Youth movement expected to continue for Toronto Maple Leafs in 2013-14 season

By John-Eric Iannicello

Matt Finn - Toronto Maple Leafs

Photo: Now in his fourth season of junior hockey, Matt Finn is expected to be a leader for the Guelph Storm on and off the ice. (courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

The AHL affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Toronto Marlies, are expected to ice a very youthful lineup for the 2013-14 season, comprised mostly of players aged 23 and under. The Marlies will welcome eight players who make their rookie debuts in the AHL.

The following article details some of the Maple Leafs prospect storylines for the 2013-14 season.

Pro

Top Pro Prospect
Josh Leivo, LW, Toronto Marlies (AHL)

After a successful junior campaign, Josh Leivo will join the Maple Leafs farm team as the top pro prospect. The 20-year-old is likely to see a key role with the club as he will be reunited with former coach Steve Spott. Leivo showcased why he is considered one of the organization's top prospects during the NHL's pre-season. He played in four games with the club and finished tied for second in team scoring with three goals and one assist. He displayed good instincts at the pro level which has raised expectations for his offensive production this season. While he is one of the youngest Marlies this season, Leivo should see a role in the top-six and primary power play unit.

Unsigned for 2014-15
Jesse Blacker, D, Toronto Marlies (AHL)

Amidst the Toronto Marlies additions to the defensive end, Jesse Blacker remains as one of the clubs seasoned AHL players. With years spent developing, Blacker now approaches the expiration of his entry-level contract with the Maple Leafs. Blacker is in a bit of an awkward situation this season with all the new additions to the Marlies blue line. With other prospects such as Morgan Rielly, Stuart Percy, and Andrew MacWilliam impressing during NHL camp, it only complicates Blacker's NHL future with the Maple Leafs. He certainly has skills that make him an intriguing defender (including a right-handed shot), but the depth on the back-end could also make him an expendable asset in the right deal.

Offensive Breakout
Greg McKegg, C, Toronto Marlies (AHL)

After an inconsistent season, Greg McKegg will have an opportunity for a fresh start under coach Spott. As a returning forward, McKegg has the benefit of experience on his side as he looks to build on his offensive totals (23 points in 61 games) last year. The 21-year-old is likely to see a role in the clubs top-six this year also, and his ability to play both center and wing make him an option throughout the lineup. He looks poised to take the number two center spot on the Marlies behind veteran Trevor Smith to start the season. McKegg is a skilled forward and will have ample opportunity for an offensive breakout on a team that lacks naturally skilled forwards.

Junior

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

While Morgan Rielly is still eligible to return to the WHL this season, he may have already cemented a spot in the NHL with the Maple Leaf. Rielly has elite skating ability and thinks the game at a high level. He is elusive and has a great first step that allows him to dart quickly away from opponents. He also strong mentally which aids in his ability to play consistently from game to game.

Should Rielly return to junior, he should be one of the CHL's top defenseman and a key cog to Canada's World Junior team. He has proven himself enough to warrant an extended nine-game look at the NHL level, but there are no guarantees of a roster spot after that.

Bounceback
Matt Finn, D, Guelph Storm (OHL)

After spending a third of the season on the sidelines, Matt Finn looks to bounce back with a strong 2013-14 campaign. The 19-year-old suffered through mononucleosis and a knee injury last year that limited him to only 41 games. He came on strong to finish the season and even had an invite to Canada's U20 Summer Camp, where he was one of 10 Canadian junior defensemen. This season, Finn is also expected to be a major factor along Guelph's blue line.

Offensive Breakout
Carter Verhaeghe, C, Niagara IceDogs (OHL)

Opportunity is the name of the game for Carter Verhaeghe this season. After riding behind names such as Ryan Strome (NYI), Brett Ritchie (DAL), and Steven Shipley, Verhaeghe will have the opportunity to blossom offensively as the go-to center on Niagara. The 18-year-old center is very skilled, has strong hockey sense, and should continue to mature as a key member of the IceDogs. He still lacks bulk and explosiveness to his game, but that should come with continued training and physical maturity.

Amateur

Top Amateur Prospect
Dominic Toninato, C, Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (NCHC)

The Maple Leafs fifth round pick from 2012, Dominic Toninato is this year's top amateur prospect. Debuting with the University of Minnesota-Duluth this season, Toninato comes in with a bit of rolling hype. After a successful 2012-13 season that saw him finish with 29 goals and 70 points, Toninato competed at the USA National Junior Evaluation Camp in a series of exhibition games. He enters the season as a prospective top-six player with Minnesota-Duluth, which should allow him the opportunity to put up decent numbers in his freshman year.

Bounceback
Max Everson, D, Harvard Crimson (ECAC)

Having a bounce back year usually stems from failing to meet the expectations of the previous season. In this case, Everson is bouncing back from being suspended from the team for academic reasons at the start of the 2012-13 season. He only played in seven games (recording one assist) before he was dismissed from the Harvard team. He ended up joining up with Omaha Lancers (USHL) where he played in 16 games scoring one goal and adding four assists. Going backwards from the NCAA to the USHL is not ideal for a prospects development, and Everson's road to the NHL as a former seventh-round pick was a long shot to begin with. It is on Everson now to prove himself at the NCAA level and make up for lost time.

Unsigned for 2014-15
Dennis Robertson, D, Brown Bears (ECAC)

Down the prospect depth chart sits 22-year-old Dennis Robertson; a senior this year at Brown University. Like most seniors in their last year of NCAA eligibility, Robertson is in the hunt for an entry-level deal with the Maple Leafs. If he is not signed this summer, his rights will be relinquished and he will become an unrestricted free agent. He has performed very well for Brown over the course of his career. Last season he scored three goals and added 17 assists through 36 games while often playing upwards of 30 minutes a night.

Europe

Top European Prospect
Tom Nilsson, D, Frolunda (SHL)

With Petter Granberg crossing the pond to join the Maple Leafs farm team, Tom Nilsson takes the reins as the clubs top European prospect. Nilsson is one of three Maple Leafs prospects currently plying their trade in the SHL. After spending last season with Mora in Sweden's Allsvenskan league, Nilsson made the jump to the top level, and is now on loan to Frolunda this season. Having just turned 20 in August, he is heavily relied on by Frolunda and has averaged almost 20 minutes a night through his first 10 games. He has the opportunity to play in North America next season after signing an entry-level deal with the Maple Leafs this past April.

First-Year Pro to Watch
Andreas Johnson, RW, Frolunda (SHL)

The high skilled, 5'10 forward Andreas Johnson has already been turning heads early this season. On a line with Mathias Olimb and Robin Figren, Johnson has been one of the SHL's top producing forwards. He currently leads Frolunda with six goals through 10 games and is averaging about 15 minutes a night. With his early success as an 18-year-old in Sweden's top division, Johnson is a prospect to keep tabs o

Unsigned for 2014-15
Viktor Loov, D, MODO (SHL)

Another first-year player in the SHL who is looking to catch the attention of Maple Leafs management is Viktor Loov. The 20-year-old has appeared in 10 games with MODO of the SHL and has recorded one goal and two points. On a club that has a handful of former NHL players, Loov is one of the youngest defenders on the team. He has averaged around 17 minutes a night this season. Like Nilsson, Loov could also make the jump to North American pro next season, but he will have to earn an entry-level deal first. He also has a contract in place with MODO for next season should the Maple Leafs decide to keep him in Europe.

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