Nazem Kadri remains top prospect for Toronto Maple Leafs

By John-Eric Iannicello

Photo: The top prospect for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Nazem Kadri of the OHL‘s London Knights (Photo courtesy of the OHL)

In the fall edition of the Maple Leafs’ top-20, Nazem Kadri remains the top prospect in a group that includes eight new faces. Jussi Rynnas and Ben Scrivens join Jonas Gustavsson and James Reimer to form a solid group of goaltending prospects. The biggest change is perhaps at forward, where the Maple Leafs have continued to stockpile scoring wingers.

1. (1) Nazem Kadri – 8.0 C
2. (2) Jonas Gustavsson – 8.0 C
3. (3) Tyler Bozak – 7.0 B
4. (4) Carl Gunnarsson – 7.0 B
5. (NR) Jussi Rynnas – 7.5 C
6. (NR) Luca Caputi – 7.0 C
7. (NR) Brad Ross – 7.0 C
8. (11) Jerry D’Amigo – 7.0 C
9. (6) Keith Aulie – 7.0 C
10. (9) James Reimer – 7.0 C
11. (8) Jesse Blacker – 7.0 C
12. (NR) Greg McKegg – 7.0 C
13. (10) Christian Hanson – 6.5 B
14. (NR) Marcel Mueller – 6.5 C
15. (16) Juraj Mikus – 6.5 C
16. (17) Korbinian Holzer – 6.5 C
17. (NR) Ben Scrivens – 6.5 C
18. (15) Kenny Ryan – 6.5 C
19. (NR) Brayden Irwin – 6.5 C
20. (NR) Sondre Olden – 7.5 D

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

When the Knights fell to the Kitchener Rangers in the second round of the OHL playoffs, it closed the book on Kadri’s OHL career. While he’s still eligible to return to the OHL, it’s unlikely given his accomplishments at the junior level. After tallying 93 points in 56 regular season games, the 19-year-old forward continued his hot streak into the playoffs, posting an impressive 27 points in 12 games.

With big expectations on Kadri’s shoulders, it has been a summer of bulking up and adding strength so the young forward is able to withstand the new rigors of the pro game.

Kadri may be penciled into the Maple Leafs line-up right now, but his spot is far from guaranteed. After the Leafs finished second to last in the league in 2009-10, Kadri will have to blow people away in order to find a full-time role with the Maple Leafs.

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

Gustavsson’s first season in the NHL could be described as shaky. He had to deal with many issues such as the loss of his mother last summer, a heart issue that required two surgeries to correct, and a groin injury. Add to that, the pressure of playing in Toronto and it was a recipe for a tumultuous season.

While Gustavsson started off shaky, he was able to finish the season on a strong note. His game started to turn around after the acquisition of Jean Sebastien-Giguere, as his numbers went from a 0.898 save percentage and 3.07 goals against in his first 32 games to a 0.902 and 2.87 by season’s end.

Gustavsson may be seen as a potential goalie of the future, but he’ll have to win a spot over Giguere who is looking to rebound in his contract year. The 25-year-old signed a two-year deal with the Maple Leafs which should ease some of the pressure of him to perform. The Maple Leafs intended on easing Gustavsson in last season, and will likely take that approach this year so expect Giguere to start 50+ games if he can handle them.

3. Tyler Bozak, C, 24
6’1, 195lbs
Acquired: Free Agent, April 2009

Another player who battled through injury last season was Bozak. After fighting off the H1N1 virus and a leg injury, Bozak was able to break into the NHL when an injury to Mikhail Grabovski opened a spot within the top-six forwards.

Bozak put up a solid 27 points in his first 37 games, and at times showed flashes of top-notch playmaking and highlight reel ability. With the lack of top-two line forwards on the team, Bozak is expected to once again take on a top-line role, likely alongside Phil Kessel.

The 24-year-old forward will also be a player with large expectations. For the Maple Leafs to be successful this season they’ll need Bozak to avoid a sophomore slump and even raise his level of play higher then it was a year ago, as they currently lack much firepower in their top-six.

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

A welcomed surprise last season was Carl Gunnarsson. A relative unknown coming out of Sweden, Gunnarsson made a quick impression on the coaches and management due to his poise and strong outlet pass.

While he was sidelined for over 20 games with an elbow injury, Gunnarsson returned to the line-up as if he never
left. He averaged big minutes and played in key situations. Not the flashiest of players, but a dependable one isn’t detrimental and can add some offense when needed.

Should Leafs defenseman Tomas Kaberle be dealt, Gunnarsson will likely see a more prominent role on the power-play. Expectations aren’t as high on Gunnarsson as they are on some of the forward prospects, but if he continues to build on his solid first season, the Maple Leafs will have a legitimate top-four defender.

5. Jussi Rynnas, G, 23
6’5, 205lbs
Acquired: Free Agent, April 2010

While he didn’t come with the hype of Gustavsson, there is no reason for Maple Leaf fans not to be excited at the addition of Jussi Rynnas. The 23-year-old was a star in Finland last season for Ässät posting a goals against average of 2.50 and a league-leading .929 save percentage.

Because the Finn has the benefit of starting the year with the Marlies and developing at his own pace, he shouldn’t feel the same type of pressure Gustavsson did in 2009-10.

A big goalie at 6’5, he takes up a ton of the net and moves extremely well for his size. Not only is he quick, but he’s also aggressive and has a very competitive nature. He’s likely to split time with fellow prospect James Reimer and could even overtake the number one spot.

6. Luca Caputi, LW, 21
6’3, 200lbs
Acquired: Trade with Pittsburgh, March 2010

Acquired in a trade that sent Alexei Ponikarovsky to the Penguins, Caputi is a Toronto native who possesses a lot raw skill at the moment.

In the 19 games with the Maple Leafs, Caputi seemed a bit overwhelmed at times. He only recorded six points in the last quarter of the season, but he showed a willingness to work hard most nights. He has a choppy stride, and while he isn’t the quickest, he gets where he needs to go most of the time.

Not the most skilled of players, Caputi relies on his hard work in order to put up points. He still needs to grow into his body, but could be a valuable player down the line as either a second or third line power-forward. It’s not a farfetched to see him start the year with the Marlies. While he’s had two successful years in the AHL already, he may still need a bit more development time in order to round his edges. With his size and type of game, it may take him a bit longer to mature into his role.

7. Brad Ross, LW, 18
6’0, 175lbs
Acquired: 2nd Round, 43rd overall in 2010

Burke made a calculated decision when he moved Jimmy Hayes to Chicago for the Hawks 43rd selection. Maybe not the most offensively gifted forward, even though he put up 68 points in 71 games, but Brad Ross brings a pit-bull mentality the Maple Leafs haven’t seen since Darcy Tucker.

Ross may be ready for the NHL sooner rather than later depending on how much strength he’s able to add over the next season. He brings a different element that doesn’t need years of developing because it seems he’s already mastered it. He will need to work on his skating and strength before he has a chance of sticking on the Maple Leafs roster.

One should expect Ross to play out the next two years in the WHL, and should both teammates Ryan Johansen (CLB) and Nino Niederreiter (NYI) make the jump to the NHL this season, Ross will be expected to be more of an offensive catalyst for the Portland Winterhawks.

8. Jerry D’Amigo, LW, 19
5’11, 196lbs
Acquired: 6th Round, 158th overall in 2009

D’Amigo couldn’t have asked for a better season in 2009-10. The former sixth round pick is doing a great job of raising his prospect stock, and seems to be the type of player that winning teams love to have. He possesses the clutch mentality of stepping up in big games, and being a player who welcomes the pressure rather than one who runs away.

The 19-year-old was a standout for RPI this past year recording 34 points in 35 games to which he was named to the ECAC All-Star team as well as the ECAC Rookie of the Year. He won a gold medal with Team USA at the World Juniors while also scoring big goals throughout the tournament including two against Sweden in the semi-finals.

Although he’s accomplished he accomplished a lot in his freshman season, D’Amigo is expected to return to RPI for at least one more year.

9. Keith Aulie, D, 21
6’6, 208lbs
Acquired: Trade with Calgary, January 2010

Aulie was only able to play in five games with the Marlies before going down with a shoulder injury so the 2010-11 season will be a big stepping stone for his development. He is likely another season or two away from really pushing for a Maple Leafs roster spot, but will soon become a prominent defender for a young Marlies team.

Skating issues will likely be factors throughout his career, but his smart positioning and defensive-minded nature makes up for those short comings, similar to that of fellow Maple Leaf Luke Schenn. Aulie also must continue to grow into his body, which will mature in time.

10. James Reimer, G, 22
6’2, 208lbs
Acquired:  4th Round, 99th overall in 2006

Had Reimer played a full season he likely would have received recognition for being one of the top rookie goaltenders in the AHL, but it instead he was plagued by injury and appeared in only 24 games.

When healthy, he put up spectacular numbers of 2.25 goals against, a save percentage of .925, one shutout, and a 14-8-2 record.

The 22-year-old has the benefit of being with the organization last year but will have to battle for starts as goaltenders in Jussi Rynnas and Ben Scrivens will be ready to seize any opportunities they get.

11. Jesse Blacker, D, 19
6’2, 185lbs
Acquired:  2nd Round, 58th overall in 2009

Blacker made positive strides this past season statistically, but more will be expected from him this year as he enters his third full OHL season. He has the makings of a top-four puck-moving defender, but will need round the edges of his game in order to succeed at the next level.

He made a good first impression last season at Maple Leafs camp, and finished the year with the Marlies where he appeared in five games before he fell to i
njury. In those five games he displayed good skating, and strong puck-moving as well as a physical presence.

Since he’s one of the few defenders in the Maple Leafs system with strong offensive upside, the 19-year-old may get a long look in training camp. It’s almost guaranteed though he will return to the OHL.

12. Greg McKegg, C, 18
6’0, 191lbs
Acquired: 3rd Round, 62nd overall in 2010

McKegg will look to surprise at camp much like former Erie Otter forward Ryan O’Reilly did with the Colorado Avalanche last season. After a very strong campaign with the Otters, that saw McKegg finish third on the team with 85 points, the 18-year-old will be given a long look at training camp and possibly play in some preseason matches.

He’s a player drafted to be a potential top-six forward, and while his accomplishments on Erie went a bit under the radar, he’ll be expected to score over 90 points next year and take on a more prominent role as the Otter’s leading scorer Zach Torquato graduates to the pros.

McKegg is only average height at 6’0, but he’s solid and isn’t afraid to muscle his way to the net or in the corners. His willingness to play physical combined with his high-end offensive ability makes him an intriguing player to track for the 2010-11 season.

13. Christian Hanson, C, 24
6’4, 228lbs
Acquired: Free Agent, March 2009

Currently without an NHL contract, restricted free-agent Christian Hanson remains Maple Leafs property and it’s expected he will sign a new deal in the coming month.

Hanson had a productive first season between the NHL and AHL. As a member of the Marlies, he was among the more productive forwards scoring 31 points in 38 games, so the offensive ability is there, but it did not translate to NHL, as he only registered two goals and five assists in 31 games.

The 24-year-old did bring a positive physical presence to the Maple Leafs and his size was desirable in the bottom-six, but the Maple Leafs are hoping for more offensive ability out of the 6’4 forward for the upcoming season. If he does sign a contract with the Maple Leafs, look for him to take one of the center positions in the bottom-six.

14. Marcel Mueller, LW, 22
6’4, 220lbs
Acquired: Free Agent, July 2010

One of the more intriguing prospect signings this summer was the signing of Marcel Mueller, a 22-year-old Olympian from Germany.

Mueller had a very successful year in the DEL scoring 24 goals and 32 assists in 53 games. He also recorded a whopping 122 penalty minutes.

He has an outside shot of winning a top-nine forward spot with the Maple Leafs on the left-wing due to the current lack of depth on that side and because he’s already fully developed into his 6’4 frame.

Although his shot at making the Maple Leafs is good, it’s more likely he starts on the Marlies, as he may need to adapt to the smaller North American ice. If he is in the AHL, expect him to post big numbers.

The big forward is hard to handle due to his size and skating ability. Should he develop as expected, the Maple Leafs will have a unique and intriguing addition to their team.

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

After a successful first season, Mikus should hope to build on his offensive production so that he can bring a different element to the Maple Leafs defensive group.

He finished the year first in defensive scoring on the Marlies with 23 points in 68 games and his game started to become more confident as the year progressed.

Depending on the type of summer Mikus had training and bulking up, he could be a sleeper heading into 2010-11. It’s expected he will return for another season with the Marlies, as he’s still raw in areas, but if there is a possibility he will make an appearance in the NHL, particularly if Kaberle is traded.

16. Korbinian Holzer, D, 22
6’3, 205lbs
Acquired: 4th Round, 111th overall in 2006

Another potential sleeper is Korbinian Holzer who had a very positive year of development in the DEL including an opportunity to represent Germany at both the Olympics and World Championships.

The 22-year-old will make the trip across the pond to join the Maple Leafs after signing a two-year deal with the club in late May. Holzer could have a similar impact that Gunnarsson had with the Maple Leafs as Holzer is a bit more polished overall then some of the other prospective defenders. That said, Holzer is likely to start the year in the minors where he’ll have a chance to take a prominent top-four role.

17. Ben Scrivens, G, 23
6’2, 180lbs
Acquired: Free Agent, April 2010

Scrivens was a bit of a surprise signing given the Maple Leafs already had four pro goalie under contract. Considering the season and the career Scrivens had with Cornell, it is a welcome surprise.

The 23-year-old was an ECAC Champion, a First-Team All-Star, Goaltender of the Year, and a Hobey Baker finalist. His stats that rewarded him all these accolades were an impressive 1.87 goals against average, .934 save percentage, seven shutouts, and 21-9-4 record.

He has good size at 6’2 and he’s an aggressive goalie who likes to challenge shooters. Scrivens is also a strong competitor and was a pillar of consistency in the NCAA for Cornell.

The concern surrounding Scrivens is how he’ll do outside of a defensive system. Cornell played a defensive system and Scrivens numbers could very well be more a reflection of that than his actual ability.

18. Kenny Ryan, RW, 19
6’0, 204lbs
Acquired: 2nd Round, 50th overall in 2009

Ryan’s season started slowly as he was eased into the routine of the OHL schedule. After Christmas however, he started developing into a dominant force against opposing OHL defenders.

That’s not to say Ryan was a physical force, but he is a player who can retrieve a puck from a corner with the best of them. While some may look at his stats and dismiss his accomplishments because he only recorded 35 points in 52 games, Ryan had a strong year with the limited minutes and played a two-way forward role extremely well.

The 19-year-old should have a bigger role with the Spitfires this season as most of the vetera
n players move onto the pros. With a more prominent top-six role, expect him to see increased power-play time and a spike in his offensive numbers.

19. Brayden Irwin, RW, 23
6’5, 216lbs
Acquired: Free Agent, March 2010

A late-blooming forward, Irwin didn’t make his mark on the NCAA scene until this past year when he recorded 15 goals and 19 assists in 39 games.

Like most players Irwin’s size, his weakness is in his skating. He plays the game like a power forward and can line-up at both center and wing. His assets include a hard, quick release and strong puck-possession.

Still raw, Irwin will likely start the season in the AHL and may see spot duty if injuries arise throughout the season.

20. Sondre Olden, LW, 17
6’3, 172lbs
Acquired: 3rd Round, 79th overall in 2010

One of the more interesting selections the Maple Leafs made in the 2010 draft was Sondre Olden, a 6’3 lanky forward, but one with tons of room to grow and is highly skilled.

He dominated on the World Junior stage for Norway at the U-18’s scoring 22 points in five games, and even put up impressive numbers for Norway’s U-20 team scoring three goals and one assist in five games as the youngest player on the team.

Olden is multiple years away from the NHL, but the potential is there for the Maple Leafs to groom a top-six forward with size and two-way acumen. Aside from the necessary bulk, Olden needs to find more consistency in his game.