Maple Leafs Top 20 prospects

By Adam Gonsalves

1. Carlo Colaiacovo, D – Drafted in the 1st round by Toronto (17th Overall) in 2001. Performance: Steady

For the second straight year, Colaiacovo is the top rated prospect in the Toronto Maple Leafs system. He is a highly skilled player who does everything well. His first pro season in 2003-04 went very well despite some injuries that caused him to miss about 20 games. In St. John’s, he quarterbacks the power play, kills penalties and receives the bulk of the minutes on the defensive corps. While it is difficult to find holes in his game, one area is his size. He has not added the weight that most feel is needed in order to compete for an NHL roster spot. His attendance at the strength and conditioning camp this offseason is perhaps a sign that he is aware of his drawbacks and is working to correct them. If there is an NHL season in 2004-05, expect to see Colaiacovo patrolling the blueline for the parent club this season. He is as NHL ready as a prospect can be.

2. Alexander Steen, C – Drafted in the 1st round by Toronto (24th Overall) in 2002. Performance: Improving

After having a great first season in the SEL, Steen followed it up with an even better performance in 2003-04. Although early on his stock was soaring after starting the season at almost a point a game, his production began to fall off around the halfway point of the season, which led to questions about Steen’s overall endurance. He plays a very aggressive game for someone his size and is a great player both with and away from the puck. He is very reminiscent of a former Leaf in his play, Doug Gilmour, with equivalent leadership ability. Many predict Steen will fall between a first and second line center in the NHL, however if his endurance can withstand the long haul, he may prove to be better then expected. Steen is under contract with MoDo for one more year and may skip St. John’s altogether and move to the big club in 2005-06.

3. Brendan Bell, D – Drafted in the 3rd round by Toronto (65th Overall) in 2001. Performance: Steady

It was an up and down year for Brendan Bell in his first pro season in St. John’s. He cracked a deep blueline corp and managed to maintain his position on the depth chart throughout the season. While he initially struggled to make the transition to the pro game, Bell seemed to settle down as the year went on. While he did not do as well as some hoped, no one can question his willingness and determination to improve. Bell has never been a star and no one expects him to be one, but his determination has carried him a lot farther than most ever thought he would go. Bell will be looking to improve on the year before in St. John’s and will probably start at his same position at the No. 3 spot next season, but may received more ice time depending on the fate of Colaiacovo.

4. Jay Harrison, D – Drafted in the 3rd round by Toronto (82nd Overall) in 2001. Performance: Steady

2003-04 was a bit of a set back for Jay Harrison. His previous season for St. John’s had the Leaf brass thinking they found a gem at 82nd in 2001, but a poor all around showing of the defensive prowess of St. John’s during the season, hurt his performance somewhat. Despite finishing at -8, he still finished with one of the best plus/minus ratings of any of the Baby Leafs, and many still hold out hope for Harrison to be the big, puck clearing defenseman the Leafs have needed for ages. Considered more of a stay-at-home defenseman than an offensive player, Harrison uses his combination of size and strength to its fullest advantage and regularly plays a top 4 role in St. John’s. However, with Colaiacovo, Hedin and Pilar ahead of him in the depth chart, it may be some time before anyone sees Harrison in the show.

5. Kyle Wellwood, C – Drafted in the 5th round by Toronto (134th Overall) in 2001. Performance: Improving

Kyle Wellwood silenced a lot of critics in his first season in St. John’s. Throughout his career the knock against him has been his skating and his size. His skating has come along and as a result his transition from junior to the AHL was very smooth. He quickly established himself as an offensive leader on St. John’s, even going so far as claiming the first line center role for the first half of the season. He finished first in rookie scoring, well ahead of many players who were much more highly touted then he was and his play earned him a spot on the AHL All-Star team. Thus far, Wellwood has had an exciting start to his pro career and should again center the top line in St. John’s in 2004. Judging by this season, Wellwood may be one of the most underrated players in the AHL.

6. Ian White, D – Drafted in the 6th round by Toronto (191st Overall) in 2002. Performance: Steady

It was a sub-par 2003-04 season for Ian White in terms of his offensive output, which many feel is his only ticket to the NHL. He still finished the year well, but his offensive numbers dropped significantly from better than a point a game for the past two seasons, to 32 points in 43 games. Still, he provided a taste of what can be expecting from him in the next season after an eight-game stint with the Baby Leafs. After recording 4 points in 8 games (all assists) and playing very well defensively, White rebounded nicely from his performance with Swift Current. Much like fellow Leaf, Kyle Wellwood, the biggest obstacle for White will be his size. At 5’10, he might play a similar role that Marc-Andre Bergeron does with Edmonton as a power play specialist. However, a key difference between the between the two players is the fact that White plays very well defensively. There is no doubting White’s skill; the only question is if he can overcome his size deficiency. If so, he could prove to be the steal of the 2002 draft.

7. John Mitchell, C – Drafted in the 5th round by Toronto (158th Overall) in 2003. Performance: Improving

This 2003-04 season was a career year for Mitchell. As one of the better players in the OHL, Mitchell improved as a whole. He developed into a more complete player this season and was rewarded with a leadership role as well as the first line center spot in Plymouth. A solid two-way player, Mitchell his improved every season he has played, which suggests that he perhaps has more to offer then a third line role in the future. Next season is Mitchell’s last of junior eligibility and he should look to improve on last season’s performance. Should he continue to work on his skating and consistency, he seems poised to make an impact in the NHL.

8. Martin Sagat, LW – Drafted in the 3rd round by Toronto (91st Overall) in 2003. Performance: Steady

Sagat’s first season across the pond went very much as expected. He adjusted reasonably well to the North American game and did not look out of place in terms of his physical game. Considered a very long-term project by Toronto, Sagat expects to take a crack at St. John’s this upcoming season. He looks to be a very similar player to another Leaf player, Alexei Ponikarovsky. Although Sagat is not expected to be anything more then a checking forward, Sagat will most likely begin his pro career with St. John’s next season in that capacity, due to the team’s lack of genuine prospects on the left wing.

9. John Doherty, D – Drafted in the 2nd round by Toronto (57th Overall) in 2003. Performance: Steady

Very little was expected of Doherty in his first season with the University of New Hampshire and the amount of ice time he received proved as much. Basically, Doherty was given just enough to get his feet wet for Wildcats this season, which is not surprising given his freshman status. Still, he did not play poorly according to most reports. Much is hoped for by the Leafs when it comes to Doherty as they hope he can develop into a tough defensive player. That may be a very long way off however, since it is his defensive game that seems to need the most work. There will be room opening up on the blueline for UNH due to graduating players, so next season will be Doherty’s chance to prove what he can do.

10. Jeremy Williams, C – Drafted in the 7th round by Toronto (220th Overall) in 2003. Performance: Improving

Williams had a fantastic season for Swift Current, finishing with 101 points in only 68 games. He finished second in league scoring, only behind Coyotes prospect Tyler Redenbach, his center with Swift Current. He has improved steadily over the past season, even seeing four games in St. John’s at the end of the season recording 2 assists in 4 games. While much was made of Williams’ skills, few noted the new role he played with Swift Current. Having played center for most of his career and being known more as a playmaker, he seemed to have no problem switching to the right wing scoring 52 goals. Given the fact that St. John’s is strong in terms of center prospects and weak on the right wing, don’t be surprised if he ends up playing there on a permanent basis in St. John’s. As a winger, Williams stands a much better chance to make the NHL, as a young scoring right wing is something Toronto desperately needs.

11. Steffan Kronwall, D – Drafted in the 9th round (285th Overall) by Toronto in 2002. Performance: Improving

Drafted as a 20-year-old in 2002, Steffan was considered a long-term project by Toronto. His first year in the SEL went very well as he established himself as a regular player for Djurgarden. While his point totals for his second season were less then the previous year, he improved his all around game. Noted mostly as a stay at home defenseman, Kronwall seemed to maintain his physical play for Djurgarden while avoiding the penalty totals that he received last season. Kronwall’s future right now is uncertain. While all seem to believe he has the skills to come over to play for St. John’s, a log jam at the defense position may cause management to leave him in the SEL to keep him getting quality minutes in a top organization.

12. Justin Pogge, G – Drafted in the 3rd round (90th Overall) by Toronto in 2004. Performance: Steady

Given the current goaltending situation of the Leaf organization, much is expected of Justin Pogge. The pressure is not anything new to him. In his first season with Prince George, he established himself as the starting goalie for a team that many considered to be very young and just starting out. Despite being a rookie for a young team, Pogge put up some good numbers for his team and ended up stealing the starting job away from another Leaf prospect, Todd Ford. Don’t expect Pogge to be in the Blue and White anytime soon as he has junior eligibility left.

13. Nathan Barrett, C – Signed as a Free Agent by Toronto, July 31, 2002. Performance: Improving

After a promising start to his AHL career last season with St. John’s, Barrett followed it up with a very impressive second season. Scoring 38 points in 49 games to go along with 41 PIM’s, he began to display the solid abilities and tenacity that made him a star in the WHL. His defensive play improved considerably last season finishing at a plus/minus rating of 0 on a weak team. While the jury is still out on his NHL potential, Barrett has certainly established himself as a mainstay on the left wing in St. John’s.

14. Todd Ford, G – Drafted in the 3rd round (74th Overall) by Toronto in 2002. Performance: Declining

It was a rough year for Todd Ford. After finishing last season on a sour note, he did not rebound like many had hoped from a disastrous finish with Prince George. Ford did not flourish under a constant barrage of shots and his lack of confidence showed even when his shot totals were dropping as the Prince George defense improved. After losing his starting job to Justin Pogge, Ford was traded again. This time to Vancouver, where he continued to struggle to regain his composure and performance that he enjoyed just the previous season with Swift Current. Ford will most likely start his pro career either backing up J.F. Racine in St. John’s or starting in Memphis of the CHL. Either way, Ford has a lot to prove to himself and to the organization in order to regain his status as a potential NHL caliber goaltender.

15. Dominic D’Amour, D – Drafted in the 3rd round (88th Overall) in 2002. Performance: Steady

D’Amour proved that he is capable of being more then a one-dimensional player this past season. He exploded offensively for Gatineau in 2003-04 collecting 53 points in 61 games, while maintaining his high level of defensive play. A similar player to several other prospect defensemen in the Leafs system, D’Amour stands out because of the offensive production he has put forward at this point in his career. As previously stated, due to a log jam of defensemen in St. John’s and Toronto, D’Amour will be in tough to claim a spot in the AHL this season and will have to show something special in order to win a spot. Otherwise, he may start the year in Memphis.

16. Markus Seikola, D – Drafted in the 7th round (209th Overall) by Toronto in 2000. Performance: Declining

Seikola struggled in 2003-04 and has not shown the same kind of skill many though he could attain at the 2001 World Juniors. Once thought of as a possible gem for Toronto, the shine has definitely worn off. As the years go on, it becomes less and less likely that Seikola will make the move overseas, as he has yet to impress anyone with his play since 2001. At 22, there is still time for Seikola to improve and break out, but time is definitely running out him.

17. Konstantin Volkov, RW – Drafted in the 4th round (125th Overall) by Toronto in 2003. Performance: Declining

Volkov was as highly touted a prospect as any ever drafted by Toronto and many though they got a steal when they selected him in the fourth round in 2003. A versatile player who can and has played both center and right wing, the comparisons of Volkov were perhaps too high when he was compared with Igor Larionov. After an excellent year in 2002-03, Volkov started the season with Dynamo Moscow and seemed to make a positive transition from junior to CSK VVS Samara. However, a midseason trade to Lada Togliatti, saw Volkov struggle in the Upper League and he once again found himself in junior playing for Lada Togliatta 2. Volkov is still quite young at 19 and there is every reason to believe he can bounce back from this past season. Look for him to make his mark next season, as he will no doubt be hungry to get back to the Upper League.

18. Tyson Marsh, D – Signed as a free agent by Toronto in 2002. Performance: Improving

Marsh had a much improved year with Vancouver of the WHL in 2003-04, finishing for the first time in his junior career as a plus player. He indeed lived up to the role of a leader this past season and played regular top 4 minutes for the young Giants. Still considered a stay at home defenseman despite his offensive improvement this past season, Marsh will be looking to crack the deep St. John’s roster next season. As with all others however, Marsh will have his work cut out for him to make the cut. In all likelihood, Marsh will begin his pro career with Memphis in 2004-05.

19. Jean-Francois Racine, G – Drafted in the 3rd round (90th Overall) by Toronto in 2000. Performance: Improving

It was quite a promising year for J-F Racine 2003-04. He had another very good in season in Memphis, posting an even better GAA and save percentage then he did in his first season. Also, with nine games in St. John’s this season, he actually had a better save percentage then he did with Memphis, effectively outplaying Sebastien Centomo for the starting job. With both Centomo and Hodson not being offered contracts by the Leafs this season, Racine will be given his first real opportunity to show what he can do. Depending on the lockout situation, Racine could be backing up Mikael Tellqvist or being the starting goaltender for the Baby Leafs. In either regard, Racine has done very well those far in his pro career and has improved every season he has played. With the goaltending future of Toronto being largely uncertain, Racine will be looking to turn some heads in his first full season with St. John’s in 2004-05.

20. Dmitri Vorobiev, D – Drafted in 5th round (157th Overall) by Toronto in 2004. Performance: Steady

Vorobiev is another long term project for Toronto. Taken in the fifth round of the 2004 Entry Draft, he fell further than projections. A balanced defender, Vorobiev already has good size at 211 lbs. With so many similar type defenders in the Leaf system, Vorobiev will stay in Russia for at least the next few seasons until a spot can open up within the organization.

Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without written permission of the editorial staff. Doug Evinou contributed to this article.