Nazem Kadri remains top prospect for Toronto Maple Leafs

By John-Eric Iannicello
Photo: Goaltender

James Reimer has emerged over the 2010-11 season to one of the top prospects in the Maple Leafs organization. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

Jake Gardiner debuts in the second spot on the Maple Leafs top 20 after being acquired from the Anaheim Ducks on February 9th. Nazem Kadri also remains the top prospect for the Maple Leafs, while Keith Aulie, James Reimer, and Ben Scrivens make big strides up the rankings. Matt Frattin, Simon Gysbers, and Josh Nicholls also make their debuts in the top 20.

1. (1) Nazem Kadri, C, 8.0 C
Acquired: 1st round, 7th overall in 2009

As an AHL rookie, Nazem Kadri has adjusted nicely after a rough start with the Maple Leafs that saw him record only six assists in 17 games. With the Marlies, he has evolved into a more responsible player with the puck without sacrificing his dynamic offensive ability. Earlier in the year he had a penchant for bad turnovers at inopportune times, but has cut down in that area of his game. While he’s unlikely to compete for a Selke Trophy anytime soon, it’s an area that needed improvement (and continues to improve) as he looks to jump to the NHL fulltime.

Kadri’s game is easily identifiable when he’s on the ice courtesy of his silky smooth hands and highlight reel ability. Kadri is one of the top producing rookies in the AHL scoring close to a point per-game pace. He has 10 goals and 17 assists in 28 games this season, and is in the top 15 for rookie scoring even though he missed time when he was recalled in November.

2. (NR) Jake Gardiner, D, 8.0 C
Acquired via trade with the Anaheim Ducks, February 9th, 2011

Making his debut with on the Maple Leafs prospect list is Jake Gardiner; a smooth-skating two-way defender from the University of Wisconsin. As a key factor in the deal that saw the Maple Leafs ship Francois Beauchemin to Anaheim, Gardiner brings a different dynamic to a Maple Leafs system ripe with defensive-minded defenders.

Gardiner, a former first-round pick (17th overall) in 2008, has already had his expectations tempered by media outlets as a future top-pairing defender, but his production to date is hard to ignore. The third-season NCAA defender is third in the nation in scoring for defenseman with eight goals and 25 assists in 32 games and sports an impressive plus-20.

There is a good chance that Gardiner makes his move to the pros after this season. If he does, he’ll be joining a young Marlies defensive core.

3. (9) Keith Aulie, D, 7.0 B
Acquired: via trade with the Calgary Flames, January 31st, 2010

Keith Aulie has been a tower of power for the Marlies this season, used in critical defensive situations and maximizing his physical prowess all over the ice. While he has an interesting combination of size, skating ability and willingness to rush the puck it’s unlikely he develops a high offensive ceiling.

The Beauchemin trade to Anaheim has opened the door for Aulie to take a prominent role on the Maple Leafs blue line. The trade is a perfect example of how critical a team’s development system is – and how the Maple Leafs are starting to turn out NHL players. Aulie’s play at the AHL level (and brief stint with the Maple Leafs earlier in the year) allowed general manager Brian Burke to move Beauchemin to fill other weaknesses in the organization. Whether or not Aulie’s ready for the long 82-game season is anyone’s guess, but he’s shown poise and stability beyond his years this season.

4. (10) James Reimer, G, 7.5 C
Acquired: 4th Round, 99th overall in 2006

Arguably the most impressive prospect this year has been the emergence of James Reimer. It’s hard to argue anything other than the fact James Reimer has been under the radar for quite some time. He’s been in the system, playing steady hockey since 2006, but instead of garnering recognition for his play he’s been in the shadows of Justin Pogge, Tukka Rask, and (up until recently) Jonas Gustavsson. Maybe it’s due to his non-flashy style of game, injuries or the development road he’s taken, but Reimer has seemingly arrived.

Reimer’s stats on a bottom-five NHL team are impressive in a limited sample. In his 12 games played, Reimer holds a 6-4-1 record, a 2.39 goals against average, a .930 save percentage and show no signs of slowing down.

Still, expectations need to be tempered for this 22-year-old goaltender. While his play is promising so far, his career is still very green. A volatile Maple Leafs fan base can quickly sour a player’s career after a few poor games.

5. (5) Jussi Rynnas, G, 7.5 C
Acquired via Free Agency, April 2010

Jussi Rynnas‘s season has been the definition of inconsistent. There have been extreme highs and extreme lows throughout the first half of the year. He was off to a rocky start in his first few games in October going winless in three and posting a 3.41 goals against average to go along with a .877 save percentage. November saw a huge rebound to Rynnas’s game posting a 1.33 goals against and a .957 save percentage in 10 games. In the 14 games that have followed, Rynnas’s season has been a rollercoaster of good and bad stretches. To date, Rynnas has a record of 9-14-3 and has a 2.80 goals against average and a .909.

It’s not uncommon for European goaltenders to come with their fair share of inconsistencies, but Rynnas continues to battle through them. While Ben Scrivens has been the more consistent out of the two, management has continued to back Rynnas – sending Scrivens back to the Reading Royals (ECHL) at various points of the season.

With Reimer on the Maple Leafs, and Gustavsson sidelined with another heart issue, it should allow Rynnas a chance to see more game action. He’ll have to be sharp, as Scrivens is also ve
ry capable of taking the Marlies starting role.

6. (6) Luca Caputi, LW, 6.5 B
Acquired via trade with Pittsburgh, March 2nd, 2010

There’s not much to talk about on Luca Caputi‘s season as he’s been sidelined with an injury since late November. He’s only played in 11 games with the Marlies, scoring one goal and assisting on four others. He’s also had a short stint with the Maple Leafs playing seven games with the team.

With no rumored schedule for return, the 22-year-old’s development is currently stalled. He’s been a solid AHL producer in the past, and still possesses ability to be a top-nine forward in the NHL if all the pieces come together.

7. (11) Jesse Blacker, D, 7.0 C
Acquired: 2nd Round, 58th overall in 2009

Jesse Blacker has been one of the best defenders in the OHL this season, and has really transformed his offensive game into something of note. This year, he`s scored at just under a point per-game, an impressive feat for any defender. He has 10 goals on the year and 37 assists in 50 games. He`s also a plus-12, a big turnaround from the minus-22 he was a season ago. He was also invited to the Team Canada`s selection camp after an injury to Brandon Gormley (PHX) sidelined the defender.

Blacker will lead his Owen Sound Attack into the OHL playoffs this season, and should join the Marlies next season to begin his pro career.

8. (12) Greg McKegg, LW, 7.0 C
Acquired: 3rd Round, 62nd overall in 2010

As captain of the Erie Otters, Greg McKegg is second on his team in goals with 34, and points with 68. Points wise, he’s performing at a slightly better pace then in 2009-10 (where he tallied 85 points in 67 games).

The first half of the year, McKegg was one of the most offensively dominant players in the OHL. At the end of December he had 25 goals, 29 assists for 54 points in 38 games. Since then, the 18-year-old`s production has cooled a bit, scoring 14 points in 16 games. Goals, however, have been prevalent. McKegg is on pace to eclipse his career high of 37 goals last season and break the 40 goal marker for the first time in his OHL career. However, he hasn’t scored in his last seven games.

A hot streak at the end of the season isn’t out of the question, and could push McKegg into the 90 point vicinity.

9. (7) Brad Ross, LW, 7.0 C
Acquired: 2nd Round, 43rd overall in 2010

The pesky forward is producing at around the same clip as he did last season and should finish the season with around 60 points and over 150 penalty minutes. After scoring 27 goals and 68 points a season ago, Ross has recorded another 20 goal season and is on the verge of his second 50 point season with 49 currently. Down from last season are Ross’s fighting totals. He had 11 fights last season, and this year he’s only recorded four.

Ross is expected to return to the Winterhawks next season also.

10 (17) Ben Scrivens, G, 7.0 C
Acquired via Free Agency, April 2010

There were questions on how successful Ben Scrivens would be at the pro level, but the 24-year-old goaltender has been a pillar of consistency between the pipes. He’s split time in the ECHL and AHL, and has been solid at both levels.

With the Royals, Scrivens had a winning record of 10-3 and posted a stellar 2.23 goals against and a .938 save percentage. On the Marlies, he’s been equally as solid in 14 games sporting a 2.31 goals against average and a solid .925 save percentage.

Scrivens was lost in the shuffle a bit due to the Maple Leafs goaltending depth, but this Cornell grad is certainly making a name for himself as a prospect. He continues to climb the rankings, and could be a dark horse in the system.

11. (8) Jerry D’Amigo, LW, 7.0 C
Acquired: 6th Round, 158th overall in 2009

Expectations were high for Jerry D’Amigo after he left the NCAA for a chance to crack the Maple Leafs roster. As the hype grew, so did frustration surrounding D’Amigo’s game as he failed to both crack the Maple Leafs roster, or make a big offensive impact on the Marlies. D’Amigo had tallied just five goals and nine assists in 41 AHL games. Though the offensive contributions weren’t there, D’Amigo’s speed, forcheck, and two-way game were strong.

On February 3rd, the Maple Leafs loaned D’Amigo to the Kitchener Rangers (OHL) in an effort to get his game back offensively. It was a move that arguably should have been made earlier in the year, but D’Amigo hasn’t missed a beat since joining the club. In six games, D’Amigo has been an offensive spark for the Rangers scoring three goals, and seven assists while also being a plus-four.

12. (14) Marcel Mueller, LW, 6.5 C
Acquired via Free Agency, July 2010

Another free-agent forward brought into the fold this season was 6’3, 220lb Marcel Mueller. The German-born forward hasn’t dominated offensively, but he’s been a strong presence for the Marlies in the second half of the season.

The 22-year-old had a bit of a learning curve at the start of the year. In his first 20 games of the year, Mueller had recorded just one goal and four assists. In December, Mueller’s game started to heat up as he started to use his big frame more effectively. He scored five goals and six assists in 14 games. In January, he continued his strong play scoring two goals and five assists in nine games. He was awarded a short three game call-up with the Maple Leafs in mid-January, but failed to find the score sheet.

To date, Mueller has nine goals and 16 assists in 48 games. While the numbers aren’t jaw dropping, they show promise given his very poor offensive start. With his size, he may take more seasoning before he challenges for a spot on the Maple Leafs.

13. (15) Juraj Mikus, D, 6.5 C
Acquired: 5th round, 134th overall in 2007

Juraj Mikus is part of a trio of young Marlies’ defenders who could all project as mid-to-bottom pairing defenders in the NHL. Mikus, is arguably the project amongst the group. Still raw, he’s developing his talent at the AHL level, and with Aulie on the big club, he should see more of a consistent role.

He’s failed to build on last year’s point totals, but the 22-year-old defender has still contributed offensively. He’s also been a healthy scratch and battled injury at times this season. In 38 games he has three goals a
nd 10 assists. He’s also improved his plus/minus from a minus-13 to a minus-two. He’s recently been paired with fellow European Korbinian Holzer. Next year could be a big year for Mikus’s development as he looks to expand on his untapped offensive ability.

14. (16) Korbinian Holzer, D, 6.5 C
Acquired: 4th round, 111th overall in 2006

Holzer has been a solid presence on the Marlies blue line this season. Although he’s lacked offensively, he’s been a plus-two in the 47 games that he’s played in. He’s also scored once and assisted six times. Because of his solid, poised defensive game, Holzer saw a short two-game stint with the Maple Leafs in November.

While Holzer may not have the highest ceiling amongst the group of defenders, the 22-year-old can be relied on for a consistent defensive effort, and low-risk game. He’ll never be flashy, but he could make an ideal bottom-pairing, tough, defensive-minded defender. It may take another year of grooming at the AHL level before he’s ready to challenge for a bottom pairing NHL position.

15. (NR) Simon Gysbers, D – 6.5 C
Acquired via Free Agency, March 2010

A welcomed surprise this year has been the play of Simon Gysbers, a free-agency acquisition this past summer. The 23-year-old late bloomer was signed out of Lake Superior State and projected to be a depth player for the Marlies this year, but his offensive game has made him one of the Marlies best offensive defenders. He’s now taken a spot in the Marlies top-four paired with Matt Lashoff.

While his defensive game is still a work in progress, the steady, smart Gysbers has scored six goals and added 15 assists in 35 games after a slow first half. In the first two months of the season, Gysbers recorded only two assists in 11 games. Since then he’s put up an impressive 19 points in 24 games.

For his size, he could stand to be more physically imposing, but Gysbers is turning himself into a prospect of note. Should the Maple Leafs move more bodies from the back-end, Gysbers could be the next call-up.

16. (NR) Matt Frattin, RW – 6.5 C
Acquired: 4th round, 99th overall in 2007

The third-year North Dakota forward has transformed his game from finesse sniper, to power-forward this season. The 6’0, 200lb Matt Frattin is enjoying a resurgence of his hockey career after last season’s off-ice incidents. He’s returned to school determined, focused, and its showing on the ice.

With North Dakota, Frattin has scored an impressive 22 goals, and added 13 assists in 35 games. He’s also a strong candidate for the Hobey Baker award at year’s end.

Frattin has improved his strength, and speed, but it’s yet to be seen if his offensive game will translate into a top-six NHL role. He should garner an NHL contract after this year, and although he could be in the mix for an NHL gig next year, he’s likely destined for the Marlies.

17. (NR) Josh Nicholls, RW, 6.5 C
Acquired: 7th round, 182nd overall in 2010

A late round pick a year ago, Josh Nicholls has turned up his offensive game this year with the Saskatoon Blades. The 6’2 forward has already surpassed the 70 point mark in only 55 games, is among the top 10 in league scoring, and has strong chemistry with Chris Collins (2011) and Marek Viedesky (SJ). He also leads his own team in all offensive categories. He has 27 goals, 44 assists and is an impressive plus-38.

Nicholls has strong offensive creativity, and is a hard worker but needs to work on his skating and strength. He projects more as a two-way forward in the NHL, but confidence in his offensive abilities may make him a more dangerous forward.

18. (13) Christian Hanson, C, 5.5 B
Acquired via Free Agency, March, 2009

Christian Hanson‘s fall in the rankings isn’t necessarily due to bad play on his part, but more his potential starting to become clearly identified. Failing to make the Maple Leafs out of camp was a setback for the 24-year-old, and his role with the club had to be re-established. He was assigned to the Marlies to be shaped into more of a big-body, defensive, PK specialist similar to former Maple Leaf Wayne Primeau.

Hanson has played both center and wing this season, most recently flanking Marlies captain Alex Foster. He started the year primarily in a defensive role, but as the year progressed Hanson started to revert back to more of an all-round forward. He’s second in Marlies scoring with 12 goals and 17 assists in 44 games.

19. (NR) Sam Carrick, C – 6.0 C
Acquired: 5th round, 144th overall in 2010

Sam Carrick is another prospect who’s had a bit of an inconsistent season, both due to injuries and not being able to manufacture higher offensive numbers. The 19-year-old still has put together a solid season despite being on an offensively challenged Brampton Battalion squad. Carrick missed several games in the month of October with a lower body injury, and reportedly wasn’t healthy at the Maple Leafs training camp either.

In the first three months of the season, Carrick only had four goals and three assists in 15 games. December and January saw Carrick start to catch fire offensively scoring eight goals and 15 assists in 24 games. On the season, Carrick has 13 goals and 19 assists in 45 games. His 32 points on the year aren’t mesmerizing, but he’s still one of the most dangerous Battalion forwards on a given night. He’s also fearless and deceptively strong on his skates.

20. (18) Kenny Ryan, C – 6.0 C
Acquired: 2nd Round, 50th overall in 2009

In his second season with the Windsor Spitfires, Kenny Ryan has seen improvement in his offensive numbers, hitting career highs in all categories. He has 16 goals on the year, and 42 points in 48 games. He’s also among the team leaders in plus/minus with a plus-11, only behind captain Ryan Ellis (Nashville Predators) who is a plus-21.

He’s seen as a primary defensive forward on the team, and has been used at the center ice position for most of the year. He’s also very capable of playing the wing. He’s strong on his skates, and a hard worker in the corners. While his offensive production hasn’t been where many would have liked, he’s very coachable, and versatile in a variety of roles. He’s AHL eligible next season, but will need a contract from the Maple Leafs this season or his rights will expire in the summer.