Leafs junior prospects 2008-09 review

By Stuart McDonald

Few fully appreciate the impact that John Ferguson Jr. had on Toronto Maple Leafs scouting. Ferguson completely revamped the Maple Leafs scouting staff, clearing out cronies and bringing in Jeff Jackson, and more importantly Dave Morrison. Morrison, Director of Amateur Scouting for the Leafs since 2006, has worked with the Leafs since Ferguson hired him in 2004. Morrison was second only to the GM when Jiri Tlusty, Nikolai Kulemin and Luke Schenn were taken with early picks.

More importantly, Morrison was there when the Leafs grabbed future NHL’ers Dale Mitchell, Mikhail Stefanovich and Chris DiDomenico in the third, fourth and sixth rounds respectively. Morrison’s fingerprints were all over the drafting of Tuukka Rask in 2005, despite his relatively low status as an amateur scout. Rask has developed remarkably well and could be the next great Finnish goalie. Despite the Rask trade, Morrison has led an incredibly successful staff of amateur scouts, who have turned lemon draft picks into lemonade players.

Four of the Maple Leafs six junior prospects look like they’ll spend some time in the pro ranks, one CHL prospect is a very long shot and the lone Junior A prospect is headed to the University of North Dakota next season.

Mikhail Stefanovich, C – Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)

Acquired: 4th round, 98th overall, 2008

If anyone is evidence that Maple Leaf scouting has turned the corner, it’s Stefanovich. The 6’2, 205-pound winger was nabbed by the Leafs in the fourth round of the 2008 draft. Stefanovich’s production this year is much closer to that of a first rounder than a fourth rounder. Stefanovich is the third leading goal scorer in the Q and he’s second in goals per game. Only Yannick Riendeau, almost two years older, has a better goal-scoring rate. Stefanovich is looking more and more like Eric Daze every day. Like Daze, Stefanovich uses his reach, can score goals in bunches, but shies away from the rough stuff despite his size.

Stefanovich is 16th in overall scoring but seventh in points per game. He’s producing offensively but not at the expense of his defense as his +30 indicates. He’s 15th in the Q in plus/minus.

In April 2008, Stefanovich won the QMJHL‘s Trophée Michael Bossy as the league’s best professional prospect. Stefanovich, a Belarusian from Minsk, led the QMJHL in goals as a rookie with 32. He had the second most rookie points behind Nicholas Deschamps, who was picked 32nd by the Anaheim Ducks. Eight other QMJHL skaters were taken before Stefanovich heard the Leafs call his name with the 98th pick. 

Although solidly built, Stefanovich is a soft player, which scared teams away. Usually a 6’2, goal-scoring winger means power forward, but not in this case. The Leafs focused on Stefanovich’s other gifts. Stefanovich needs to work on his acceleration and consistency before he’ll succeed in the pros.

Chris DiDomenico, C – Drummondville Voltageurs (QMJHL)

Acquired: 6th round, 164th overall, 2008
DiDomenico can safely be considered another draft-day steal. A sixth round pick in 2007, DiDomenico is among the top-30 QMJHL points-per-game scorers with 19 goals and 59 points in 51 games. He was the leading scorer on the St. John Sea Dogs before being traded to Drummondville where he has added scoring depth to the highest scoring team in junior hockey.

DiDomenico has been exceeding expectations since he went undrafted in the 2006 Ontario Hockey League Priority draft. Despite being an undersized 5’10, 160 pounds, he scored a point per game in the expansion Sea Dogs’ inaugural season. He followed that up with 95 points in 2007-08. Not only is DiDomenico among the top 30 scorers in the Q this season, he has grown three inches since his draft year and is now listed at 6’1. Once he fills out, DiDomenico has some potential as a top-six NHL forward. At 19, and currently only 170 pounds, he’s at least three seasons away. 

Joel Champagne, C – PEI Rocket (QMJHL)

Acquired: 5th round, 129th overall, 2008

Champagne, 19, was selected in the 5th round, 129th overall in the 2008 NHL entry draft. Champagne, 6’4, 220 pounds, is still a project but has torn up the Q since Christmas due in large part to a trade from Chicoutimi to PEI. Champagne has 45 points in his last 29 games. He’s slow on his skates but is learning to use his size effectively. Like DiDomenico, he’s among the top 30 QMJHL point-per-game scorers. If he improves his skating considerably, he could be a solid NHL power forward.  

Dale Mitchell, W – Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
Acquired: 3rd round, 74th overall, 2007

Although listed at 5’9, Mitchell plays between 200 and 207 pounds, quite heavy for an OHL player. If you combine Mitchell’s heavy frame, low center of gravity and energetic style you have an ideal forechecker. Mitchell’s forechecking ability is one reason the Leafs signed him to a three-year, entry-level deal last season. The Leafs obviously have plans for Mitchell as they played him in two American Hockey League playoff games last season with the Toronto  Marlies.

In 2008-09, Mitchell is part of a very strong Windsor Spitfires team. Mitchell finished fourth on the Spitfires in scoring with 33 goals and 68 points in 66 games. Mitchell is tearing up the OHL playoffs, leading the Spitfires with nine goals in seven games. The stocky winger has upside as an elite NHL forechecker.

Greg Scott, W – Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)

Acquired: Free Agent, 2008.  

Scott, 20, was signed by the Leafs because of his 38-goal performance for the Seattle Thunderbirds last season. Scott more than doubled both his goals and points from 2006-07 to 2007-08. Unfortunately for the Leafs, last season is starting to look like an anomaly. Scott played only 30 AHL games for the Marlies and was sent back to junior for the T-Birds’ playoffs. 

Andrew MacWilliam, D – Camrose Kodiaks (AJHL)
Acquired: 7th round, 188th overall, 2008

MacWilliam, 19, committed to the North Dakota Fighting Sioux in late January. At 6’2, 215 pounds, MacWilliam is a physical, defensive defenseman playing in the Alberta Junior Hockey League for the Camrose Kodiaks. MacWilliam was the Leafs seventh pick, 188th overall in the 2008 NHL entry draft. He played 54 games in the 2007-08 season without scoring a single goal but finished with eight goals and 29 points in 57 games this season. He’s an extremely aggressive defenseman and finished eighth in the AJHL in PIMs with 220.