Youth is being served within the Toronto Maple Leafs organization – but most of it is already in the American Hockey League or on the NHL roster. With a focus on drafting players from overseas who may be NHL-ready sooner rather than later, and a bevy of U.S. college prospects, the junior cupboard is fairly bare. But what the Leafs’ juniors lack in quantity, they make up for in quality.
On the bright side, the club’s junior scouts can keep the budget for airfare down, as only one prospect is in the WHL, one is in the QMJHL, and the two OHL prospects are within driving distance.
James Reimer, G — Red Deer Rebels
(4th round, 2006)
In the great Maple Leaf goaltending deal-around this summer, lost in the shuffle was this fourth-rounder playing for the Red Deer Rebels. One would think that it’s hard to lose someone that’s 6’3, but that’s been the case for this product of Arbor, MB.
Considered a long-term prospect by the club, the 18-year-old Reimer has quietly posted a solid season with an 11-6-2-1 record in 22 games played. He’s also posted a 2.81 GAA and .912 save percentage for the club, showing remarkable consistency as last season he posted a near-identical mark with a 2.81 GAA and a .910 save percentage.
Reimer’s already garnered the CHL’s goaltender of the week award for the week of Oct. 24, and looks to continue his steady, but quiet development out west, far from the glare of the Toronto media lights.
Jiri Tlusty, LW — Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
(1st round, 2006)
It’s a glare that one player has been unable to avoid – but that’s par for the course when you’re a Maple Leafs’ first-rounder. But after a brief sojourn in Hog Town, Tlusty has found a home – and success – in Sault Ste. Marie as he acclimatizes to the North American game.
Tlusty started the season with the Toronto Marlies, posting a respectable three goals and one assist in six games, but the Maple Leafs’ brass felt it would be better for his overall development to get more ice time in the junior ranks. There, under the tutelage of former NHLer and Canadian national team coach Craig Hartsburg, Tlusty has shone, averaging almost a point per game (seven goals, 10 assists in 13 games) for the 14-11-0-3 Greyhounds. Tlusty was eligible to play in the AHL as he was drafted by the NHL club out of Europe.
Although some may view a demotion to the minor ranks as a negative, the Leafs management knew that the best way for this dynamic forward to progress was not by getting five to 10 minutes a game against players much older than him. With the Greyhounds, Tlusty is playing significant minutes both in five-on-five and power-play situations, and he is looked upon for offensive leadership. He’s also held his own defensively, remaining an even plus/minus player to date.
Phil Oreskovic, D — Brampton Battalion
(3rd round, 2005)
Already during his fourth season, the 6’3 blueliner has matched his career high number of points for a season – only it took him just 25 games instead of 63.
Oreskovic has been a huge part – both literally and figuratively – of the Brampton Battalion’s season. And although the club hasn’t exactly enjoyed a great deal of success this season, hampered by the loss of Wojtek Wolski (COL), Oreskovic has played the role of team leader and steadying force for the club.
A pillar on the blue line, Oreskovic has been instrumental in getting the offense going, often providing that key first pass – evidenced by his 11 assists. He’s also been a rock on the blue line, forming an imposing barrier and often matched up against the opposition’s top line. Despite being on a losing club that’s given up 28 more goals than it has scored, Oreskovic has been able to maintain a respectable -4 plus/minus ranking.
Oreskovic’s offensive totals are a nice addition to his repertoire. The rugged blueliner, who clocks in at a whopping 225 pounds, already has garnered quite the reputation, winning last season’s OHL coaches poll as hardest body checker and tied for first (with Nick Plastino) as the league’s top defensive defenseman.
Brent Aubin, RW — Quebec Remparts
(Free Agent Signee, 2006)
Hard work and dedication have paid off for this fifth-year QMJHLer who was able to wrangle a free-agent contract from the Maple Leafs following an impressive display as an invitee to this year’s rookie camp.
For Aubin, the work’s just begun, and he’s continued to develop his game with the defending Memorial Cup champion Quebec Remparts. Traded from the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies mid-season, Aubin played a key role in driving the Remparts to the Canadian championship, netting 26 goals and 27 assists in just 32 games. Combine that with his totals from the Huskies, and Aubin truly enjoyed a breakout season, with 57 goals and 60 assists in 72 games, good for sixth overall in QMJHL scoring.
But if that 1.6 point-per-game performance wasn’t enough, Aubin has topped that with a 1.8 point-per-game clip this season and averaging a goal a game en route to 54 points in 30 games, good for a fifth-place tie in QMJHL scoring.
In addition to his offensive flair, Aubin has displayed remarkable resiliency. He entered the season as the league’s iron man, having played in 219 consecutive games. That consistency combined with performance has resulted in him being named the Remparts captain for this season’s campaign.
The only knock against Aubin is his size. But even at 5’9, if he keeps filling the net the way he has to date (171 goals in 307 games) and continue to avoid injury, he could be a part of the Leafs’ plans in the not-too-distant future.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.