Morgan Rielly continues reign as Toronto Maple Leafs top prospect

By John-Eric Iannicello

Morgan Rielly - Toronto Maple Leafs

Photo: Defenseman Morgan Rielly maintains his spot as the top prospect for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Rielly was selected 5th overall by the Leafs in 2012. (courtesy of Abelimages/Getty Images)

The shortened 2012-13 NHL campaign has seen the Toronto Maple Leafs use a number of developed players throughout the season. Eight players who are 26 years old or younger, have suited up for the Maple Leafs this season – all of them playing vital roles for the Toronto Marlies earlier this season . This is a testament to the process the Maple Leafs have implemented in recent years to develop and promote more prospects.

While the lockout provided the AHL with an abundance of depth, it also created a domino effect that bumped many prospects down their respective team depth charts. When the NHL resumed, it left major holes in the Marlies lineup, but also gave a few depth prospects an opportunity to stick at the AHL level. Names such as Sam Carrick, Andrew Crescenzi, and Jamie Devane played the first half of the season in the ECHL, but have since found roles with the Marlies. The end of the lockout also allowed prospects such as Joe Colborne, Carter Ashton, and Jesse Blacker to take more prominent roles with the club.

Graduating from the previous rankings include Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin. Strong development seasons from Swedish defenseman Tom Nilsson, and American forwards Dominic Toninato and Tony Cameranesi have pushed their way into the top 20 ranking.

The Maple Leafs system depth is heavy in numbers. Their strength is derived from their defensive prospects, while they lack quality high-end forward talent (thanks in part to the graduation of Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin) and quality goaltending prospects.

1. (1) Morgan Rielly, D, 8.5C
Drafted 1st round, 5th overall, 2012

Having only played in 18 games last season, many in Leaf nation were anticipating the type of impact Rielly would have this year. The 19-year-old has been one of the WHL's best players this season and finished in the top five of defensive scoring with 52 points in 58 games. For his efforts, he was awarded the Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy as the Eastern Conferences WHL Defenseman of the Year. With his junior team failing to make the postseason, Rielly has since joined the Marlies for their playoff push. In his first game, Rielly displayed his offensive prowess by scoring his first professional goal. His game was not without its flaws however; Rielly was caught twice watching the play in the defensive zone which resulted in him being a minus-two on the night. Rielly's elite skill set and already solid build will have him in contention for a roster spot on the Maple Leafs next fall. With little left to learn at the junior level, it is hard to imagine Rielly returning to the Moose Jaw Warriors, but a spot on the Maple Leafs roster is far from assured.

2. (3) Joe Colborne, C, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 16th overall, 2008

The last two seasons have been a rollercoaster ride for Joe Colborne. He's had to deal with numerous injuries and rehab which have hampered his overall effectiveness on the ice. Specifically, a wrist injury that he's had trouble recovering from. Since the Christmas break, Colborne has been a key forward for the Marlies and has started to push himself back into the Maple Leafs radar. On the year, Colborne has 12 goals and 27 assists through 62 games, which is good for second in team scoring. As of late he has looked more like the player who earned a call-up last year. If Colborne continues to pull together his consistent play, it will not be long until he gets another look at the NHL level.

3. (5) Matt Finn, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 35th overall, 2012

After an impressive draft year performance, all eyes were on what Matt Finn could bring to the table this season. Captaining the Guelph Storm and logging heavy minutes in all situations, Finn started the season strong. He had tallied six goals and seven assists through the first 15 games of the season. Unfortunately for Matt Finn, aside from the first few months of the season he's had to battle some debilitating injuries. He battled cases of mononucleosis that kept him out of the lineup for weeks at a time, and just when he was starting to get back into the lineup he was sidelined again with a knee injury. Fortunately for Finn, his knee injury was only a sprain, but severe enough to keep him out a few weeks. Injuries aside, Finn remains a top defensive prospect in the Maple Leafs system and when he has played, he has played well.

4. (8) Carter Ashton, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 29th overall, 2009

With 15 games of NHL experience under his belt from last season, many were expecting Ashton to take a leading role with the Marlies this year. The 21-year-old has not quite been able to build on the offensive success he had much of last season. Still, Ashton has been one of the better scorers on a Marlies squad that does not have much offensive power.

Ashton's overall game continues to improve, but has yet to put all the pieces together. At 6'3 and well over 200 pounds, the second year pro is still learning how to drive effectively to the net with the puck. Many times Ashton will try to use his speed to drive by defenders on the outside; a tactic that may have worked well at the junior level, but not quite as effective against men. His speed, tenacity, and elusiveness along the wall have him shaping up to be a quality grinder, but it would be a nice bonus for the Maple Leafs if Ashton can mix in some offense to his game.

5. (4) Jesse Blacker, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 58th overall, 2009

Like many Marlies this season, Blacker has had to deal with consistency issues and finding his role during a lockout year. The second-year and youngest Marlies defenseman had a tough start to the season, but has rebounded quite well in the second half. Not necessarily a high-end offensive player, Blacker is not afraid to jump into the rush – something he is doing more consistently this season.

He boasts great speed and a strong stride, but question marks have surrounded his effectiveness in the defensive end at the pro level. To Blacker's credit, he has focused more on becoming a more complete defenseman and has been rewarded with a ton of ice-time as of late.

6. (9) Tyler Biggs, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 22nd overall, 2011

Tyler Biggs had a solid season for the Oshawa Generals finishing third in team scoring with 26 goals and 27 points in 60 games. While from a numbers point of view, the 19-year-old did not blow the doors off the OHL, his overall game started to grow. In the recent OHL Eastern Conference coaches poll, Biggs was ranked third for Hardest Shot as well as Best Shot Blocker. He has seen time in all situations and has proven to be a menace physically. Although Biggs has a plethora of truculence to his game, he has only fought five times this season. Combined with the fact he has only massed 55 penalty minutes, it speaks to his ability to stay disciplined while not sacrificing his physical game in the process. Like many power forwards, Biggs will need to continue working on his skating. He also needs to move his feet more consistently, and play at a consistent tempo to be truly effective.

7. (7) Stuart Percy, D, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 25th overall, 2011

After an injury plagued season last year, Stuart Percy had a solid bounce-back season for the Mississauga Steelheads. The 19-year-old finished second on his team in scoring with a career high 13 goals and 45 points, good for 11th overall in OHL defensive scoring. Percy's Steelheads managed to squeak into the OHL Playoffs by securing the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference; a playoff that should conclude his junior career. Even though he has overage availability next season, he is likely one of the Marlies starting six next season. Percy reads the play exceptionally well and is a positional sound player with strong poise. Percy's skating continues to be a work in progress and some adjustment should be expected next season. His skill set and hockey IQ project him to become a steady second-pairing defender.

8. (19) Josh Leivo, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 86th overall, 2011

No other Maple Leafs has risen up the organizational rankings this season like Josh Leivo. He started to gain momentum last season when he scored 32 goals and 41 assists for the Sudbury Wolves. While his numbers did not improve drastically this season, he proved that he was not a product of his linemates last season. Before being shipped over to the Kitchener Rangers, Leivo was the go-to forward on the Wolves with 19 goals and 25 assists through 44 games. On the playoff bound Rangers, Leivo continued his scoring pace notching 10 goals and 19 assists in 29 games. Leivo's development has been on a steady incline since his draft year in 2011. He has power forward potential due to his size and natural athleticism. He combines goal scoring ability (in thanks to a heavy shot) with a strong grinding game. Areas of weakness, like most players of his ilk are in the skating department. Leivo's game makes him a desirable prospect as he can play in a variety of roles.

9. (12) Ben Scrivens, G, 6.5B
Signed as a free agent, April 28, 2010

With a spectacular season with the Marlies under his belt last season, Scrivens has graduated to play tandem with James Reimer on the Maple Leafs. The 26-year-old has appeared in 18 games with the Maple Leafs and has a record of 7-8, a 2.59 goals against average, and a .918 save percentage. Scrivens is positionally sound, and tracks the puck well through traffic. His puck handling ability and rebound control are major weaknesses to his game, but should improve with experience. The 2012-13 season has allowed Scrivens to establish himself at the NHL level, and projects as a 1b goaltender.

10. (13) Korbinian Holzer, D, 6.0B
Drafted 4th round, 111th overall, 2006

The German born-defender, like many Maple Leaf prospects this season, has been given a big opportunity at the NHL level. After two and a half seasons with the Marlies, Holzer has appeared in 22 games primarily in a top-pairing role with Dion Phanuef – a position Holzer has been hard pressed to succeed in. His NHL stint would not be permanent, as he was reassigned in late March to the Marlies. The 25 year old Holzer projects as a bottom-pairing, defensive defender who excels on the penalty kill.

11. (15) Jerry D'Amigo, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 158th overall, 2009

Coming off a strong playoff performance, Jerry D'Amigo was looking to build on his first full-season with the Marlies. Known for his speed and tenacious forecheck, D'Amigo started to add more of an offensive element to his game last season. This year, D'Amigo has played a similar defensive, penalty-killer role. The 22-year-old has heated up over the month of March scoring six goals and two assists through 13 games. D'Amigo projects as a two-way, bottom-six forward who can play on a team's penalty-kill while being able to chip in occasional offense.

12. (11) Greg McKegg, C, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 62nd overall, 2010

McKegg has been the most productive of the five first-year Maple Leaf prospects playing in the AHL. In his rookie season, the 20-year-old has seven goals and 11 assists for 18 points in 50 games. McKegg has adjusted well this season, but like many rookies has had to deal with inconsistencies throughout the year. His offensive skill is evident and he is always looking to make things happen when he has the puck. McKegg is at his best when he is aggressive and using smart body positioning in the offensive zone. He projects as a top-nine offensive forward, and is capable of lining up on the wing and at center.

13. (10) Brad Ross, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 43rd overall, 2010

Coming off a 42-goal, 82 point season in the WHL, Brad Ross did not make quite the impact many expected this season. The rookie forward has skated in 29 games this season scoring only five goals and one assist. The silver lining for Ross is that four of his five goals have come this past month. He is playing the game he is known for and is starting to see more ice-time as a result. Ross's consistency has also translated into his physical game, which has made him a more effective player when his offense dries up. He has also being used as a crease crasher on the power play, which is likely to be where most of Ross's future goals will come from.

14. (17) Spencer Abbott, RW, 6.5C
Signed as a free agent, March 28th, 2012

Spencer Abbott joined the Marlies at the end of last season, and has been one of Marlies best offensive forwards. The 24-year-old has nine goals and 28 points through 46 games this season. Abbot has great offensive vision, and strong playmaking ability. He is always looking to create offensive chances for his linemates. What may work against Abbott the most is his window of opportunity. Turning 25 next month, Abbott is among the older prospects on the Maple Leafs Top Prospect list. His size also hinders his ability to play his type of game at the next level. Abbott likely falls into the realm of 'boom or bust' prospect at this point.

15. (14) Mark Owuya, G, 6.5C
Signed as a free agent, April 28th, 2011

With Scrivens joining the Maple Leafs it opened the door for goaltenders like Mark Owuya to take a prized starters role. Overall, it has been a disappointing season for Mark Owuya. The 23-year-old has only appeared in 10 games and has a 3.24 goals against average and a poor .882 save percentage. The Marlies goaltending in general has lacked the consistency needed to be a legitimate contender in the AHL. The goaltending has been such an issue that the Marlies brought in veteran AHL netminder Drew MacIntyre (who's since run away with the starters' job). With Jussi Rynnas rumored to head back to Finland next season, Owuya will have one less competitor for the Marlies starting spot in 2013-14.

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

Petter Granberg signed an entry-level deal with the Maple Leafs last May with the intention of returning to Sweden to play for Skellefteå AIK. Granberg had success last year with Skellefteå after making it all the way to the SEL Championship. For all the success he had the year prior, Granberg missed a large portion of the season due to a collarbone injury that he had surgery on. He was limited to only 13 games this year and was held pointless. Granberg has a chance to make up for lost time with playoff action as Skellefteå is once again playing in the SEL playoffs. Granberg is a stay-at-home type that projects as a bottom-pairing defender. He is expected to suit up for the Marlies next fall, but also has a contract in place if Toronto wishes to keep him in Sweden.

17. (NR) Tom Nilsson, D, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 100th overall, 2011

Described as more of a defensive minded defender, Nilsson's offensive totals dropped to one goal and three assists through 42 games this season. Nilsson showed promising ability at the most recent World Junior, where he had an opportunity to jump the Swedish depth chart in part to numerous tournament ending injuries. He had only two assists through six games, and took home a silver medal. At 19-years-old, Nilsson displays a penchant for strong defensive play and has a knack for laying the body. He recently signed an entry-level deal with the Maple Leafs, but will return to Sweden next year where he will be playing with Frolunda of the SEL.

18. (NR) Dominic Toninato, C, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 126th overall, 2012

As a member of Fargo Force, Toninato has been one of the USHL's top players this season. He leads his team in scoring with 27 goals and 38 assists (65 points) in 58 games played. A real sleeper in the Maple Leafs system, Toninanto is a strong all-round player who will be heading to the University of Minnesota Duluth next season. While quick success to his NCAA hockey career may earn him an entry-level deal early, the plan is to develop him slowly as he will have four years of eligibility.

19. (NR) Tony Cameranesi, C, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 130th overall, 2011

After one season in the USHL, Tony Cameranesi began his NCAA career with a bang. As a rookie with Minnesota-Duluth, Cameranesi finished third on the team in scoring with 14 goals and 20 assists in 38 games. His season also earned him a spot on the WCHA All-Rookie Team. Cameranesi is a small forward with a lot of talent. He is a top-end skater who matches the speed of his feet with the quickness of his hands. Known more for his playmaking, Cameranesi moves the puck with hard crisp passing, but could stand to move it quicker. His quickness in decision making will develop with experience as he possesses strong hockey sense. As a small forward standing 5'10, he will be required to add more strength over the next few seasons if he plans on challenging for an NHL position. Like Toninato, Cameranesi may be a player to watch over the next few seasons.

20. (NR) Kevin Marshall, D, 6.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 41st overall, 2007

A recently turned 24-year-old with 10 games of NHL experience, Marshall adds more defensive depth to what already is a crowded blue line at the professional level. He adds a much needed component to the Marlies blue line: grit. Marshall plays a tough defensive game and has a strong first pass, while also being a competent skater. He has added some uncharacteristic offense to the Marlies since joining the club on March 14th. Through seven games, Marshall has one goal and three assists while being an impressive plus-10. His next shot at the NHL level may not come until next preseason, but continued play at his current level would be hard to ignore.