Maple Leafs Top 20 prospects

By Matt Peters

Top 20 at a glance

1. (2) Alexander Steen, C
2. (3) Tuukka Rask, G
3. (8) Justin Pogge, G
4. (1) Carlo Colaiacovo, D
5. (NR) Aleksander Suglobov, RW
6. (6) Robert Earl, LW
7. (7) Jeremy Williams, C
8. (9) Ian White, D
9. (12) Staffan Kronwall, D
10. (5) Dmitri Vorobiev, D
11. (15) Jay Harrison, D
12. (13) Ben Ondrus, LW
13. (11) Brendan Bell, D
14. (18) Jean-Francois Racine, G
15. (10) John Mitchell, C
16. (NR) Chad Rau, C
17. (17) Andy Wozniewski, D
18. (14) Konstantin Volkov, RW
19. (19) Phil Oreskovic, D
20. (16) Todd Ford, G

The Toronto Maples Leafs have been undergoing a youth renaissance this season. In particular Alexander Steen has looked impressive in their first year in the NHL. Six players on the Top 20 have seen time with the NHL club this season, as the team gives them a look for next year. Kyle Wellwood, having now played 65 NHL games, is now considered graduated by HF criteria.

Probably the best thing the Leafs have going for them on their Top 20 list is variety, with every position touched on near the top of the list. That said, Toronto’s prospects are looking strongest in the nets. Tuukka Rask and Justin Pogge have combined to solidify the Leafs goalkeeping for the future. Neither will be NHL ready for a season or two, however.

1. Alexander Steen, C/LW
Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL)
24th overall, 2002

Alexander Steen has been a pleasant surprise for the Leafs this season. The 2002 first rounder has made significant offensive contributions in his first season in
Toronto with 15 goals and 19 assists in 56 NHL games. Steen made the team out of camp and
has stuck with the Leafs throughout the season, playing wing usually on Mats Sundin’s line. The now 22-year-old has done well for a player making the jump directly from the Swedish Elite League.

2. Tuukka Rask, G
Ilves Tampere (Finland)
21st overall, 2005

Despite only being a backup with his club in Finland, Tuukka Rask proved his value as a potential No. 1 starter at the World Junior Championships. Rask ended the
tournament with a strong 2.11 goals against average and a stellar
93.9 save percentage as Finland took bronze medal. It was his
second consecutive strong performance a the WJC. He is just 4-6-3 this year with his club in
Finland but he has a 2.31 GAA and a 92.2 save percentage.
He’s probably still a few years away from playing in North
America, but hopefully he can find a starting role for next season.

3. Justin Pogge, G
Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
90th overall, 2004

You can’t ask much more from a goalie than to shut out the other team about every fifth game. Justin Pogge has done just about that. He has 37 wins, 11 shutouts, a .925 save
percentage and a 1.74 GAA with the Hitmen. The next question is whether he can
do on the next level. It’s been encouraging to see him up his workload from
29 games last season to 52 this season and turn in better
numbers in the process. Pogge became a household name this winter as he backstopped Team Canada to a gold medal in the WJC. He will likely get a good shot at the starting job with the Marlies next season.

4. Carlo Colaiacovo, D
Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL)
17th overall, 2002

Colaiacovo slips down on the list, but not due to poor play. Everything was going according to plan for Carlo Colaiacovo early this season. He finally made the jump from the AHL to NHL. The offensive defenseman got a quick call up to the Leafs after scoring 11 points in 14 games with farm club. He went on to have decent stats with the Leafs, scoring seven points in 21 NHL games. But all that was before he took a
hit from Vaclav Varada Jan. 23. that resulted in a season-ending concussion. He was diagnosed with a complex concussion, the most serious
type. It’s hard to know how he’ll recover. According to doctors, he’s made almost no progress. In recent years we’ve seen players’ lives and careers devastated by
concussion problems. Colaiacovo clearly has more important
concerns than just hockey right now.

5. Aleksander Suglobov, RW
Toronto Marlies (AHL)
Via trade, March 2006

The Maple Leafs picked up Aleksander Suglobov at the trading deadline for veteran
Ken Klee. If Suglobov’s stock continues to rise the way it has been
the last few seasons, this trade will look like a steal in several
years. In three games with the Marlies, he’s already registered two
goals. He was drafted in the second round by the Devils in 2000.
Despite being a top rated prospect with the Devils, he only found
his way into two NHL games. Some thought he would be ready to
play in the NHL this season, but the extra year in AHL hasn’t hurt
him. This season he’s been the Albany River Rats leading scorer.
He’s known as a liability of defense, but a pure, although
sometimes inconsistent, scorer offensively. He has 27 goals and
50 points this season between the River Rats and the Marlies. Unless there’s
an injury with the Maple Leafs, he’ll probably remain in the AHL for
the rest of the season and get shot at a roster with the Leafs in the fall.

6. Robert Earl, LW
University of Wisconsin Badgers (NCAA)
187th overall, 2004

Robbie Earl continues to impress in his junior
year at Wisconsin. With each year with Badgers, his numbers get
better and better. He is scoring at a 1.24 points per game pace. He
is second on the team in points with 42 and tied for first in points
with 18. Consistency has been a knock on Earl. He’s been held
scoreless in eight games this year. He’s also proven he can play
under pressure. Earl had a goal and an assist in a Feb. 11 game
against Ohio State at Lambeau Field in front of 40,000 people. Earl
will be faced with a choice at the end of this season to either finish
up at Wisconsin or make the jump to professional hockey.

7. Jeremy Williams, C
Toronto Marlies (AHL)
220th overall, 2003

The Leafs have had success as of late in
picking up promising players in the later rounds of the draft.
Jeremy Williams is a former seventh round selection who looks
like he could join the parent club as soon as next season. In nearly
three years since his selection by the Leafs, Williams proved
himself as a scorer and has risen above many of the Leafs other
prospects from earlier rounds. In his second season in the AHL,
Williams is scoring just under a point per game clip, 49 points in
51 games. He is third on the Marlies in points. Williams is another
prospect who lacks size at 5’11, 184 lbs, but his speed should
make that less of an issue.

8. Ian White, D
Toronto Marlies (AHL)
191st overall, 2002

Ian White could become even more important for Leafs organization if Colaiacovo remains out. He’s a similar offensive defenseman. In comparing the two AHL careers, White has put up 64 points in 141 career games while Colaiacovo scored 66 points in 125 games. This season White has 34 points in 55 games including 27 assists.

“I don’t want to separate the two — Ian White and Brandon Bell,” Marlies Coach Paul Maurice said the day before a recent call-up to the Leafs took Bell out of his lineup. “Those two have been so good. These two guys have been our power play and our puck-moving guys.”

9. Staffan Kronwall, D
Toronto Marlies (AHL)
285th overall, 2002

Staffan Kronwall has split time between the Leafs and Marlies year. He was recently sent back down on Feb. 28, whereupon he suffered a knee injury. Kronwall
has done well for his first year in North America. He had 11 points
in 11 games at AHL before moving on to NHL. In 34 games at NHL
level he has just one point, 14 penalty minutes and is a -3. The
defensive defenseman could still use some seasoning in the
AHL.

10. Dmitri Vorobiev, D
Tolyatti Lada (Russia)
157th overall, 2004

Dmitri Vorobiev is still playing with in his
hometown with Tolyatti Lada in Russia. He’s known as a
defensive defenseman and has just one goal and nine points in 41 games this year. He turned a solid
performance at the WJC tournament last year.

11. Jay Harrison, D
Toronto Marlies (AHL)
82nd overall, 2002

Once considered a potential top 10 pick in the 2001
draft, Jay Harrison hasn’t played out like some once predicted, but
he’s continued to steadily improve season after season. He’s
always been considered a defensive defenseman with some
offensive upside. Well, it looks like he may be finally finding that
upside. Statistically he is having the best season of his career with
23 points in 47 games with the Marlies. At +11, he’s done his job in
his own end. He’s also played eight games with one point and a +5
with the parent club this season, though is currently shelved with a broken hand.

12. Ben Ondrus, LW
Toronto Marlies (AHL)
Free agent signee, 2004

Ben Ondrus is having a career year with the Marlies. He’s scored 12 goals and 30 points and has earned several brief call-ups with the Maple Leafs, totaling three games. He played well with them in an energy role. He’s not going to set
the world on fire with his stick work, but does an admirable job as a role player. He’s a forward who likes the physical side of the game and crashing the net.

13. Brendan Bell, D
Toronto Marlies (AHL)
65th overall, 2002

Brendan Bell has continued to develop as a defenseman in the AHL. He’s improved little by little each season, and Leafs have rewarded him by calling him on Mar. 6 due to a rash of injuries. Although Bell never saw any game action, he is heading in the right direction. He is currently the top scoring defenseman with the Marlies with 25 assists and 28 points in 63 games this season. Lately he has been paired with Ian White.

14. Jean-Francois Racine, G
Toronto Marlies (AHL)
90th overall, 2000

Though the Leafs have two goaltending prospects with higher potential, Racine could still carve out an NHL career for himself. He also has the advantage of being more pro-ready, having played four years in the minors. The 2000 draft pick has 14 wins, a 3.08 GAA and a .905 save
percentage in 26 games with the Marlies.

15. John Mitchell, C
Toronto Marlies (AHL)
158th overall, 2003

After four seasons in the OHL, John Mitchell has spent most of the 2005-06 season adjusting to life in the AHL and has just six points in 38 games. Expected to bring at least somewhat of an offensive game to the Marlies, Mitchell got off to a rather slow start (2 goals, 1 assist in 24 games). Then he injured his knee and did not play for over a month. He’ll need to spend a few more seasons and get some more ice time at the AHL level.

16. Chad Rau, C
Colorado College Tigers (NCAA)
228th overall, 2005

Chad Rau looks like a great late-round find for Toronto. In his freshman season at Colorado College, Rau has scored 30 points in 41 games. Playing on a line with seniors
Brett Sterling (ATL) and Joey Crabb (NYR) certainly hasn’t hurt his development or his production. He is the Tigers fifth leading scorer and has earned himself enough time on the power play unit to score six goals.

17. Andy Wozniewski, D
Toronto Marlies (AHL)
Free agent, 2004

If anyone has made the most of their opportunities among Leafs prospects, it’s Andy Wozniewski.
Wozniewski signed with Toronto as a free agent in 2004. He has
found a way to stick with organization and actually move ahead of
many of Leafs other draft picks. He began the season with the big club, ahead of Colaiacovo, Kronwall and Harrison. His performance in the AHL has
earned him another call-up with the Maple Leafs. Wozniewski has spent
13 games with the Leafs, registering one assist with a
-8 rating. Wozniewski probably won’t ever be a long-term solution for the
Leafs, but he should do well as a depth player.

18. Konstantin Volkov, RW
Chekhov Vityaz (Russia)
125th overall, 2003

Those looking for an encore of Konstantin Volkov’s nine points in 10 games performance late
season won’t find it this season. Volkov has just six points in 28 games. However, the upside is that his still playing in Russia’s Super League. It may be a few seasons before we get a chance to see if he can score consistently in North America.

19. Phil Oreskovic, D
Brampton Battalion (OHL)
82nd overall, 2005

It looks like Toronto may have found a future
replacement for Tie Domi. Phil Oreskovic, the Leafs second pick in last
year’s draft, has spent more time in penalty box than anyone else
on the Brampton Battalion. His 198 penalty minutes led the team by a large margin. With this being his third season with the Battalion, he may get a shot to prove his grit within
the organization next season. He had 12 points in 64 regular season games.

20. Todd Ford, G
Pensacola Ice Pilots (ECHL)
74th overall, 2002

Todd Ford has been a disappointment this season in the ECHL. His sub-par season has included just 10 wins in 29 games, a save percentage of .900, and some ugly goals against with the Pensacola Ice Pilots. However, he’s recently been called up the Marlies due to injuries at the NHL level. If he can use the promotion to his advantage and prove
his worth within the organization, it could be the positive first step he needs to build on. So far he has just a .888 save percentage in four games in his first AHL action.

Leslie Treff, Kevin Forbes and Colleen Greene contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.