Size and skill highlight Toronto Maple Leafs Spring Top 20

By Chris Roberts

Morgan Rielly - Toronto Maple Leafs

Photo: Defenseman Morgan Rielly has experienced a lot of ups and downs in his first NHL season. Rielly has recorded two goals and 18 assists through 54 games with the Maple Leafs. (courtesy of Abelimages/Getty Images)

Outside of Nazem Kadri and the soon-to-graduate Morgan Rielly, the Toronto Maple Leafs have been void of big-name prospects for a few years. Moreover, they have lacked the prospect depth of most other NHL teams, either as a result of trading picks or players not yet meeting their potential.

Still, while there may be holes in the Leafs' group of prospects – highly-touted goal scorers, shutdown defenders, and goaltending – there remains plenty of players with NHL potential.

The spring top 20 list features newcomer Peter Holland, as well as the fast-rising Connor Brown, Carter Verhaeghe, and Swedish standout Andreas Johnson.

1. (1) Morgan Rielly, D, 8.5C
Drafted 1st round, 5th overall, 2012

There has been ups and downs in his rookie campaign with the Maple Leafs, but Morgan Rielly has largely come as advertised. Still only 19 years old, Reilly has given the Leafs an offensive boost from the back-end with his superior skating skills and ability to get the puck to the net on the power-play.

He has been able to overcome early-season scratches to safely secure his spot amongst the team's top three pairings, and has looked more and more comfortable in his own end as the season wears on. But like most young defensemen that enter the NHL, Rielly could use some strength training, as he often has a hard time containing bigger forwards in the corners. His minus-14 rating, while not a total indictment of his defensive zone play, is the second worst on the team.

2. (NR) Peter Holland, C, 7.5C
Trade with Anaheim Ducks, November 16th, 2013

A slew of injuries to their forwards in the early part of the season may have been a blessing in disguise for the Maple Leafs. Absences up front forced the team to deal defense prospect Jesse Blacker to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Holland, a proven AHL scorer. The 23-year-old took a few games to find his feet, but has looked comfortable since December, where he saw his ice-time increase to over 15 minutes per game. He has since found himself playing closer to 10 minutes a game, but has obviously earned the trust of head coach Randy Carlyle with his sound defensive play. Holland is close to graduating prospect status via HF criteria, but still has a fair amount of upside in the NHL. He has five goals and five assists through 32 games with the Leafs this season.

3. (2) Frederik Gauthier, C, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 21st overall, 2013

With a few projected snipers remaining on the draft board, the Maple Leafs opted to play it safe with the selection of 6'5 center Frederik Gauthier this past June. Not completely void of offensive skill, he was near a point per game last season with Rimouski, and is on a similar pace this season, with 16 goals and 29 assists through 48 games.

He represented Canada at the 2014 WJCs, but was underwhelming offensively with just one point in seven games. He was used, often effectively, as a defensive zone face-off specialist, and could carve out a similar role in the NHL, where, at the very least, he could become an effective bottom-six center.

4. (4) Josh Leivo, LW, 7.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 86th overall, 2011

Skating down the wing on a two-on-one and ripping a shot past Hurricanes' Cam Ward in October, Josh Leivo hinted at his goal-scoring NHL potential. Due to injuries, the 6'2 winger played in seven games for the Maple Leafs this season, picking up a pair of points. With the AHL's Toronto Marlies, he has been one of the team's most consistent scorers, having accumulated 26 points through 41 games as a rookie. A versatile, power-forward type, Levio can play on almost any line, and has done so when asked this season.

5. (NR) Connor Brown, RW, 7.5D
Drafted 5th round, 156th overall, 2012

No Leaf prospect has had a better season offensively than 20-year-old Connor Brown. A Toronto native, Brown leads the entire OHL in scoring with 115 points through 62 games. He has been aided by 16-year-old phenom Connor McDavid (2015) and Dane Fox (VAN) – all three are amongst the top 10 in scoring – but there is no denying Brown's importance to the powerhouse Erie Otters. He has a chance to gain valuable experience with a deep OHL playoff run and perhaps a Memorial Cup berth, an experience that could prove valuable after two miserable seasons missing the playoffs in Erie. At 5'11, he is not the smallest player on the ice, but could certainly do with adding some strength to his 170 pound frame if he is to be an effective pro.

6. (5) Matt Finn, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 35th overall, 2012

As if boasting the top-scoring forward in the OHL was not enough, the Leafs are fortunate enough to have 6'1, 204 pound defender Matt Finn near the top of the defense-scoring leader board. Behind only Sarnia's Anthony DeAngelo (2014), Finn has 55 points through 60 games for the Guelph Storm, a drastic improvement over his 31 points in an injury-shortened 2012-13 season. More importantly, Finn is the league's leader in plus/minus with a plus-51. In November, the Leafs signed Finn to a three-year entry-level deal, and he will turn pro next season.

7. (11) Greg McKegg, C, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 62nd overall, 2010

An offensive dynamo in junior, Greg McKegg seems to be adjusting to the pro game in his second year with the Toronto Marlies. After producing 23 points in 61 games last season, McKegg has earned himself valuable ice time this season with consistent work ethic, and has produced 36 points through 45 games. The biggest improvements have come since the beginning of the new year, with 21 points in his past 20 games, a stretch that has included a seven-game point streak. He played in his first NHL game on February 1st.

8. (6) Stuart Percy, D, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 25th overall, 2011

Calm and poised, Stuart Percy has been an integral part of a rebuilding Marlies defense this season. Offensively, he has produced more than fellow rookies Petter Granberg and Andrew MacWilliam. His 18 points through 51 games is second amongst the team's defenseman, behind only T.J. Brennan, who has been setting the league on fire. There is not one aspect of Percy's game that stands out more than any other, but he does everything well. With the departure of John-Michael Liles, there is ample opportunity for Percy on the Marlies going forward, and he appears poised for a solid finish to the season.

9. (17) Carter Verhaeghe, C, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 82nd overall, 2013

In his third OHL season, Carter Verhaeghe has blossomed into one of the league's best playmaking centres; through 59 games the pivot has 48 assists to go along with 26 goals. After only scoring 44 points last season, Verhaeghe's rapid increase in point production is a great sign for the Maple Leafs, a team that has been searching for point-producing centers since the departure of Mats Sundin. He impressed during the Leafs' rookie camp, scoring three of the five goals scored during two scrimmages, and earned praise from Leafs director of player personnel Jim Hughes. His vision and ability to buy himself time and space with his quick feet have aided his development and success, but like most young players, he will need to continue getting stronger before finding success at the pro level.

10. (7) Carter Ashton, RW, 6.0B
Trade with Tampa Bay Lightning, February 27th, 2012

It has been 45 career NHL games for rugged winger Carter Ashton, and he has yet to score his first goal and has just three assists. Still, there has been positives for Ashton; he has 18 points in 16 AHL games this season, and has been an effective bottom-six winger for the Leafs, performing the role of agitator with his crash-and-bang style. He has not been put in a position to score at the NHL level, but if he continues to go hard to the net in his limited minutes, the goals will come. He was recently taken off injured reserve.

11. (10) Tyler Biggs, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 1st round, 22nd overall, 2011

Perhaps not so much showing the numbers, Tyler Biggs has been an effective forward for the Marlies this season. He was placed on the third line to begin the season, and while his minutes have sometimes dipped and peaked, he has become one third of an integral shutdown line with the team, along with Jerred Smithson and Mike Duco. His six goals and two assists are certainly underwhelming, but he has been able to strive on his checking skills. He should be in line for a top-six spot on the Marlies next season, where management will get a better glimpse of his offensive potential.

12. (9) Jerry D'Amigo, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 158th overall, 2009

Jerry D'Amigo's speed is his greatest asset and it landed him a part-time NHL job earlier this season. The New York native played 19 games with the Maple Leafs as an injury call-up and scored his first career goal, but it was his speed and tenacity on the forecheck that earned him rave reviews during his time in the NHL. In the AHL, he is enjoying one of his more successful goal-scoring seasons with 16 in just 38 games – his career high is 17 in 70, set last season. The 23-year-old, in his fourth season with the Marlies, has even earned an 'A' for his sweater. His legs alone should help find him on a third or fourth line in the NHL in the near future.

13. (12) Petter Granberg, D, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 116th overall, 2010

After earning a World Championship gold medal with his native Sweden last year, 21-year-old Petter Granberg joined the Toronto Marlies this season, coming as advertised. A 6'3, 209 pound shutdown defender, Granberg leads the Marlies is plus/minus with a plus-18 rating through 54 games. He has also been one of the team's more durable and reliable defensemen. He has just six points, but it is his physical streak and sound defensive game that has Marlies coach Steve Spott sending him over the boards this season, and that is how he will carve out a job in the NHL, should he be given the opportunity.

14. (NR) Andreas Johnson, RW, 7.0D
Drafted 7th round, 202nd overall, 2013

Andreas Johnson has been making his first full season with Frolunda of the SHL a memorable one. The 18-year-old has 15 goals through 43 games, which ranks third on the team. His diminutive stature may have hindered his draft ranking last season, but Johnson's value has been on the rise all season long. He was a big part of the silver-medal-winning Swedes at the World Juniors this past season as well, scoring three goals and adding three assists in seven games.

15. (NR) Eric Knodel, D, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 128th overall, 2009

Largely unknown upon being drafted, American blueliner Eric Knodel has steadily improved through his three season at the University of New Hampshire, particularly on offense. He is the team's top-scoring defenseman through 34 games, providing seven goals and 19 assists, a healthy improvement over last year's point-per-game ratio. At 6'6 and 225 pounds, he does not use his size to create thunderous hits, but uses his frame effectively, squeezing out oncoming forwards along the boards and using his long reach to clear away loose pucks.

16. (NR) Spencer Abbott, LW, 6.5C
Signed as free agent, March 28th, 2012

From opening night, undrafted Spencer Abbott has been the Marlies' best offensive option. He started the season on a 13-game point streak, has yet to go more than three games without recording a point, and currently leads the team in scoring with 58 points, which includes a league-leading 46 assists. The 5'9, 170 pound forward is not exactly blessed with the size and frame to allow his skill to flourish in the NHL, but he was rewarded by the Maple Leafs earlier this season as he played in his first NHL game. He is a restricted free agent at the end of this season.

17. (16) Tony Cameranesi, C, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 130th overall, 2011

It has been a bit of a down year for sophomore Tony Cameranesi. As a freshman for the University of Minnesota-Duluth, he finished third in team scoring with 34 points; this year he has just 17 points and sits sixth in team scoring. However, the Bulldogs have boasted a balanced offense this season, and for the most part, Cameranesi has been effective in both ends of the ice, playing on a line with Justin Crandall and freshman Kyle Osterberg.

18. (14) Dominic Toninato, C, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 126th overall, 2012

A 6'1 pivot still waiting to fill out his frame, Dominic Toninato has had a fairly successful freshman campaign thus far with the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He sits ninth in team scoring with six goals and seven assists, just four points behind fellow Leaf prospect Tony Cameranesi. The Minnesota native was one of the final cuts from the American World Junior team.

19. (19) David Broll, C, 6.0C
Drafted 6th round, 152nd overall, 2011

Injuries gave 21-year-old Mississauga native David Broll a quick path to the NHL earlier this season. After playing only 10 AHL games the previous two seasons, Broll was summoned from the Marlies at the beginning of this year to skate in five games with the Maple Leafs. He recorded his first NHL point during that time, an assist, and also engaged in his first NHL fight. The budding power forward does have some offensive instincts – he has 13 points in his first full AHL season – but it is his fists and physical style of play that will give him a chance to don a Maple Leafs jersey full time in the future.

20. (18) Garret Sparks, G, 6.0C (7.0D)
Drafted 7th round, 190th overall, 2011

Playing backup to veteran netminder Drew MacIntyre, Garret Sparks has been able to showcase his athleticism and willingness to get better between the pipes this season. In particular, he has been much better since the start of the new year, when he has been called upon on a much more frequent basis. In fact, since New Year's Eve, Sparks has posted a 6-2 record, while giving up just 17 goals in nine appearances. Should he continue to post those type of numbers as the season wears on, Sparks could get a look at the starting job with the Marlies next season.