Carter Ashton debuts in Maple Leafs Spring top-20

By John-Eric Iannicello
Photo: Joe Colborne has had a streaky, yet promising 2011-12 season with the Maple Leafs organization. (Photo courtesy of

JC Pinheiro/Icon SMI)

Carter Ashton debuts in the fifth position after being acquired at the trade deadline for defensive prospect Keith Aulie (TB). Other new additions to the list include goaltender Mark Owuya, defenseman Petter Granberg, forwards Nicolas Deschamps, and Marcel Mueller. Jake Gardiner and James Reimer have both graduated from the fall edition of the Maple Leafs Top 20.

1. (1) Nazem Kadri, C, 8C
Drafted 1st round, 7th overall, 2009

Kadri hasn’t been able to secure a full-time spot with the Maple Leafs just yet, but every shot he’s been given has seen improvements in his game. With new head coach Randy Carlyle at the helm, it offers a new start for Kadri and a chance to make a new first impression with the club.

He’s shown more attention to detail in each game that he’s been recalled for, but the Maple Leafs have kept pushing him for more. He’s cut down on the high risk offensive plays, but still needs to add strength to handle the NHL grind. He’ll also need to bring a bit more offensive dominance at the NHL level, although paired primarily with Matthew Lombardi and Tim Connolly this year hasn’t helped in that regard. He had four goals and two assists in 19 games with the Maple Leafs.

Kadri’s numbers have dipped a bit since his return to the Toronto Marlies (AHL) on February 1st, but he’s still one of the more dangerous forwards on any given night in the AHL. He has 11 goals and 18 assists for 29 points in 38 games with the Marlies. He’s played both center and wing this season with the club.

2. (3) Joe Colborne, C, 7.5C
Acquired via trade with the Boston Bruins, February 18th, 2011

After an extremely hot start to the 2011-12 season where he was averaging almost two points per-game, Colborne’s offensive production has fizzled. Much of it has to do with the chemistry he lost when veteran Joey Crabb was recalled, but also dealing with an undisclosed injury during the New Year (which kept him out of the AHL All-Star game).

Due to his lethal start to the season where he had 10 goals and nine assists in just 13 games, Colborne was recalled by the Maple Leafs for a nine game stint with the club. He was moderately productive, scoring one goal and adding three helpers. He was returned to the Maple Leafs a month later, on December 19th and hasn’t been able to find the offensive groove he had earlier in the season. He’s managed only six goals and 12 assists in his last 38 games. He’s seen more defensive duties in the New Year however, which was an area that he wanted to improve on after being re-assigned by the parent club. He’s been a plus-seven since January 1st, even with his production slipping.

The 6’5, 215lb forward is still adjusting to the pro level and may require another full-season of AHL seasoning before he’s ready for a primary role with the Maple Leafs. With Mikhail Grabovski, Tyler Bozak, and Tim Connolly locked in for at least another season, the Maple Leafs can afford to let the large center ripen. A continued focus on his skating, consistency, and strength will make him an even more dominant force to handle at the next level.

3. (6) Jesse Blacker, D, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd Round, 58th overall, 2009

Blacker has had a very strong rookie season in the AHL with the Marlies. The 20-year-old has seen time in all situations and has responded very well as the season has progressed. He was rotated out the lineup on occasion earlier in the year, but that was mainly due to the numbers on defense.

When Matt Lashoff went down to injury early in the season, it provided Blacker with a prime opportunity to take a top-six, full-time position with the club. While more may have been expected from him offensively, Blacker has always been a late bloomer in that regard. Compounded with the fact the Marlies don’t tend to activate their defenseman all that much, Blacker’s offensive numbers are solid – yet unspectacular. He has only one goal, but 14 assists in 51 games which is good for third in Marlies defensive scoring.

But with Blacker, you get more than just the offensive game. You get a strong, and very willing defensive catalyst. He’s not so much a fighter, as he completely aggravates the opposing forwards with his relentless aggression and puck pursuit. At times, his aggression style can lead him into penalty trouble, but he’s always walking along that edge in his game.

Blacker offers an intriguing combination of strength, skill and speed. If harnessed properly, it should make him a great top-four addition for the Maple Leafs. He’s done very well in his first pro season, and while he’s unlikely to crack the Maple Leafs next year, another developmental season with the Marlies will bring him that much closer.

4. (7) Matt Frattin, RW, 7C
Drafted 4th round, 99th overall, 2007

The questions around Frattin aren’t whether or not he’s going to be an NHL player, but what type of NHL player he will be.

The 24-year-old stepped in and secured a spot on the Maple Leafs out of camp. His skating ability, physical play, and tenacity were all apparent from day one. However, his offensive game which made him such a top-end talent at the collegiate level wasn’t clicking. It wasn’t that Frattin wasn’t getting his chances; he just wasn’t converting on them.

After about 30 games with the Maple Leafs, the club sent him down to the AHL. Frattin at that point contributed little on the score sheet, and the Maple Leafs wanted more from him in that area of his game: he found it with the Marlies. Most nights, Frattin was the clubs more dominant player in a two-way role. He started to light it up offensively scoring 12 goals in 21 games with the team, before the Maple Leafs recalled him in late February.

Still, Frattin hasn’t found the ability to put his offensive game together in the NHL. He has six goals and six assists through 46 games. He’s found success as a goal scorer in college, and displayed great potential at the AHL level, but it has yet to blossom into an offensive NHL player. Even if his offensive game never translates fully, Frattin should etch out an NHL career in some capacity; he has all the tools to be a contributing player.

5. (NR) Carter Ashton, LW, 7C
Acquired via trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning, February 27th, 2012

What turned out to be the Maple Leafs biggest move at the trade deadline was the acquisition of 20-year-old Ashton for 22-year-old Keith Aulie. A good hockey move on paper, the deal suited both teams’ current and future needs. The Maple Leafs needed a forward who had size and grit to his game, and that’s exactly how Ashton projects at the NHL level.

He not only possesses strong physical elements to his game, but he’s not without skill. The rookie forward tallied 19 goals and 16 assists for 35 points through 56 games with Norfolk. After the trade, Ashton hit the 20 goal mark in his first game with the Marlies. Similar to Colborne, Ashton started the season very strong scoring nine goals and 13 points in his first 10 games, but he’s failed to match that production level since. He has, however, been one of the more productive rookie goal scorers in the AHL.

Since he joined the organization, the Maple Leafs have given Ashton a shot at the NHL level and he’s performed well given he’s not exactly NHL ready. The 20-year-old still needs to add the necessary bulk to play the power-forward style effectively, outside of that he doesn’t have many glaring flaws to his game. He just needs more experience at the pro level.

6. (8) Greg McKegg, C, 7C
Drafted 3rd Round, 62nd overall, 2010

Being on one of the worst teams in major junior hockey can certainly take a toll on any player and McKegg was no exception to that. Before his trade to the London Knights (OHL), McKegg had scored at a point pre-game pace with the Erie Otters scoring 12 goals and 22 assists in 35 games. A far-cry from the 49 goal, 92 point campaign he managed in 2010-11.

After the trade McKegg’s numbers jumped. In 27 games he’s scored 19 goals and added 22 assists for 41 points. A significant change from the .97 point per-game pace he was on with the Otters, to the 1.51 per-game pace he’s now at with the Knights.

While he won’t be matching or surpassing his career highs from last season, McKegg will be finishing the season on a strong note. The Knights are pegged for a long playoff run, and McKegg is expected to play a primary role in it. He’s already signed with the Maple Leafs, so should the Knights be ousted from the post-season early, it’s likely he joins the Marlies for their playoff run.

7. (9) Tyler Biggs, RW, 7C
Drafted 1st Round, 22nd overall, 2011

Last summer’s first round pick, Biggs has transitioned well in the NCAA as a member of the Miami RedHawks. He hasn’t set the world on fire offensively, but that’s also not his game. The big forward is enough for any collegiate level defender to handle, and his booming shot can cause goaltenders trouble. He’s expected to play a bigger role with the team next season as players continue to graduate off the roster and Biggs himself matures.

He’s been primarily a second-line forward for the club playing with Curtis McKenzie (DAL) and Trent Vogelhuber (CLB) recently. He’s also played with fellow rookie forward Blake Coleman. As the season has played out, he’s also seen more special teams’ duty playing on the power play.

Biggs finished the regular season with eight goals and eight assists in 32 games, which was good for six Redhawks forward scoring. He added one goal in the CCHA quarterfinals against the Michigan State Spartans, and the RedHawks have since swept the series and await their next opponent.

8. (10) Stuart Percy, D, 7C
Drafted 1st Round, 25th overall, 2011

It’s been a rough season (to say the least) for first-round pick Percy, who’s had to battle a number of injuries. His first major injury came in late October when he was on the wrong end of a big-time hit at the hands of Mitchell Heard. He suffered a concussion on the play, and also an injury to his leg. Thankfully, Percy returned to the lineup two weeks later on November 6th.

About a month after his return, Percy would suffer another concussion as he fell awkwardly into the boards after a clean hit in a game versus the Kitchener Rangers. Not only did Percy suffer a concussion, but he had injured his wrist and had facial lacerations. His second concussion of the year had not only his immediate future, but long-term future in question.

Two and half months later, on February 24th Percy made a return to the ice. He’s played in six games since his injury, only sitting out recently due to the flu. In the 31 games he’s played this year, Percy has four goals and 19 assists for 23 points.

Percy is getting his legs back under him at the right time as the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors have locked up a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. A healthy and fit Percy should play a key role in their post-season success.

9. (12) Brad Ross, LW, 7C
Drafted 2nd Round, 43rd overall, 2010

Ross has been quite the offensive threat this season for the Portland Winterhawks (WHL). The 19-year-old forward has blown his previous point totals out of the water by scoring 42 goals and 40 assists in 67 games, while also his typical high amount of penalty minutes (163).

Firmly established as a premiere pest player in the WHL, Maple Leafs brass were looking for more offensive dominance from Ross. He’s had a star talent cast around him who has arguably inflated his numbers, but Ross has proven that he is not without talent in his own right. While he’s had a great year statistically, he’s also dealt with undisclosed off-ice issues that have required team discipline.

Ross is a unique blend of tenacity, truculence and belligerence and is anticipating an NHL contract by year’s end. He’s penciled into the projected Marlies lineup next season and should become a household name at the pro level fairly quickly.

10. (14) Korbinian Holzer, D, 6B
Drafted 4th round, 111th overall, 2006

A rock for the Marlies, Holzer is turning into one of the most dependable defenseman in the Maple Leafs system. The 23-year-old is a minute eating defenseman who plays in all situations. While primarily a defensive defenseman, Holzer has two-way ability making a good first pass and an underrated shot. He’s second in Marlies defensive scoring with one goal and 16 assists through 53 games.

He’s undoubtedly the Marlies number one defenseman and is such a calming presence on the back-end that head coach Dallas Eakins can pair him with anyone. Currently, he’s been paired with newcomer Mark Fraser and the two have been a tough physical tandem.

Holzer projects as a bottom-pairing, dependable player. He has some snarl and bite to his game, and isn’t afraid to mix it up with opposition forwards. Won’t necessarily drop the mitts all that much, but can be an irritant on the ice.

11. (11) Ben Scrivens, G, 6.5C
Acquired as a free agent, April 2010

A bit of a rough start to the season has really straightened out over the last two months for Ben Scrivens. The 25-year-old is seeing more consistent action down the stretch and is taking the reins as the Marlies starting goaltender heading into the playoffs.

Early in the season, Scrivens had a brief stint with the Maple Leafs after James Reimer went down with a concussion. He had a good showing, although he had a losing record thought eight games. He was 2-4-1 and had a 2.96 goals against average to go with a .904 save percentage. Not stellar numbers by any stretch, but a good showing for a Maple Leafs team who’s had a tendency to struggle defensively.

With the defensively sound Marlies, Scrivens has appeared in 32 games with the club and has a 17-13-1 record. He has a sparkling 2.12 goals against and an impressive .923 save percentage. Scrivens is ranked as a top-10 goaltender in the AHL, with a second place ranking in goals against, and seventh in save percentage.

A little older than most goaltending prospects in the AHL, Scrivens may be looking for an NHL position sooner rather than later. He’s a restricted free-agent this summer.

12. (NR) Mark Owuya, G, 6.5C
Acquired as a free agent, April 2011

Statistically, Owuya has been the clubs best goaltending prospect. He has some impressive numbers at both levels he played this season – AHL and ECHL. He has a 9-5-1 record as a member of the Marlies and has posted a 2.07 goals against average, to go with a .926 save percentage.

As a member of the Reading Royals (ECHL), Owuya has played 18 games and has a 10-4-3 record. On average, he faces 35 or more shots a game which speaks highly of Owuya’s ability to keep his team in games. He has a 3.00 goals against average, and a .920 save percentage.

He was not named to the Maries clear day roster so he will not be able to play in the AHL playoffs. His immediate future is with Reading and trying to push the Royals into the playoffs. He’s likely to join the Marlies in a full-time position next season.

13. (15) Jerry D’Amigo , LW, 6.5C
Drafted 6th Round, 158th overall, 2009

After a tough start to his AHL season last year, D’Amigo has turned into one of the Marlies most consistent two-way forwards. He’s become extremely dependable to a point where he’s found a spot on the Marlies primary penalty-killing unit with Greg Scott. The two are extremely dangerous in short handed situations with their breakaway speed.

He’s much more effective due to his speed, smarts and drive. Not physically imposing in stature, but not a player the opposition likes to play against due to his consistent forecheck and stocky build. He’s also established a bit more grit to his game dropping the gloves a handful of times this season.

D’Amigo’s scored a respectable 13 goals and 21 assists in 62 games this season. As his confidence grows, so has his ability with the puck. He’s poised for a breakout season next year, and should play a key role in the AHL playoffs.

14. (NR). Nicolas Deschamps, LW, 6.5C
Acquired via trade with the Anaheim Ducks, January 3rd, 2012

Acquired in a move that sent Luca Caputi to the Anaheim Ducks, Deschamps had only scored seven points through 31 games with the Syracuse Crunch (Anaheim’s AHL affiliate). With the Marlies, he’s turned into a key secondary scoring asset for the club. He’s found great chemistry with fellow Quebec native Phillipe Dupuis and has scored four goals and added 16 assists in 27 games.

The 21-year-old has displayed good speed, some slick playmaking ability and a willingness to get engaged physically. He still needs more AHL experience and added strength to play the style he wants, but projects to be a solid two-way forward with offensive upside.

15. (20) Josh Leivo, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd Round, 86th overall, 2011

A 2011 selection who gained some momentum due to a strong playoff performance, Leivo has looked like a great third-round pick this season with the Sudbury Wolves (OHL).

Question marks surrounded Leivo’s ability to produce consistently in an offensive role, and he’s done a great job at silencing his critics. He sits second in team scoring for the Wolves with 31 goals and 71 points in 63 games.

The Maple Leaf scouts were very high on Leivo last summer, and he’s starting to prove why. He’s expected to play an even larger role next season with the Wolves as a few key players graduate to the pros.

16. (19) Josh Nicholls, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 7th round, 182nd overall, 2010

Nicholls is another prospect who’s had to struggle with injury this season. The 19-year-old forward suffered a torn ACL in early December which kept him out of the lineup for about six weeks. He returned to the lineup on January 20th.

He’s been a top producer for the Saskatoon Blades (WHL) over the last two seasons, and even though he’s missed a large chunk of the season he still remains second in team scoring. He has 28 goals and 36 assists for 64 points in 54 games. He’s playing with a younger group of talent this season than in years past, but he’s still a driving force offensively for the Blades.

Nicholls, like many Maple Leaf prospects this season, is looking to ink an entry-level deal with the club. He has desirable size and skill which should land him such a contract as the Leafs look to infuse more size into their pro lineup.

17. (NR) Marcel Mueller, LW, 6.5C
Acquired as a free agent, July 2010

Consistency is the name of the game for Mueller. When he’s on top of his game, he can easily be one of the Marlies most dominant players. His 6’4 frame combined and his ability with the puck can be a force for opposition defenseman, but it’s just not there on a consistent basis.

He had started the season very strong scoring four goals and 18 points in his first 18 games, but like other Marlie forwards, he hasn’t been able to keep his production consistent. He hit a bit of a rut in December and January only scoring nine points in 24 games, but then started to produce a bit more in February with 10 points in 12 games.

At 23-years-old and a pending restricted free-agent, Mueller needs to find some form of consistency in his game if he wants to make the jump to the NHL. With his stature, the leash on his development may be a bit longer than most. He’ll be counted on to provide some supporting offense down the stretch as the Marlies prepare for their Calder Cup run.

18. (17) Juraj Mikus, D, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 134th overall, 2007

While he hasn’t taken the desired steps forward in his offensive development, Mikus has become a much more reliable two-way defenseman for the Marlies this year.

Mikus has played in all situations including power-play and penalty-kill, and has a team-leading plus-16. Offensively, he’s picked it up as of late. He had only produced five assists in his first 48 games, but over his last 14 games he’s scored three goals and added two assists.

At 23-years-old, Mikus still remains a bit of a project player. He’s a restricted free-agent this summer, and should be a returning player for the club. With the lack of defensive prospects (currently) scheduled to make the jump to the AHL, he’s likely to play a larger role with the Marlies if he does return.

19. (NR) Petter Granberg, D, 6.5C
Drafted 4th Round, 116th overall, 2010

Making his debut on the top 20 list for spring is Petter Granberg. The 19-year-old defenseman has established himself in the Swedish Elite League (SEL) this season and was also a member of Sweden’s Under-20 team at the recent World Junior Championship. He had one point in five tournament games.

With Skellefteå in the SEL, Granberg has played a limited role, averaging bottom-pairing minutes. He’s also been rotated in and out of the lineup on occasion, which is not exactly unusual given his age. He’s appeared in 38 games with the club and has one goal and three assists.

Granberg is a low-key defensive defenseman who doesn’t provide a ton of offense. He’s compared in style to current Maple Leaf defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, but with the potential to be more physically dominant. He won’t turn 20 until late August, and is under contract with Skellefteå for the 2012-13 season.

20. (13) Jussi Rynnas, G, 7.5D
Acquired as a free agent, April 2010

A player still working out the consistency kinks at the pro level, Rynnas has seen action in 30 games this year between the AHL and ECHL. The 24-year-old is now playing backup to Scrivens as the Marlies head to the playoffs.

He was assigned to the Royals (ECHL) in late January after suffering a concussion in a game against the St. John’s Ice Caps. It was a move made to give Rynnas a bit of a conditioning stint in a starter’s role as he had missed time over the past two seasons with various injuries. He appeared in 14 games for the club with a 8-5-1 record, a 3.21 goals against average and a .914 save percentage.

As previously mentioned, Rynnas is still working on his consistency. He played very well at the start of the season, but through the months of November and December his play started to dip. He was on an extreme hot streak in his first four games in January (.53 goals against, with a .981 save percentage), before succumbing to injury.

He’s played in one game since being returned to the Marlies, which was a shootout loss to the Rochester Americans. He’s expected to play in a handful of the Marlies 14 remaining games, but unless Scriven’s game falters down the stretch, he’ll be locked into the number two goaltending spot.