Prospect pool for Toronto Maple Leafs starting to bear fruit

By John-Eric Iannicello

Korbinian Holzer - Toronto Maple Leafs

Photo: Defenseman Korbinian Holzer is one of several NHL-ready Toronto prospects who was forced to play in the AHL this season due to the NHL lockout. (Bill Streicher/Icon SMI)

The improved prospect depth in the Toronto Maple Leafs system should start to bear fruit through the 2012-13 season, as many prospects make their pro debuts with the Toronto Marlies (AHL). Focus, however, will continue on prospects at the pro level such as Nazem Kadri and Joe Colborne. There is also great interest in 2012 draft pick Morgan Rielly, and what he can do over a full season.

Here is a quick look at which prospects to pay attention to during the 2012-13 season:

Pro

Top Pro Prospect
Nazem Kadri, LW, Toronto Marlies (AHL)

No other Maple Leafs prospect this season will be under the same level of scruinity as Nazem Kadri. After a summer of off-season training with Gary Roberts, the third year pro is looking to make a significant impact at the AHL level during the NHL lockout. Kadri would have likely been a fixture in the Maple Leafs top-nine this season, but will have to settle for a top-line spot with the Marlies. He has been paired early in the season with AHL superstar Keith Aucoin and the duo have shown strong chemistry together. Arguably too skilled for the AHL level, the time may be now for Kadri to get a longer leash at the NHL level. His skill is unmatched among Maple Leaf forward prospects, and he remains one of the clubs top internal solutions for the parent club's top-six.

Bounce Back
Joe Colborne, C, Toronto Marlies (AHL)

If there is one player the Maple Leafs brass hopes has a strong bounce back it is Joe Colborne. The 22-year-old center dealt with a rash of serious injuries during the 2011-12 season which limited his overall effectiveness when he was in the lineup. After a very strong start to last season, Colborne tore two ligaments in his wrist and also (unknowingly) broke a bone in the process. In retrospect, the forward would have been better off recovering from his injuries, but instead he played through it with regular cortisone shots to reduce pain.

Following a summer where he was mostly limited to lower-body workouts, Colborne is looking to pick up where he started last season. With his size and skill he fits a desired need for the Maple Leafs center position, but will need to show he has not taken a step back due to injury.

NHL-bound
Korbinian Holzer, D, Toronto Marlies (AHL)

The 24-year-old Korbinian Holzer was seen as one of the more NHL ready Marlies last season. With the lockout in effect, Holzer's NHL dreams were dashed temporarily. He had the opportunity to return overseas like fellow country man Marcel Mueller, but remained with the Marlies after earning a one-way contract with the Maple Leafs. Holzer projects as a depth defender who plays sound defensive style. He possesses good size at 6'3, and has some snarl to his game, although he is not a big time bruiser. Holzer has been paired with Mark Fraser to start the year, as the two make up the Marlies top shutdown unit.

Junior

Top Junior Prospect
Morgan Rielly, D, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)

The dynamic defenseman from the Western Hockey League has shown no signs of set back after being limited to only 18 games last season with a serious leg injury. In 10 games this year, Rielly has three goals and 11 assists and has his surgically repaired leg has looked strong. He is expected to play a role with Team Canada at the upcoming World Juniors, and could be ready for NHL duty as soon as next season. The 6'0, 205lb defenseman ranked atop the Maple Leafs Top 20 Prospects in Hockey's Future Fall ranking and found himself ranked 16th overall in Hockey's Futures annual Top 50 Rankings. Rielly has elite potential due to high end ability in a variety of categories: top-end skating, dynamic vision, and elite offensive ability from the blue line.

Bounce Back
David Broll, LW, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)

David Broll did not have the offensive output many expected from a third year OHL forward. With his size (6'3) and previous status of being the 10th overall selection in the OHL draft many expected better than a career high of 34 points that he set in 2010-11. Broll is off to a very solid start to the 2012-13 season with two goals and six assists in 10 games, but many will expect him to contribute at or above a point per-game pace. While he is not projected to be much more than a bottom-six grinder, it would be a welcomed surprise if he could add an offensive dynamic to his game.

Offensive Breakout
Tyler Biggs, RW, Oshawa Generals (OHL)

After making the transition from the NCAA to the OHL, the 19-year-old Tyler Biggs comes with the expectations that he will be a dominant forward at the major-junior level. Already possessing imposing physical attributes, even by NHL standards, Biggs should have his way with many of the defenseman in the OHL. He thrives in the trenches and has dominant board ability. He also has strong skating ability and plays a top-notch physical game. Questions continue to surround Biggs' offensive ability, but he has done well in a small OHL sample size scoring five goals and adding four assists in 10 games. He will have the opportunity to represent Team USA at the upcoming World Junior Championships.

Amateur

Top Amateur Prospect
Dominic Toninato, C, Fargo Force (USHL)

With only a handful of players playing at the amateur level, Dominic Toninato is one player who possesses a higher ceiling than the others. Selected in the fifth round of the 2012 NHL Draft, Toninato was a standout for his Minnesota High-School team in Duluth where he scored 27 goals and 61 assists in 25 games. He is projected as a five-year project, and is off to a good start as a rookie in the USHL. Playing for Fargo, Toninato has scored four goals and added four helpers through six games this season. The 18-year-old is a solid two-way player and is a strong goal scorer. He will spend this season with Fargo, and make the jump to the NCAA in 2013-14 as a freshman at Minnesota-Duluth.

Freshman to Watch
Tony Cameranesi, C, Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (WCHA)

Like Toninato, Tony Cameranesi is on a similar path to his fellow Minnesotan. Cameranesi spent last season playing in the USHL with the Waterloo Blackhawks before making the jump to the NCAA with Minnesota-Duluth. The 19-year-old scored 18 goals and added 24 assists in 55 games with the Blackhawks. He is expected to chip in with some offense this season in Duluth, but still remains a long-term project. Unlike Toninato, Cameranesi has more of an up-hill battle due to his small stature (5'10, 180lbs), but makes up for his size with great speed and ability to create offense off the rush.

Unsigned for 2013-14
Andrew MacWilliam, D, North Dakota Sioux (WCHA)

The hard-nosed captain of the Sioux is in the final year of his NCAA season and is expecting to sign with the Maple Leafs following the conclusion of his senior year. There were reports that the Maple Leafs tried to sign Andrew MacWilliam this past summer, but he chose to remain in school. MacWilliam's senior season started off a little rocky when he along with his assistant captains were suspended for violating team rules. The 22-year-old is a tough as nails defensive defenseman who will have to improve his skating and decision making to find a home at the NHL level.

Europe

Top European Prospect
Petter Granberg, D, Skellefteå (SEL)

Arguably the Maple Leafs top prospect at the European level, Granberg projects similarly to a player like Korbinian Holzer. He spent last season playing in the SEL and signed an entry-level deal with the Maple Leafs over the offseason. With one year remaining on his contract with Skellefteå, the Maple Leafs allowed Granberg to return to Sweden for one more season rather than joining the Marlies. The stay-at-home defender is currently nursing an upper-body injury which has kept him out for the first dozen games of the season.