Maple Leafs Top 20 prospects, Spring 2010

By John-Eric Iannicello

Nazem Kadri remains atop of the Maple Leafs prospects list and Carl Gunnarsson rockets up the charts in the 2010 spring update of the Maple Leafs Top 20 prospects. Newly-acquired prospects Keith Aulie and Philippe Paradis also make their debut in the top 20.

Top 20 at a glance

1. (1) Nazem Kadri, C
2. (2) Jonas Gustavsson, G
3. (4) Tyler Bozak, C
4. (18) Carl Gunnarsson, D
5. (5) Viktor Stalberg, LW
6. (NR) Keith Aulie, D
7. (6) Jimmy Hayes, RW
8. (8) Jesse Blacker, D
9. (11) James Reimer, G
10. (10) Christian Hanson, C
11. (13) Jerry D’Amigo, LW
12. (3) Mikhail Stefanovich, RW
13. (9) Chris DiDomenico, C
14. (NR) Philippe Paradis, LW
15. (7) Kenny Ryan, RW
16. (NR) Juraj Mikus, D
17. (NR) Korbinian Holzer, D
18. (14) Phil Oreskovic, D
19. (15) Jerome Flaake, LW
20. (16) Matt Frattin, RW

1. Nazem Kadri, C, 19
6’0, 177 lbs
Acquired: 1st Round, 7th overall in 2009

Being sent back to junior at the start of the season came with large expectations for the 19-year-old Kadri, and he didn’t disappoint. While his game still has its share of holes that he’ll need to correct before becoming a threat in the NHL, Kadri has the skills you just can’t teach. He’s reached career highs in goals with 27, and also a career high in penalty minutes with 97, including a couple fighting majors. His 71 points on the season have him ranked eighth in OHL scoring. 

Kadri was named Prospect of the Month by Hockey’s Future in January and for good reason, has he notched 25 points in 11 games after the World Juniors. On February 8th, Kadri was recalled on an emergency basis by the Maple Leafs for a game. He showed some finesse, and confidence controlling the puck, but also attempted junior-level moves that were easily shut down at the NHL level.

Kadri will have every opportunity to land a spot with the Maple Leafs next season, but will require a lot more strength in order to stick full time. Kadri can also play in the AHL, as he will have completed the required four years of junior hockey.

2. Jonas Gustavsson, G, 25
6’3, 192 lbs
Acquired: Free Agent – July 2009

This season hasn’t gone the way Swedish netminder Jonas Gustavsson would have liked. He’s undergone two surgeries to correct a heart problem and his numbers have suffered. In 32 games this year for the Maple Leafs, Gustavsson has a record of 9-13-8, a save percentage of .898 and a goals against average of 3.07. 

While he was expected to play in only approximately 30 games this year, the inability of veteran Finnish goalie Vesa Toskala forced the coaches to give the rookie Gustavsson a baptism by fire. When Gustavsson failed to grab the reins, GM Brian Burke traded for Jean-Sebastien Giguere in an effort to patch up the goaltending holes.

With Giguere under contract next season, Gustavsson will be able to slowly work his way into an NHL starter. Gustavsson has shown flashes of dominant goaltending, but his inconsistency has hurt him and the team this season. Gustavsson still has problems with the smaller ice specifically when it comes to rebounds and quick boards. Although he’s had his share of problems this season, he also has natural ability that may make him a No. 1 in the NHL.

3. Tyler Bozak, C, 23
6’1, 195lbs
Acquired: Free Agent – April 2009

Similar to Gustavsson, Bozak has had an up and down year, that is, until recently. Bozak had a less than spectacular stint in the AHL in comparison to his fellow NCAA graduates Viktor Stalberg and Christian Hanson. Bozak recorded only four goals and 16 assists in 30 games for the Marlies, but he also suffered through a leg injury and the H1N1 virus.

An injury to Mikhail Grabovski in January opened the door for Bozak to show his skill as a top-two center in the NHL. In the 16 games he’s played in this year, Bozak has recorded three goals and eight assists for 11 points. The rookie hasn’t looked out of place at all, and at points looks like a seasoned veteran due to a high hockey IQ.

While the Maple Leafs may currently lack a legitimate first line center, it seems they’ve found a second line center in Tyler Bozak. 

4. Carl Gunnarsson, D, 23
6’2, 196lbs
Acquired: 7th Round, 194th overall in 2007

Coming over from Sweden, Gunnarsson wasn’t expected to have the impact he’s had so far in the NHL. He missed 22 games with a hyper-extended elbow, but the injury has not slowed him down. Gunnarsson averages 21 minutes of ice time with the Maple Leafs, which is fourth among all Maple Leaf players. In 22 games, the rookie has one goal and six assists. 

He plays the game like a seasoned veteran with strong decision-making and good positioning down low. He also has a smart first pass, and knows how to handle pressure in the defensive zone. Still, like most rookies, he’ll need to add bulk to his frame to make him a more effective player. His defensive game is strong, but he has the potential to be a strong point producer due to a good first pass and hard point shot. 

Drafted in the seventh round, it seems the Maple Leafs may have found a diamond in Gunnarsson. 

5. Viktor Stalberg, LW, 24
6’3, 210lbs
Acquired: 6th round, 161st overall in 2006

The sensational preseason rookie hasn’t been able to take his NHL preseason numbers to the regular season. While he’s dominated at the AHL level with the Marlies, notching 29 points in 32 games, more is expected from him at the NHL level with only three points in 19 games this season. But he has spent the majority of his time in the NHL in a bottom-six role in an effort to balance the Maple Leafs attack.

Stalberg is at the point in his development where he’s trying to find ways to carry his offensive production from the minor league to the big stage. While he’s shown flashes of greatness, he’s also been unable to find his touch at the NHL level. Regardless, it seems that Stalberg has a future in the NHL due to his raw combination of size and skill. 

It may take Stalberg some time to find his niche as he is a late bloomer. Stalberg will likely finish the season with the parent club in an effort to win a permanent spot for next season. If he ever finds a way to combine his size, speed and scoring ability the Maple Leafs will have a very impressive player on their hands. 

6. Keith Aulie, D, 20
6’6, 208lbs
Acquired: Trade with Calgary, January 2010

The towering 20-year-old rearguard was part of the multi-player deal that brought 24-year-old defender Dion Phaneuf to Toronto on January 31st. He was assigned to the Marlies, but suffered a separated shoulder on February 12th.

As one would expect by looking at Aulie’s statistics, there isn’t much offense to his game with only six points in 42 games this year, but what he does provide is a sound, tough, defensive game that keeps opposing forwards honest. He’s at his best when he can contain opposing forwards in the defensive zone, and does a good job protecting the front of the net. He won’t hesitate to drop the gloves either if it means coming to the defense of a fellow teammate.

Common among players Aulie’s size, his skating will need to improve in order to handle smaller forwards and general up-tempo speed of the pro game. An intriguing prospect that the Maple Leafs have added into their system, Aulie may be a few seasons away before making an impact.

7. Jimmy Hayes, RW, 20
6’5, 210lbs
Acquired: 2nd Round, 60th overall in 2008

Hayes continues to develop at Boston College. In his second season, Hayes has already surpassed his point totals from last season with 19 points in 28 games. At 6’5 he’s a beast to handle down low and is improving in all facets of the game, specifically in confidence with the puck.

He remains one of the more intriguing prospects in the Maple Leafs system due to his size and skill. Once highly regarded for the 2008 draft, Hayes may be a sleeping giant within the Maple Leafs system.

While he’s seen improvements in his game, the Maple Leafs will likely keep him in the NCAA for the next two years to give him the proper development time, especially when it comes to growing into his body.

8. Jesse Blacker, D, 18
6’2, 185lbs
Acquired:  2nd Round, 58th overall in 2009

The high-risk defender has seen positive steps in his game, but also is still a raw talent for the Maple Leafs. Since being traded from the Windsor Spitfires, Blacker has recorded four goals, and 22 assists, but is a dreadful team-worst -21. 

He’s getting more ice time, but that isn’t always a good thing for Owen Sound. His game needs to find more consistency, and could help himself if he played more relaxed. In the same game where he makes a great offensive play, he can make an equally bad defensive play. 

Blacker has great natural ability; it just has to be polished over the next few seasons.  Blacker is expected to return to Owen Sound next season.

9. James Reimer, G, 21
6’2, 208lbs
Acquired:  4th Round, 99th overall in 2006

Another player rising up the depth chart is James Reimer. Before going down to injury in late November, Reimer was playing exceptionally. He entered the season with confidence, and it reflected in his stats. Reimer has a 7-1-1 record on the year and posted 2.15 goals against as well as a great .930 save percentage before going down to a high-ankle sprain.

Reimer is a very positionally sound, calm goaltender who uses his angles to cut down shooting percentages, similar to Giguere.

Reimer has recently returned from injury and played his first game on February 13th.  Reimer was impressive in his return, stopping 33 of 34 shots in 2-1 Marlies win.

10. Christian Hanson, C, 23
6’4, 228lbs
Acquired: Free Agent – March 2009

It seems a transition to center has helped Christian Hanson over the last few weeks. The 23-year-old, who started the year with the Marlies as a right winger, was moved back to center ice in an effort to maximize his potential. While his play at the AHL was encouraging as a right winger (12 goals, 17 assists in 31 games), Hanson seems more at home in the center position. 

In his 10-game stint with the Maple Leafs, a handful of games recently at center, he’s already looking more comfortable on the ice. A noticeable difference is how physical he’s becoming. Hanson is starting to realize that at 6’4 he can really do some damage. Even though he’s a big-body presence in the corners, he seems more confident when he can be the second man in, digging for the puck. 

Similar to Stalberg, Hanson will try to find his offensive niche at the NHL level. Although he doesn’t project to be as offensively gifted as Bozak or Stalberg, he can still develop into a very capable secondary offensive player. He meets the criteria Burke is trying to establish in his bottom-six for next season.

11. Jerry D’Amigo, LW, 18
5’11, 196lbs
Acquired: 6th Round, 158th overall in 2009

D’Amigo cemented his name on the map with a great World Junior tournament this past December. D’Amigo was ‘Johnny-on-the-spot’ for Team USA in critical points of the tournament, scoring key goals to propel USA over opponents such as Sweden and favorite Canada. He finished fourth in tournament scoring with six goals and six assists in seven games, and was also recognized as one of the top three players for USA.

Not only has D’Amigo been impressive on the international stage, but he’s been impressive for his NCAA team at RPI. He’s averaging a point per game with 28 points (nine goals, 19 assists) in 28 games.

Should D’Amigo keep up his early success, he could be a player who leaves school early if the Maple Leafs come calling. A shifty, creative, and smart player, D’Amigo has really begun to establish himself as a quality prospect.

Next season could be very interesting for D’Amigo who will have the chance to represent USA at the World Juniors again in Buffalo.

12. Mikhail Stefanovich, RW, 20
6’2, 202lbs
Acquired: 4th round, 98th overall in 2008

The highly skilled, yet highly inconsistent Stefanovich has had a rocky season in the QMJHL. Starting from the Maple Leafs rookie tournament, it’s been a season which has displayed many of Stefanovich’s key flaws that may keep him from being an NHL player.

Although Stefanovich’s 20 goals so far this year is a far cry from the 49 he scored last season in Quebec, Stefanovich has hit career highs in assists with 36 through 42 games this season. 

Stefanovich will be going pro next season; where he plays is up to him, as he’ll need to bring a lot more to the table if he plans on playing with the Marlies. The temptation of the KHL will also be more present than ever if Stefanovich fails to secure a full-time role with the Marlies.

13. Chris DiDomenico, C, 20
5’11, 176lbs
Acquired: 6th round, 164th overall in 2007

After recovering from a broken femur this past season, 20-year-old DiDomenico is on the verge of returning to game action with the Drummondville Voltigeurs. 

While he could have joined the Marlies this season, the Maple Leafs opted to return him to junior so that he could undergo the proper rehab. Playing against teenagers would help him ease back into game shape, rather than throwing him into the AHL or ECHL as a rookie coming back from a major injury. 

DiDomenico’s NHL future remains in question. Even though the rehab has been successful so far, no one will know how much the injury has affected him until he gets into game action. He’ll have an even bigger hurdle when it comes to adjusting to the speed of the pro game.

14. Philippe Paradis, LW, 19
6’2, 206lbs
Acquired: Trade with Carolina, December 2009

Acquired in a trade that sent prospect Jiri Tlusty to the Carolina Hurricanes, Philippe Paradis adds another big body to the Maple Leafs system.

While the 19-year-old Paradis was taken higher than many scouting services were predicting, his exceptional showing at the NHL draft combine, along with his size and big shot is likely what endeared him to Carolina’s scouting staff.

Paradis has already hit career highs in goals this season with 21 and has 18 assists to go along with it. He’s seen as a player who may not have high-end impact potential, but may be a safer pick to develop into a quality top-nine forward.

15. Kenny Ryan, RW, 18
6’0, 204lbs
Acquired: 2nd Round, 50th overall in 2009

After a slow first half, Ryan has turned into a much more consistent player for the Windsor Spitfires. Although the point totals aren’t where many had hoped they would be, he’s been placed in a role that requires solid two-way play and energy.

In 36 games this year, the 18-year-old Ryan has 11 goals and 13 assists, and 24 penalty minutes which include two fighting majors. On most nights, Ryan has provided great forechecking and puck control down low. He’s a bull in the corners, and comes out with the puck more often than not.

What should be noted is that Ryan does not get much, if any, power-play time when the Spitfires have a full roster. What is encouraging about Ryan’s play is that he does all the little things right on the ice. He’s not a highly-skilled forward, but is becoming a very consistent workhorse for the Spitfires.

Next season will have heightened expectations as Ryan takes on a more consistent top-six role for the powerhouse Spitfires. He may not have the quick offensive ability required to a scoring threat at the NHL level, but he has the capacity of being a responsible top-nine forward who won’t hurt you at either end of the ice.

16. Juraj Mikus, D, 21
6’4, 185lbs
Acquired: 5th Round, 134th overall in 2007

Similar to Gunnarsson, Mikus came over from Europe with question marks surrounding what type of NHL future he would have, if any. Mikus is a bit rawer than Gunnarsson, but has quite a ceiling. He’s been inconsistent in his first season, but has shown promise of being a future top-six contributor on the Maple Leafs blue line.

Already in his short stint in North America, Mikus has displayed the offensive talent many thought he possessed. In 50 games with the Marlies, Mikus has three goals and 13 assists which is quite the improvement over the five points he recorded in Slovakia last season. While 16 points isn’t jaw dropping, it’s impressive considering it leads the Marlies in defensive scoring. He’s one of the few offensive threats the Marlies have on the blue line.

It’s no secret that at 6’4 and 185lbs Mikus could do himself a world of good to add significant weight to his frame. Added muscle will not only make Mikus a harder player for forwards to play against, but a much more dominant player in terms of offensive production.

17. Korbinian Holzer, D, 21
6’3, 205lbs
Acquired: 4th Round, 111th overall in 2006

Another defender ready to make the jump is 21-year-old Korbinian Holzer.

Holzer is intriguing in that he’s been in the system for a few seasons, and has even looked strong at various summer rookie camps with the Maple Leafs. The past three seasons playing in the DEL have really helped Holzer develop and mature into a solid defensive prospect for the Maple Leafs.

He’s second in team scoring for his DEL team the Metro Stars with 20 points in 45 games. He even brings the right amount of truculence to the table with 74 penalty minutes. 

Holzer’s accomplishments haven’t gone unnoticed either, as he was awarded a spot on Germany’s Olympic national team. Although Germany doesn’t have a plethora of high-end NHL talent, Holzer’s spot on the team shouldn’t be minimized, as it is a great accomplishment for his young career.

18. Phil Oreskovic, D, 23
6’4, 217lbs
Acquired: 3rd Round, 82nd overall in 2005

Twenty-three-year-old Phil Oreskovic has played the past three seasons with the Marlies. There isn’t much new to be said about Oreskovic’s game, he’s still providing intimidating defensive play, with limited offensive production. In 50 games this season, Oreskovic has only tallied three assists. Although the production is a drop from last season’s 11 points, his lack of points has a lot to do with the general lack of scoring from the Marlie forwards.

Oreskovic has hit career highs in one category: penalty minutes. He’s surpassed his previous total of 103 points with 107, including 11 fighting majors. 

Oreskovic’s entry-level contract expires this summer, which should give him serious consideration for the Maple Leafs roster next year. There’s nothing flashy about Oreskovic’s game, but he should be able to provide at least the same level of play next year as current Maple Leaf Garnet Exelby, with a penchant for more fighting.

19. Jerome Flaake, LW, 19
6’2, 190lbs
Acquired: 5th Round, 130th overall in 2008

Another German prospect within the Maple Leafs system, Flaake has had a decent season in the DEL. He’s played the majority of the season with Cologne, and in 35 games he has recorded three goals and six assists along with 43 penalty minutes. With the second level Fischtown Penguins, he tallied three assists in two games. He was suspended at the start of the season for four games for a check from behind.

Flaake also had the chance to play for Germany again at the World Juniors, albeit in the second division. At the tournament, Flaake scored four goals in five games and recorded one assist. For his efforts he was named best forward in the division.

Flaake’s future for next season is undecided. His contract is up with Kolner, and could join the Marlies if the Maple Leafs sign him this summer. There is also the possibility that Flaake is assigned to Prince George in the WHL, the team that owns his junior rights.

20. Matt Frattin, RW, 22
6’0, 200lbs
Acquired: 4th Round, 99th overall in 2007

Rounding out the top 20 for the Maple Leafs is reinstated NCAA forward Matt Frattin.  Frattin missed half of the season due to an off-ice issue in the summer that got him kicked off the North Dakota hockey team.

The good news for the 22-year-old Frattin is that in his time off he’s been able to concentrate on building strength and getting himself into game shape. In his return to the Fighting Sioux in early January, he returned with good jump in his game and seemed focused on resurrecting his hockey career. 

He’s played in 12 games this season and has recorded two goals and three assists. He’s starting to get his legs back.

Frattin will return to the NCAA next season in what could be a real coming-out party for him. Frattin’s talent isn’t in question, but he’ll need to prove that he’s matured from his off-ice incidents this past summer.