The Toronto Maple Leafs' cupboard is no longer bare, though it is certainly lacking high caliber offensive forwards. In previous years, the Leafs have been known to make rash signings and trades, paying little to no attention to the quality and continuity of their pipeline. They renewed their focus on drafting and development several ago and are only now slowly beginning to reap the benefits.
The strength of the Leafs' system is depth, with a number of players ready for NHL roles. Goaltenders Jussi Rynnas and Ben Scrivens played fantastic for the North Division-leading Marlies and both will likely see time with the Leafs this year. On the blue line, Randy Carlyle will have a number of defensemen to pick from, each bringing a different skillset to the table. Up front, the Leafs have a lot of depth, but all eyes will be on prize prospect Nazem Kadri, who is fighting for a spot at training camp.
Jussi Rynnas, G, 25
Rynnas just about improved every facet of his game since coming over from Finland, a country that regularly churns out high caliber goalies. Through 11 games as backup to Ben Scrivens, Rynnas posted otherworldly stats – 2.07 goals against average and .933 save percentage to put the Marlies at the top of their division. The frontrunners for the two spots with the Maple Leafs are still James Reimer and Scrivens, but there is a chance that Rynnas will see time this year.
Ben Scrivens, G, 26
Originally penciled in as Reimer's backup, Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle made it clear that the starting job is up for grabs. As the Marlies starter, Scrivens backstopped the team to the division lead, something the Leafs obviously noticed. With 94 AHL games played under his belt, 49 of them wins, Scrivens is ready to graduate. Scrivens will be the backup to James Reimer, at least for the start of the 2012-13 NHL season.
Jesse Blacker, D, 21
Blacker acclimated himself nicely on the Marlies lineup after an excellent final season with Owen Sound. The 6'2, 190 pound rearguard does not intimidate anyone with his size, but he engages physically and plays well in his own end. With injuries and the NHL lockout over, Blacker will be looking at a much bigger role on the Marlies blue line. Along with Stuart Percy, Blacker is expected to one day join the Leafs as a depth defenseman.
Korbinian Holzer, D, 24
Holzer is one of eight defensemen the Leafs are currently carrying on their NHL roster. How this will affect his ice-time is unclear, but if Carlyle is looking for more size and a defensive presence, then Holzer certainly fits the bill. He will likely battle with Mike Kostka for the number six job.
Simon Gysbers, D, 25
Though Gysbers is one of the older, more experienced blueliners with four seasons of college hockey and three seasons with the Marlies under his belt, he was not at the Leafs camp and unlikely to see any NHL action this season. Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Lake Superior State, Gysbers is on a one-year contract and an RFA at the end of the season. At this point of his career, Gysbers' NHL prospects are slim.
Matt Frattin, RW, 25
Coming off a knee injury, Frattin put up 16 points in 20 games for the Marlies, so it looks like he is no longer suffering any ill effects. A pesky, two-way winger, Frattin will enter his second full professional season as a Leafs regular after splitting time with the Marlies and Leafs last year. There is some offense to Frattin's game with his ability to fly down the wing, but he is best suited to a checking line role. Though, with Carlyle's affinity for line juggling, Frattin may end up being put in situations where he is expected to score.
Carter Ashton, RW, 21
Brought into the fold last February via trade, Ashton is expected to stay with the Marlies where he will see significant ice time and play in all situations. A 15 game stint with the Leafs last year made it clear Ashton was not ready for full-time NHL duty. Having played for five different teams over the past two years, Ashton, like most budding power forwards, is still trying to find his rhythm and playing the game at a pace that allows him to use his size and skill. Asking Ashton to play a significant scoring role at the NHL level is a reach, but he is undoubtedly a top nine forward in the making.
Kenny Ryan, RW, 21
Ryan spent most of last year with the ECHL's Reading Royals, but even with the crowded AHL rosters, he has become a regular in the Marlies lineup. A product of the USNTDP and the Windsor Spitfires, Ryan is a versatile winger who has the ability to score goals, though defense is still his strongest suit. Ryan was nagged by injuries in his first professional year, which means this year the Leafs can get a closer look at their 2009 second round pick.
Greg Scott, RW, 24
After picking up back-to-back 70-plus point seasons with the Seattle Thunderbirds, Scott was an undrafted free agent signing. Last season, his second with the Marlies, saw Scott double his goal output from 10 to 21. It looked like Scott was developing into a quality forward for the Marlies, perhaps a depth forward for the Leafs, but thus far only produced three goals this season. Scott was not invited to the Leafs camp is expected to spend the rest of the season with the Marlies.
Brad Ross, LW, 20
Ross has been used sparingly by the Marlies after an outstanding four-year career with the Portland Winterhawks. Ross' career low 119 penalty minutes with the Winterhawks should tell you something about his game. An aggressive super pest who plays a physical game, Ross is going to get an expanded role with the lockout over. A 2010 second round pick, he is expected to become a part of the Leafs' future. For now, as one of the youngest players on the Marlies, he will have to concentrate on refining his game and picking his battles.
Nicolas Deschamps, LW, 23
Acquired from Anaheim by Brian Burke to add more offensive depth to the team, Deschamps has scored only 12 goals in 73 games for the Marlies over two seasons. Although he was never known as a goal-scorer, Deschamps was noted for having good hands and an ability to open the ice for his teammates with his passing. Since his promising 46-point AHL rookie season, Deschamps has battled bouts of inconsistency and also a reason why he has not had a taste of the NHL yet. He is expected to stay with the Marlies for the rest of the year.
Jerry D'Amigo, LW, 21
Though just 21, D'Amigo already has 150 games of AHL experience under his belt. After moving from the USNTDP to RPI to the Kitchener Rangers over a three-year span, there was some concern about how D'Amigo would fit in and perform with the Marlies after such a whirlwind journey. He responded splendidly in his first AHL season, but this year, D'Amigo's production has tailed off, due to both a lack of consistency and opportunity. He was not invited to the Leafs camp and will stay with the Marlies for the time being. D'Amigo is one of the few talents in a system severely lacking in high-end offensive players.
Joe Colborne, C, 22
The Leafs are desperately in need of quality centers, especially ones who can score, so Colborne's absence from the training camp roster certainly raised some eyebrows. While Ashton's omission was expected given his play, Colborne was fourth in scoring among Marlies forwards. But the logic is that Colborne is better off playing big minutes and refining his game with the Marlies rather than play a small role on a team in the midst of a management shuffle. Expectations have tempered for the former first round pick, but Colborne is expected to be a part of the Leafs' plans moving forward. He still has the potential to become a serviceable second or third line center.
Nazem Kadri, C, 22
Kadri is a player with immense offensive potential with quick hands, great playmaking instincts, and good vision. He is one of the more talented prospects in the AHL and certainly the Leafs' best prospect among forwards. At the NHL level, he is too small and too much of a defensive liability to play center. In the past, the Leafs have been reluctant to give Kadri a regular spot because of the deficiencies in his game. This season, it seems as though he will be given a greater chance to stick in the NHL.
Greg McKegg, C, 20
The former 2010 third round pick is a versatile forward with a good, well-rounded offensive game with no particular standout skill. Though McKegg does not possess blistering speed, his hands are good enough for him to create space for himself and open up the ice. He does not shy away from physical contact. At this point in his career, McKegg is learning to be a more consistent hockey player and adding some more muscle to his frame.
Spencer Abbott, C, 24
Signed as an undrafted player out of the University of Maine, the former Hockey East Player of the Year had few problems adjusting to the pro game. At just 5'9, Abbott has to rely on his slick offensive abilities and collected 12 assists in 20 games so far. With Kadri moving to the Leafs, Abbott's offensive role will be expanded. He was also teammates with Brian Flynn at Maine, who is one of the biggest surprises in the AHL this year. Their success has certainly made the case that players who spend more time in the college ranks adjust to the pro game a lot quicker because of their mental and physical maturity. Given his age and experience, Abbott is facing an uphill battle for an NHL spot, where he will most likely play wing, but there is no doubt he can be an offensive weapon in the AHL.
Jamie Devane, LW, 21
A victim of the roster squeeze from the lockout, Devane began the season with the ECHL's San Francisco Bulls where he collected 45 penalty minutes in 12 games. Over his four-year career with the Plymouth Whalers, Devane has never finished below 84 PIM. At 6'5 and over 220 pounds, Devane is a bruising winger and projects to be a minor leaguer or fourth line enforcer. He has been re-assigned to the Marlies with the end of the lockout where he will play a similar role to the one he played with the Bulls.
Sam Carrick, C, 20
Carrick joined the Idaho Steelheads after spending four full seasons with Brampton and failing to find a spot with the Marlies. Even with the roster shuffles since the end of the lockout, Carrick has not been called up to the Marlies. At this point, he will most likely spend the rest of the year in the ECHL where he will continue to refine his two-way game. He is playing well, and should a spot open up on the Marlies, his play warrants a call-up. Carrick does have a tendency to try and do too much and at his best when his game is under control.
Tyler Brenner, RW, 24
Signed as an undrafted forward from the RIT Tigers, Brenner is in the final year of his entry-level contract and recently re-assigned to the Marlies. Brenner split the season between the Marlies and the Reading Royals last year, scoring four goals in 41 games. In 32 games with the Bakersfield Condors this year, Brenner scored eight goals and was second on the team in scoring. He was recently re-assigned to the Toledo Walleye of the ECHL. Given his current level of play, production and career projection, expect Brenner to be a career minor-leaguer.