The Toronto Maple Leafs’ Canadian Hockey League prospects may be few and far between with just four, but they are very diverse. In the WHL, goaltender James Reimer handles the workload for Brent Sutter’s Red Deer Rebels. The QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts is where dynamic winger Brent Aubin honed his craft this season, and in the OHL the Leafs kept an eye on a big, tough defenseman in Owen Sound’s Phil Oreskovic, and a two-way center in Sault Ste. Marie’s Jiri Tlusty.
Jiri Tlusty, C – Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (2006 1st Round, 13th overall)
When the Leafs picked Tlusty, a 6’0, 205-pound center, with the 13th overall selection in last summer’s entry draft, he became the first forward the Leafs had taken with their first selection since Alexander Steen was taken 24th overall in 2002. The Leafs desperately need top-six forwards in their system, so the pressure was on Tlusty this year to justify his first-round status.
Early on he impressed in a six-game stint with the Toronto Marlies, notching three goals and a helper. Even with the impressive AHL showing, the Leafs brass thought the young Czech would be better served getting acclimated to North America in the OHL. Sent to Canadian World Junior head coach Craig Hartsburg’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Tlusty started off well, notching seven goals in his first 13 games before going down with a nasty high ankle sprain. But Tlusty had flashed what was advertised of him — strong two-way play, great skating and fantastic hands.
Upon his return in January, Tlusty was inconsistent. He had a strong month of February with four goals and 17 points in 12 games, highlighted by two three-point performances and a four-assist game. But he did not score a goal in his final 12 games. He finished his first season in North America with 13 goals and 34 points in 37 games.
He has picked up his game again in the playoffs, however, scoring five goals and adding two assists in six-game series upset win over the Saginaw Spirit. He now has 10 points in 10 playoff games.
This will be Tlusty’s one and only season in junior, as he will vie for a spot in Toronto with either the big club or the Marlies next season.
Phil Oreskovic, D – Owen Sound Attack (2005 3rd Round, 82nd overall)
Oreskovic had another solid OHL season in his fourth year in the league as he posted career highs in goals (3), assists (19), and points (22), and added 179 PIMs. The Toronto native was dealt at this year’s OHL trade deadline from the Brampton Battalion, with whom he had played three seasons, to the Owen Sound Attack.
What you see is what you get with Oreskovic. He stands 6’3 and 220 pounds and is a stay-at-home blueliner. He hits, he fights, he is solid in his own end and for a man his size, he is decent on his feet.
In 2005-06 he was recognized as the best bodychecker and best defensive defenseman in the OHL coaches poll. This season he was shut out of both those categories. Owen Sound finished in eighth spot in the OHL’s Western Conference, and were ousted in four straight games by the London Knights. He had no points and was -3 in those games.
Oreskovic could return to the OHL next season as an overager if he is not able to crack the Marlies roster.
James Reimer, G – Red Deer Rebels (2006 4th round, 99th overall)
Reimer enjoyed a solid first season as a full-time starter for Brent Sutter’s Red Deer Rebels. With the Western Hockey League becoming the new QMJHL in the last few years in terms of pumping out top-flight goaltending prospects on a regular basis, everyone is wondering who the next one will be.
Reimer, 18, is a big goalie who covers the net well and uses his size to take away angles from shooters. He is also quick for a 6’3, 200-pounder.
Reimer posted good numbers in 60 games this season. He had a 2.66 GAA and an outstanding .912 save percentage. He also posted a 26-23-7 record with three shutouts.
In the playoffs, Reimer struggled giving up almost four goals a game to the powerhouse Medicine Hat Tigers but the Rebels were able to take the Tigers to seven games before bowing out.
Red Deer has brought in enough young talent to make a run next season, so Reimer will have a good chance to improve his stock even more in 2007-08.
Brent Aubin, RW – Quebec Remparts (Signed as free agent in 2006)
Coming off a 57-goal season in 2005-06, Aubin received an invite to Maple Leafs training camp last fall and made the most of his opportunity. Aubin was impressive, showing the skills that allowed him to progress and pile up 14, 29, 41 and 57 goals, respectively, in his first four seasons in the Q.
Aubin was signed to a free-agent deal when training camp concluded and was sent back to Patrick Roy’s Quebec Remparts for his overage season.
Standing only 5’9 and 185 pounds, Aubin impacts the game in one way — in the scoring column. Aubin again broke the 50-goal barrier this season, scoring 51 in 68 games. He finished with 105 points and added three goals and five assists in a first-round playoff exit. Aubin was named CHL Player of the Week in October after he registered nine goals and five assists in a four-game span. Knocks on Aubin have always been his size and skating but there is no question his junior numbers speak volumes about his talent. He will play with the Toronto Marlies next year and hope his offensive game will translate into the same type of success at the next level.
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