Maple Leafs Top 20 prospects

By Rory Boylen

Historically, the Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t had huge success on draft day, but with the new CBA and salary cap, they will have to focus their efforts in this area. Paying more attention to their prospects will help them stay competitive in the long haul, and they have taken steps in this direction with their new scouting staff.

For the top two prospects, this is their year. The Leafs have stuck behind Carlo Colaiacovo, but many believe he must break into the NHL this season, or he may not get there as a member of this squad. Alexander Steen is coming off a strong year playing with NHLers in Sweden, and signed to a rookie deal, he could make the squad.

Remaining high on the list are Kyle Wellwood, Jeremy Williams, Dmitry Vorobiev and Robert Earl, while players such as Justin Pogge and Staffan Kronwall, showed they deserved to be bumped up a notch.

Top 20 at a Glance

1. Carlo Colaiacovo, D
2. Alexander Steen, C
3. Tuukka Rask, G
4. Kyle Wellwood, C
5. Dmitry Vorobiev, D
6. Robert Earl, LW
7. Jeremy Williams, C
8. Justin Pogge, G
9. Ian White, D
10. John Mitchell, C
11. Brendan Bell, D
12. Staffan Kronwall, D
13. Ben Ondrus, LW
14. Konstantin Volkov, RW
15. Jay Harrison, D
16. Todd Ford, G
17. Andy Wozniewski, D
18. Jean-Francois Racine, G
19. Phil Oreskovic, D
20. Dominic D’Amour, D

Key: Rank (previous rank) Name, position
Acquired, height, weight, age

1. (1) Carlo Colaiacovo, D
1st round, 17th overall 2001, 6’1, 188 lbs, 22

Colaiacovo continued to develop as a power play quarterback in 2004-05, scoring 24 points in 49 games with the St. John’s Maple Leafs. The offensive defenseman is known for his shot and quick passing skills.

However, the pressure is on this season for him. The Leafs are looking for him to break onto the squad as the fifth or sixth defenseman. He was considered a lock at one point by many, but after acquiring Alexander Khavanov, Brad Brown and re-signing Brian Marchment, the defense spots on the roster are limited. If Colaiacovo fails to make the squad this year, it is unclear how much longer Toronto is willing to wait on him.

2. (2) Alexander Steen, C
1st round, 24th overall 2002, 5’11, 183 lbs, 21

Steen is neck and neck with Colaiacovo for the No. 1 Leafs prospect, and could arguably be above him. Going into camp, Steen was the fifth center on the depth chart behind Mats Sundin, Eric Lindros, Jason Allison and Matt Stajan.

Coming off of a strong 17-point campaign in Sweden, which saw him fifth on team scoring, playing with and against NHLers, the excitement around Steen is at an all-time high. The possibility of one of Allison or Lindros moving to the wing could open up a spot for him on the team. However, he will most likely start him off in the AHL, since he has yet to play a season in North America.

3. (NR) Tuukka Rask, G
1st round, 21st overall 2005, 6’2, 17d lbs, 18

A product of the new goalie factory in Finland, Tuukka Rask gives the Leafs a very promising future in net. Toronto was looking to trade up in order to draft Rask, but he was still available at their No. 21 slot, much to their delight.

An impressive butterfly goalie with quick horizontal movement, Rask was the bright spot on a weak Finnish team at the WJC in 2004. His only problem is inconsistency and lack of stamina. Rask is still very young of course, and will likely spend another few seasons in Finland before coming to North America. It will still be awhile for Rask to develop, as expected for the position.

4. (3) Kyle Wellwood, C
5th round, 134th overall 2001, 5’11, 190 lbs, 22

Always an offensive threat, Wellwood made a name for himself with St. John’s last season. After scoring 55 points in his first year of pro hockey, Wellwood became a leader for the Baby Leafs, notching 87 points in 80 games.

There is no doubt that Wellwood can get points in the AHL, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into NHL success. He needs to work on his skating, as he may not be quick enough to make up for his lack of size at the NHL level. With five strong centers ahead of him on the depth chart, Wellwood will be hard pressed to make the Leafs out of camp this year, unless he moves to the wing. For him to make it to, and be successful in the NHL, Wellwood is just going to have to keep putting up points. Expect him to be with the Marlies at the beginning of the season, but if he continues to play well this year, he should get to see some NHL time.

5. (7) Dmitry Vorobiev, D
5th round, 157th overall 2004, 6’ 209 lbs, 20

Vorobiev was seemingly brought up by the Lada hockey club, which is situated in his hometown of Togliatti. He has excellent size, and an offensive upside. In 2004-05, Vorobiev made the Russian junior squad, and showed off his skills. In six tournament games he totaled six points (1 goal, 5 assists) good enough for second in defensive scoring. On his team, Vorobiev was second in assists and fourth in points. In Russia, the youngster managed eight points in 53 regular season games, but then burst onto the scene in the playoffs, where he had eight points in 10 games. Vorobiev will likely spend another two or even three years in Russia before making the move to Canada. He is a well-rounded talent.

6. (4) Robert Earl, LW
6th round, 187th overall 2004, 5’10, 184 lbs, 20

Earl is an exciting prospect – his tremendous speed makes it difficult for defenses to contain him. His 20 goals and 44 points in his sophomore season at Wisconsin led his team, and put him eighth overall in WCHA scoring. Earl is only 20 years old, and will be back at Wisconsin this season for his junior year. Earl has to continue to bulk up if he wants to compete at the NHL level. His offensive and skating skills are undeniably solid, but Earl is still on the long road.

7. (6) Jeremy Williams, C
7th round, 220th overall 2003, 5’11, 185 lbs, 21

Another small forward with an offensive upside, Williams’ main flaw is his defensive play. A one-time 100-point scorer in the WHL with the Swift Current Broncos, Williams had 36 points in 75 games in his first season at the pro level. Williams has good speed and skating ability, but that can always keep improving. For a player like Williams to make the NHL, he must be committed at both ends of the ice.

The questions surrounding his defensive play are a big reason why he will be back in the AHL for this year, and probably at least one more. However, the Leafs might look to give some of their youngsters a taste of the big club this year, and Williams could very well be one of them.

8. (11) Justin Pogge, G
3rd round, 90th overall 2004, 6’3, 183 lbs, 19

After not being drafted to the WHL, Pogge won the starting job with the Prince George Cougars, and he hasn’t looked back. After a strong first season, Pogge won 10 of 24 games while posting a 2.80 GAA with the Cougars before moving to Calgary. There he became the starter, putting up a .917 save percentage, 2.29 GAA, and posting a 14-12-3 record. Perhaps the telling point for Pogge was his play in the playoffs. In 12 games he put up a 1.94 GAA with a .928 save percentage and a 7-5 record.

Rask’s selection by the Leafs has made Pogge’s position less certain in the long run. In the short run, Pogge will return to the Hitmen.

9. (5) Ian White, D
6th round, 191st overall 2002, 5’10, 175 lbs, 21

Ian White can best be remembered for quarterbacking the power play of Canada’s 2003 World Junior squad. Known primarily as an offensive catalyst, White plays a steady defensive game as well. The main factor holding him from the NHL is his size. White’s stature casts doubt on his ability to go up against the big forwards the NHL has to offer. He has been compared to Brian Rafalski, a small yet effective defenseman, although he has a long way to go. In his first full year with the Baby Leafs, White put up 26 points, good enough for second on the team among defensemen. White will patrol he Marlies blue line this season, and should be considered a long shot, with potential.

10. (9) John Mitchell, C
5th round, 158th overall 2003, 6’2, 197 lbs, 20

Mitchell is a solid, underrated prospect for Toronto. Two years ago he morphed into the Plymouth Whalers first line center, and last season led them in scoring. He brings good size, and a lot of determination to the team. Over his four years with the Whalers, Mitchell drastically improved his defensive game, which is now one of his strong suits. After being knocked out of the playoffs in four games, Mitchell joined the St. John’s Maple Leafs for action in two games. He should be playing with the Marlies this season. In the future if he continues on this track, Mitchell could become a solid third or fourth line checker, with some offensive skills.

11. (8) Brendan Bell, D
3rd round, 65th overall 2001, 6’1, 205 lbs, 22

Bell took a few short strides forward in 2004-05, but is still not what he has the potential to become. Bell has a good shot from the point, and is a good skater. At 6’1, 205 lbs., Bell has good size, but has not yet used it to the full potential. He had a few more penalty minutes last season, which shows a sign that he is getting more physical, but he can take it a step further, and control it. Bell is still a good prospect to have, as he has shown signs of brilliance, but just needs to stay consistent. He will again spend the year in the AHL, with the Marlies, and is likely a few years away from being NHL ready.

12. (17) Staffan Kronwall, D
9th round, 285th overall 2002, 6’4, 209lbs, 23

Kronwall is getting to the point where he has to make a move. He is a big guy, and has been labeled a defensive defenseman. After starting last year for the third season with Djurgardens, he was moved to Brynas at the end of the year. Kronwall will likely now make the move to North America with the Marlies. If he can bring a physical game with him, he could catch the eyes of the Leafs, and become a very effective defensive defenseman.

13. (16) Ben Ondrus, LW
Signed in 2003, 6’0, 185lbs, 23

Ondrus is the true hard-nosed, determined, “never-give-up” type player. His grittiness and hard-work are what make him a favorite of the coaching staff. With limited offensive skills, the quick Ondrus gets his points by crashing the net, and banging in the corners. His second year with the Baby Leafs last season showed little improvement, but his ice time should continue to rise. Ondrus has a distant shot to be a fourth liner one day for the Leafs, and with is style of play, must put some more pounds on before he can take that step. He should be a role player with the Marlies this season.

14. (NR) Konstantin Volkov, RW
4th round, 125th overall 2003, 5’11, 176lbs, 20

Volkov was moved around last year, but ended up in Lada with fellow Leaf prospect Dmitry Vorobiev. There, he notched 9 points in 10 games, to top off a 20-point campaign in 46 games, impressive for a youngster playing with the top pros in Russia. Volkov’s downfall is his physical game, as he has a tendency to stay away from the heavy traffic. Mainly a playmaker, Volkov keeps the passing lanes open, and sees the ice very well. His speed can get him into the open very quickly, making him dangerous.

15. (12) Jay Harrison, D
3rd round, 82nd overall 2001, 6’3, 202lbs, 23

Harrison is a physical force, and has good leadership skills. He had a strong first season with the Baby Leafs, but in the two following years his offensive numbers have dropped. He is a top four defenseman on the team, although that could change this year. He needs to become a better skater to take the step to the NHL, but his physical play is already at that level. The Leafs are going to stick by Harrison for the time being, and he will continue to be a guy to watch out for in the AHL.

16. (17) Todd Ford, G
3rd round, 74th overall 2002, 6’4, 176lbs, 21

Ford moved from the WHL to the ECHL in 2004-05, playing 28 games, backing up Frederic Cloutier in Pensacola. His numbers were good for a first year pro (19 wins, .930 save percentage, 2.32 GAA), but the addition of Rask, plus the solid play of Pogge have put Ford on Toronto’s backburner. He is a tall lanky goalie with a butterfly style of play. Ford is still a distant prospect for the Leafs, but one to keep an eye on.

17. (13) Andy Wozniewski, D
Signed April 2004, 6’5, 221lbs, 25

It is time for Wozniewski to make a move, or to forever be a minor leaguer. He is a huge presence on the ice, and is the owner of a bullet-like shot. His skills will likely translate him into a defensive defenseman, as incoming forwards always have to be paying attention with him out there. He is not afraid to throw his body around, and knocks the opposition with bone-jarring checks. Wozniewski will likely play with the AHL’s Marlies this season, but must make the leap to the NHL in the next two years, or else he will be destined to stay on the farm.

18. (10) Jean-Francois Racine, G
3rd round, 90th overall 2000, 6’3, 197lbs, 23

After spending half the year in St. John’s, Racine had good numbers (.921 save percentage, 2.76 GAA) but was moved to the Memphis Riverkings of the CHL. There, his numbers slipped. With the goalie logjam they have in Toronto, Racine could find himself in either Memphis or Pensacola for the upcoming season. With three years spent mostly at the AA level, Racine has a tough hole to climb out of to establish himself as a prospect.

19. (NR)Phil Oreskovic, D
3rd round, 82nd overall 2005, 6’3, 217lbs, 18

Oreskovic is a huge player for his age, and is a tough defender to go up against. He has limited offensive abilities, managing only seven points in his first two seasons with the Battalion. He is a guy that can throw his weight around, and be recognized as a force, with 147 PIMs. He is a guy to keep an eye on in the next one to two years. Will he improve his mobility and control his PIMs? Or will he turn into more of a goon-like defenseman?

20. (20)Dominic D’Amour, D
3rd Round, 88th overall in the 2002, 6’3, 220lbs, 21

D’Amour toiled between St. John’s and Pensacola this season, with 26 games at the AHL level, and 22 at the ECHL level. D’Amour is simply a big, tough, powerful defenseman who plays a no nonsense type game. He is a very physical defender, and has the build to knock some of the biggest guys off the puck and away from the net. D’Amour will likely play with the Toronto Marlies this season.

Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.