Maple Leafs top 20 prospects

By Jason Menard

Top 20 at a glance

1. Justin Pogge, G
2. Carlo Colaiacovo, D
3. Robert Earl, LW
4. Jiri Tlusty, C/F
5. Jeremy Williams, RW
6. Ian White, D
7. Nikolai Kulemin, F
8. Staffan Kronwall, D
9. Dmitri Vorobiev, D
10. Jay Harrison, D
11. Brendan Bell, D
12. Chad Rau, C
13. John Mitchell, C
14. Phil Oreskovic, D
15. Konstantin Volkov, RW
16. Anton Stralman, D
17. Alex Foster, C
18. Martin Sagat, LW
19. Johan Dahlberg, LW
20. Korbinian Holzer, D

In years past, the Toronto Maple Leafs used their minor league system as grist for the trade mill. Now, one year into a new capped environment, the Leafs have shown an understanding that future success will be predicated on savvy drafting and roster management.

Last year was a starting point. Trading aging Ken Klee for Aleksander Suglobov was a good starting point, signifying a reversal of the way the Leafs traditionally viewed trades. Giving Alexander Steen and Kyle Wellwood significant playing time last year was borne of necessity as much as desire, but it panned out well. The only deviation from this new philosophy was the trade of top goaltending prospect Tuukka Rask to Boston in the hope for immediate reward from the enigmatic Andrew Raycroft.

Once the dust from a decent 2006 draft settled and those who no longer qualify as prospects were removed from Hockey’s Future’s top 20 list, the Leafs find themselves with a solid top end, but still quite shallow depth.

Key: Rank, (Previous Rank), Name, Position, Age, How Acquired

1. (3) Justin Pogge, G, 20
Acquired: 3rd round, 90th overall (2004)

Pogge’s continued development and his cementing himself as a blue-chip prospect gave the Leafs the confidence to parlay the aforementioned Rask, another blue-chipper, into immediate help. After a stellar junior career sprinkled with international success, Pogge will make his first foray into the pro ranks this year and looks to be the main man between the pipes for the AHL Toronto Marlies.

His final season in the WHL was one to remember. He finished the campaign with 38 wins, just 10 losses, and six ties. Buoyed by 11 shutouts, Pogge finished the year with a 1.72 GAA and a .926 save percentage.

2. (4) Carlo Colaiacovo, D, 23
Acquired: 1st round, 17th overall (2002)

Colaiacovo has teased Leafs fans for a few years with his potential. In fact, in 21 games last year with the big club, he performed well, earning seven points and not looking out of place on the blue line. Then the injury bug struck and Colaiacovo was felled by a complex concussion.

The 6’1 rearguard has shown impressive offensive flair both in the junior ranks and in the minor leagues, and he’s displayed a willingness to lay the body that has tantalized the Leafs Nation. He’ll attend camp this year looking to solidify a roster spot and avoid the injury bug that’s retarded his development a bit.

3. (6) Robbie Earl, LW, 21
Acquired: 6th round, 187th overall (2004)

Earl’s junior year in college couldn’t have gone better. The Los Angeles native enjoyed a stellar season with the University of Wisconsin, racking up 46 points in 40 games and being named MVP of the Frozen Four tournament as the Badgers took home the title.

Earl then signed with the Leafs and made a cameo appearance with the Marlies during the AHL playoffs. This year, he will be looked upon to spark the Marlies’ offense and bring the leadership and scoring prowess that made him so important to the Badgers’ successes to the next level.

4. (NR) Jiri Tlusty, C, 18
Acquired: 1st round, 13th overall (2006)

The Leafs were delighted that the skilled Czech center fell to them at No. 13 in the recent NHL Entry Draft. With Kladno last year, Tlusty netted seven goals in 40 games, which may not seem like a lot until you realize that Tlusty was more than holding his own against grown men in a professional league.

The Leafs are expecting big things from the talented youngster in the not-too-distant future. The club has signed the young center and his rights were acquired by the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds in their European draft. Tlusty combines a willingness to engage in the rough stuff along with his more refined skill set, which projects him to be an attractive future top-two center with the Leafs.

5. (5) Jeremy Williams, C, 22
Acquired: 7th round, 220th overall (2003)

If anything, the Leafs have shown that they are able to mine the lower rounds for talent. The aforementioned Earl came out of the sixth round, and the Leafs were able to find a diamond in the deep rough when they picked up this offensively-skilled Williams in the seventh round.

Williams again discovered the point-producing prowess that he displayed during his final two years in the junior ranks, where he netted 194 points in 140 games. Last year, his second full season with the Marlies, he performed at a point-per-game clip with 56 points in 55 games. His play also earned him a call-up to the parent club, during which he scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game.

The changing face of the NHL has opened the door for the skilled Williams who counters average size with dynamic speed.

6. (6) Ian White, D, 22
Acquired: 6th round, 191st overall (2002)

For some, injuries are opportunities, and this Steinbach, Manitoba native made the most of the decimated Leafs’ blueline corps to show that he belonged in the NHL.

In 12 games with the Leafs, he scored six points and posted a respectable +2 ranking, all the while playing over 19:00 minutes per game – third best on the squad. White was able to translated his offensive talents, so evident during his minor-league career, to the main stage.

The 5’10 blueliner has always been a proficient point producer: his best junior season saw him register 79 points in 70 games, including 32 goals. Prior to his NHL call-up, White was producing at a solid pace in the AHL with the Marlies, with 37 points in 59 games. His offensively-minded game meshes well with the requirements of defensemen in today’s NHL.

7. (NR) Nikolai Kulemin, 20, LW
Acquired: 2nd round, 44th overall (2006)

Kulemin sure knows how to pick his spots. The unheralded winger burst out of nowhere to enjoy a superlative season in the Russian Super League, which culminated with him being named the league’s Rookie of the Year. The Leafs can only hope that history repeats itself when he makes his eventual debut on this side of the Atlantic.

Kulemin is a solid all-around player with a knack for making the right play at the right time. A linemate of Evgeni Malkin (PIT), it can be argued that Kulemin helped Malkin succeed almost as much as he benefited from Malkin’s presence. At 6’ Kulemin possesses average size, but has shown a willingness to work and an attention to detail that has endeared him to coaches and scouts alike.

8. (7) Staffan Kronwall, D, 24
Acquired: 9th round, 285th overall (2002)

At 6’3, Kronwall adds beef to the mix on the Leafs’ blueline. During his first season in North America, Kronwall was able to split time between the Leafs and the club’s farm club, enjoying moderate success at both levels.

In the AHL, Kronwall displayed an unexpected flair for offense, racking up 11 points in 11 games before being called up to the NHL. With the Leafs, Kronwall played the steady defensively responsible game he’s more known for. In 34 games, the Swedish blueliner only registered one point, and earned a passable -3 plus/minus ranking. Returning to AHL after suffering a knee injury, Kronwall got into a handful of games late in the season and was part of the Marlies’ playoff push.

Rarely flashy, Kronwall is a steadying presence on the blueline who is more reminiscent of defensive defensemen of the past.

9. (8) Dmitri Vorobiev, D, 20
Acquired: 5th round, 157th overall (2004)

Another defensive defenseman, Vorobiev has remained overseas playing for his hometown Tolyatti Lada club. Last season he recorded a career high in points with nine in just 42 games, so don’t expect Vorobiev to light the lamp once he crosses the Atlantic.

Vorobiev needs to leave the comforts of home and suit up on North American shores to help him transition to the game and learn the language if he wants to have an impact on the NHL in the future.

10. (9) Jay Harrison, D, 23
Acquired: 3rd round, 82nd overall (2002)

Harrison’s always been known as a defensively responsible blueliner who will chip in offensively from time to time. In his first stint with the Leafs at the NHL level, Harrison showed just that, posting a more than respectable +5 ranking in just eight games. Although he only chipped in with one assist, Harrison showed that he’s capable of claiming a roster spot on a thin Leafs blueline.

The hulking 6’4 rearguard earned a call-up after a dynamic AHL season, where he finished with 29 points in 57 games, combined with a robust 100 penalty minutes. He kicked up his performance in the playoffs, netting four points in five games. Harrison has the size that’s attractive at the NHL level and the willingness to use it to his advantage.

11. (11) Brendan Bell, D, 23
Acquired: 3rd round, 65th overall (2002)

Bell has steadily continued his development at the professional level, enjoying moderate success with the AHL’s Marlies and earning a one-game call-up to the parent club last season.

At 6’1, the Nepean, Ontario native has adequate size and speed to patrol the blueline. He’s shown continued refinement of his offensive game in the AHL, ending the past three seasons with 25, 31, and 43 points respectively. The Leafs will look for him to continue that steady development.

12. (16) Chad Rau, C, 19
Acquired: 7th round, 228th overall (2005)

This young center has displayed impressive offensive talents during his freshman season with the Colorado College Tigers. He ended his first season with 30 points in just 47 games, building upon the offensive success he enjoyed in Des Moines of the USHL.

The Leafs will be patient with Rau and let him develop at his own pace in the U.S. collegiate system before bringing him into the professional ranks. He could be another one of those late-round gems.

13. (15) John Mitchell, C, 21
Acquired: 5th round, 158th overall (2003)

After a quietly proficient junior career, the Waterloo, Ontario native had a bit of a challenge adjusting to the rigors of the professional ranks. In 51 AHL games, he netted only five goals and 17 assists.

Mitchell will need to continue to refine his game at the AHL level and display the all-around talents that he showed in Plymouth of the OHL, where he was a stalwart on the penalty kill and a solid offensive contributor.

14. (19) Phil Oreskovic, D, 19
Acquired: 3rd round, 82nd overall (2005)

The rugged Oreskovic threw his 6’3, 217-pound frame around with abandon this season in the OHL – and his opponents noticed. In the year-end OHL Eastern Conference Coaches Poll, the Brampton Battalion blueliner garnered acclaim as the best defensive defenseman and the best body checker.

He chipped in with 12 points in 65 games, but his biggest mark on the score sheet came in the penalty column. Oreskovic played the role of enforcer to the tune of 202 PIM. He continued his thuggish ways in the postseason, racking up 34 minutes in just 11 games.

15. (18) Konstantin Volkov, RW, 21
Acquired: 4th round, 125th overall (2003)

Volkov had a mediocre season with the Russian Super League’s Chekhov Vityaz franchise last year, posting only six points in 28 games. The native of St. Petersburg will most likely spend a few more years playing on the Russian circuit before finding his way to North American shores.

16. (NR) Anton Stralman, D, 20
Acquired: 7th round, 216th overall (2005)

Stralman made a smooth jump to the Swedish Elite League last year, joining Timra IK. In 45 games, he registered only five points and 28 PIM, but he was able to keep up with the competition. He also was a member of the Swedish team in the 2006 World Junior Championship.

17. (NR) Alex Foster, C, 21
Acquired: Free Agent

If pedigree were all it took to get into the NHL, then Foster would have a much better chance at cracking the Leafs roster. His father, Dwight, played 541 games over 10 years with a number of clubs, and the younger Foster is trying to follow in his father’s footsteps following a stellar career with the NCAA’s Bowling Green State.

In 38 games last year, Foster accounted for 51 points. He then earned an invite to the Marlies roster and appeared in eight games, scoring one goal. The Canton, Michigan native will continue his development in the AHL.

18. (NR) Martin Sagat, LW, 21
Acquired: 3rd round, 91st overall (2003)

This 6’3 Slovakian native still has plenty of room to bulk up on that frame of his, but he’s been able to make a solid transition to the AHL game. Last season, Sagat netted 21 points in 60 games for the Marlies and will be counted on to provide even more offense this season.

19. (NR) Johan Dahlberg, LW, 19
Acquired: 6th round, 173rd overall (2005)

Dahlberg, at 6’2, has shown that he’s willing to play the body and the puck. He led his Modo Under-20 team with 194 PIM, but also chipped in with 18 goals. A few more years overseas and perhaps a trip to the Elite League are on the horizon for this young winger.

20. (NR) Korbinian Holzer, D, 18
Acquired: 4th round, 116th overall (2006)

The German-born Holzer is yet another of the long-term prospects. A two-time participant in the World Junior Hockey Championships, Holzer has had two less-than-stellar outings finishing -3 and -5 in the last two tournaments with average offensive numbers. However, this is also partly attributed to the quality of the German squad.

He regressed statistically last year in the German league. Following a stellar 2004-05 campaign that saw him net 18 points in 34 games, Holzer saw his offensive totals dwindle to a mere five points in 36 regular-season games for EC Bad Tolz. While Holzer has appealing size at 6’2, he needs to bulk up his wiry frame. That being said, he’ll have plenty of time to pack on the pounds as he looks to stay overseas for a couple more years at least, refining his skills.

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.