After seemingly placing more of an emphasis on drafting and developing overseas and US college prospects, the Maple Leafs Canadian Hockey League cupboard continues to be rather bare. But a lack of quantity doesn’t mean a lack of intriguing potential.
With one prospect in each major junior league across the country, the Leafs’ three CHL prospects are each vastly different from one another. In the OHL, the Leafs’ top draft pick from the 2007 Entry Draft, Dale Mitchell, plays a power game and is following up on a 43-goal 2006-07 campaign. In the QMJHL, Chris DiDomenico has come from way off the radar after being a sixth-round afterthought to leading the entire circuit in scoring to this point in the season. And out west, goaltender James Reimer carries the load between the pipes for the last place Red Deer Rebels.
Dale Mitchell, RW, Oshawa Generals
Drafted: Third round, 74th overall in 2007
A stocky winger listed at 5’9 and a pit-bull like 205 pounds, Mitchell went into the 2007-08 season looking to build on the 43 goals and 80 points he was able to post in 67 games last season. The high-flying Generals boast a load of offensive talent and Mitchell was expected to provide secondary scoring to the likes of John Tavares and Brett MacLean.
While Tavares and MacLean have done their part, sitting third and first, respectively, in the OHL scoring race, Mitchell crawled out of the gates. In his first 24 games of the season Mitchell posted three goals and 11 assists for 14 points and was -7. Early on, Mitchell was a shadow of the player who drove the net with reckless abandon and worked the corners in the previous season. At one point, Mitchell went 19 games without a goal.
However, when the calendar turned to December, Mitchell seemed to find his game and, along with MacLean, helped the Generals keep up their torrid pace while Tavares tried to bring home gold with the Canadian Junior squad. In nine December games, Mitchell scored three goals and added nine assists. The Etobicoke native continued to step his game up in the New Year and put the Ontario Hockey League on notice that he was back with a four-goal outburst Jan. 4 in Erie.
After starting his third junior season with a severe slump, Mitchell has shown the mental toughness to get his game back on track and not waste a season of development. With the Generals poised for a long playoff run, Mitchell is showing he will continue to be a key component of the second line and the gritty winger looks to be a prototypical playoff performer.
James Reimer, G, Red Deer Rebels
Drafted: Fourth round, 99th overall in 2006
Even though the Red Deer Rebels are currently toiling near the bottom of the Western Hockey League, Reimer has progressed well this season. Over the past three seasons the 6’3 210-pound netminder has seen his goals against average drop from 2.81 to 2.66 to 2.46 this season. His save percentage has also risen from .910 to .912 to .919. Even with his team getting worse, Reimer has improved his numbers each year.
Reimer has always relied on positioning and solid rebound control. He has improved on cutting down his angles this season, giving shooters even less net to look at by using his large frame more effectively. With the Toronto goaltending stable quite thin after top prospect Justin Pogge, Reimer has positioned himself well for the future with his strong first half in 2007-08. Reimer sports a 6-12-4-0 record but sits eighth in the league in GAA and third in the league in save percentage.
Chris DiDomenico, C, Saint John Sea Dogs
Drafted: Sixth round, 164th overall in 2007
If there is one story of rags to riches in the Maple Leaf system it is that of Chris DiDomenico. After being passed over in the OHL draft, the Toronto product decided to test his wares on a tryout basis with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Saint John Sea Dogs in the fall of 2006. After easily making a team that was entering its second year of play in the Q, DiDomenico proceeded to lead the Sea Dogs in scoring with 75 points, 22 more than the next Sea Dog. That was just a preview of things to come for the 18-year-old.
This season, Saint John has started the season with a 27-12-1-2 record with many thanks to DiDomenico. In 42 games he leads all scorers with 29 goals and 37 assists for 66 points. He has potted 12 goals with the man advantage, is a +22 and had also added two shorthanded markers. DiDomenico has shown offensive flair that is severely lacking in the Toronto system. At only 5’11 and 170 pounds soaking wet, DiDomenico will have to overcome obvious size deficiencies and only average skating, however, there is no doubting his creativity and offensive instincts. In less than a calendar year he has moved himself from non-prospect, to fringe prospect into a very interesting player worth keeping an eye on.