his entry-level deal with the Maple Leafs, but is expected to continue playing in Sweden for one more season before joining the Marlies. An increased role with Skellefteå for the 2012-13 season should be very beneficial for the young defenseman. The 6'3, 205lb rearguard is a steady, tough, stay-at-home type that should complement the new influx of skill added to the defensive system recently.
19. (16) Josh Leivo, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 86th overall, 2011
A player who could see his name rocket up prospect depth chart this season is Josh Leivo. The 19-year-old is coming off a fantastic sophomore OHL season with the Sudbury Wolves where he scored 73 points in 66 games. This year he will be the Wolves go-to forward and should produce at around the same pace. Leivo is a very intriguing prospect due to his natural athletic gifts. He has great size, and is starting to find ways to utilize it to his advantage. His skating is strong, and like the rest of his game it should only improve as he matures. He has the potential to be a top-nine player with scoring and physical upside.
20. (20) Jussi Rynnas, G, 7.0D
Signed as a free agent, April 23, 2010
Jussi Rynnas continues to hang onto the last spot in the top-20 due to his potential, but injuries and a lack of consistent play has hampered him the last two seasons in the AHL. The road to the NHL will not get much easier for Rynnas in 2012-13 either. With a potential lockout, it increases the chances of Scrivens to return to the Marlies crease. Rynnas will also be looking over his shoulder as Owuya's strong first season of play has put him into contention for one of the two Marlies goaltending positions. Regardless of what happens, the 25-year-old needs to play and play well as age and time may not be on his side for much longer.