High-end skill transforms Maple Leafs Top 20 prospects

By Ed Dermit
Photo: After scoring 32 points in 37 games with the Marlies last season, William Nylander has his eye on making the big club in camp. (Courtesy of Kevin Sousa/Icon Sportswire)

Photo: After scoring 32 points in 37 games with the Marlies last season, William Nylander has his eye on making the big club in camp. (Courtesy of Kevin Sousa/Icon Sportswire)



For a team that has drilled a message of patience, new Toronto Maple Leafs management has been able to restock the prospect cupboard rather quickly. Players with high-end skill successfully acquired through trade, via the draft and by signing undrafted free agents. Equally positive news was that a majority of the top prospects already in the Maple Leafs system metor exceeded expectations in 2014-15.

Meanwhile the Leafs also traded four members of last year’s top 20 to maintain roster flexibility, moving Matt Finn, Christopher Gibson, Tom Nilsson and Carter Verhaeghe to the Islanders for Michael Grabner, just before training camp opened. The end result is a significantly revamped top 20 prospect rankings compared to one year ago, stocked with players possessing exciting skill and much greater depth—especially at the forward positions.

20. (19) Sam Carrick, C, 6.0 C
Drafted 5th round, 144th overall, 2010

Carrick is a classic overachiever, utilizing hard work as a substitute for average skills across the board. Carrick has averaged half a point per game during the last two seasons with the Marlies, so he is not completely unable to make an offensive contribution. However, his future with the Leafs will be in a bottom six role, killing penalties and playing a gritty game as evidenced by his willingness to drop the gloves and accumulate over 100 penalty minutes in each of the last two AHL seasons. A character player like Carrick can be a valuable NHL player, and he is close, having played 16 games with the Leafs last season.

19. (NR) Casey Bailey, RW, 7.0 D
Signed as a free agent, March 22nd, 2015

Bailey is a big bodied, high-scoring forward at the NCAA level and was highly sought after as undrafted free agent coming out of Penn State. Bailey scored 22 goals in 37 games as a senior before joining the Leafs for six NHL games at the end of the season. Bailey possesses a hard shot and a quick release which he used to good effect, leading the NCAA in shots on goal. Bailey will have to prove he can score at the AHL level first before he gets the opportunity with the big club.

18. (NR) Zach Hyman, RW, 7.0 D
Acquired via trade with Florida, 2015

Hyman was acquired from the Florida Panthers for prospect Greg McKegg after it appeared Hyman would not sign with the Panthers out of college. The Panthers’ fifth-round draft pick in 2010 struggled with the Michigan Wolverines, scoring only 35 points after three seasons. In his senior season however, Hyman scored 22 goals and 54 points in 37 games and was a named a Hokey Baker finalist as the NCAA’s player of the year. The 23-year-old, center, is likely to make his pro debut with the Marlies next season.

17. (NR) Nikita Soshnikov, RW, 7.0D
Signed as a free-agent, March 22nd, 2015

Soshnikov’s path to the NHL presents a unique but unproven approach to acquiring prospects. As a 21 year-old playing in Russia’s KHL last season, Soshnikov possessed enough offensive skill to produce 14 goals and 32 points in 57 games. Yet, there is little precedence for relatively young and undrafted former KHL players successfully making it as an NHL regular. With a three year contract kicking in this coming season, Soshnikov will make his North American debut, likely starting with the Marlies.

16. (10) Rinat Valiev, D, 7.0 D
Drafted 3rd round, 68th overall, 2014

Valiev has proven thus far, to have been an astute third-round pick by the Leafs in 2014. After missing the early part of his WHL season due to injury, Valiev rejoined the struggling Kootenay Ice and instantly became an offensive force from the blueline, and a stalwart in the defensive zone. Valiev’s progress as a prospect was validated when he was named to Team Russia for the World Juniors, playing top-four pairing minutes for a country that rarely names Russian-born CHL juniors to its national team. He is ticketed to begin his rookie pro campaign in 2015-16.

15. (NR) Travis Dermott, D, 7.0 D
Drafted 2nd round, 34th overall, 2015

The Leafs second-round pick in 2015, Dermott compares his style to Morgan Rielly—that of a puck carrying, offensive defenseman. Dermott may not have the upside of Reilly but he is a skilled, conscientious defender. He anchored an Erie Otters powerplay that featured fellow 2015 picks Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome. He will return to the Otters where he’ll have the opportunity to show that his offensive production wasn’t simply a by-product of playing with the dynamic duo. Dermott is already considered one of the top defenseman in the CHL as evidenced by his invitation to the Team Canada U20 Summer Evaluation Camp.

14. (2) Josh Leivo, LW, 6.5 C
Drafted 3rd round, 86th overall, 2011

Leivo has reached an inflection point as a Leafs prospect. After two full seasons in the AHL, Leivo has averaged 0.66 points per game and played 16 NHL games, scoring two goals. He is still only 22-years-old, however rising expectations for Leivo to show progress in his development, and the growing pool of skilled Leafs forwards coming up through the system, means Leivo needs to distinguish himself as a potential top six forward the Leafs envisioned when he was drafted.

13. (14) Viktor Loov, D, 6.5 C
Drafted 7th round, 209th overall, 2012

Loov has come a long way as a former seventh round pick. His smooth transition to the AHL last season allowed him to earn top-four pairing minutes because he is a multi-dimensional player. He skates well, handles the puck with confidence, has good size and can lay out opponents with devastating hits. Loov’s young age and success last year gives the Leafs more depth in what is proving to be an emerging pipeline of blue line prospects, on the cusp of the NHL.

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

Granberg has been a mainstay as one of the Leafs top blueline prospects over the last few seasons. Possessing size, good skating ability and a strong stay-at-home defensive game, Granberg is on the cusp of challenging for a full-time NHL role. Unfortunately, he suffered an Achilles tendon injury while training in the offseason that will see him start the year on injured reserve. Granberg fits the profile of a bottom-pairing defenseman that could be utilized against top lines and on the penalty kill.

11. (4) Frederik Gauthier, C, 6.5 C
Drafted 1st round, 21st overall, 2013

Having completed two full seasons of junior after being the Leafs top pick in 2013, Gauthier has been an integral part of two QMJHL teams that made consecutive appearances in the Memorial Cup, and he represented Canada twice at the World Junior Championships. Yet Gauthier’s offensive production remained stagnant, averaging just under one point per game, despite three years in the QMJHL. This lack of offense in junior calls into question whether he can be more than a third or fourth-line center in the NHL. His pro apprenticeship will begin this coming season.

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