Slow and steady development remains the course of action for the Toronto Maple Leafs entering the 2013-14 season. With a patient approach to their draft picks over the last few seasons, the club is now in a large transition phase at the AHL level.
The Toronto Marlies have already seen a large contingent of veterans move on to different clubs, while the team is expected to gain approximately 15 players on entry-level deals.
Morgan Rielly remains the star prospect in the Maple Leafs system, while recently drafted Frederik Gauthier debuts in the second spot. Other newcomers to the list include 2013 draftee Carter Verhaeghe, goaltender Garret Sparks, and gritty OHL forwards David Broll and Ryan Rupert.
The Maple Leafs system is starting to turn out more pro level prospects which should make internal competition that much tighter. Names such as Carter Ashton, Jesse Blacker, and Jerry D'Amigo are expected to take prominent roles with the Marlies, while Petter Granberg, Tyler Biggs and Josh Leivo are just a few of the AHL rookies that are looking to make strong first impressions.
1. (1) Morgan Rielly, D, 8.5C
Drafted 1st round, 5th overall, 2012
Morgan Rielly enters an interesting situation to start his 2013-14 season. He is arguably too good for junior, but too young to play in the AHL. After a sensational season with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL, which saw him finish in the top five for defensive scoring with 54 points in 60 games, Rielly joined the Marlies in late March. He appeared in 14 regular season games and also eight post-season games with the team. Through the 22 games, Rielly scored twice and added two assists.
Rielly's skating ability is very apparent even amongst men, as was his talent with the puck, but his offensive ability from the blue line seemed one-dimensional. Nothing uncommon for young 19-year-old who is game will mature with more experience and strength. Rielly will need to either win himself a spot with the Maple Leafs, or return to junior for another season as he does not meet the age requirement to play in the AHL.
2. (NR) Frederik Gauthier, C, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 21st overall, 2013
A top-end defensive forward already, the Maple Leafs hope that Frederik Gauthier continues to develop his offensive game in his second season with Rimouski Oceanic of the QMJHL. The 18-year-old forward will not only have the opportunity to take on a primary offensive role with the club, but will also look to be one of Canada's 12 forwards at the upcoming World Junior Championship.
Gautheir projects as a quality defensive player at the NHL level, and if his offensive game continues to develop he could be a prized two-way threat. Skating is strong for a player his size, and his large frame helps him protect the puck down low. He is also able to use his size to effectively position himself for rebounds in front of the net. He projects more as a strong secondary center at this point.
There is not a better time for Joe Colborne to earn himself a spot in the Maple Leafs top-12. While he may only make it as a bottom-six forward, it is in the Maple Leafs best interest to give the 23-year-old a long look.
Colborne had a strong turnaround in the second half of the season with the Marlies and even earned a small role in five games with the Maple Leafs. He finished the season with 14 goals and 28 assists for 42 points in 65 games with the Marlies. With a lack of skill down the middle at the NHL level, Colborne should be able to handle a sheltered role in the bottom-six.
4. (8) Josh Leivo, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 86th overall, 2011
One of the clubs highest risers over the last season has been Josh Leivo. The 20-year-old has started to establish himself among the top prospects for the Maple Leafs and will have a big opportunity this season to assert himself league wide. With the Marlies shift towards giving youth a larger role; Leivo should get a fair share of ice time in his rookie season. His relationship with Coach Steve Spott (who Leivo was coached by last season in Kitchener) should also play to his advantage.
Leivo is a naturally gifted athlete who has consistently trended upwards for two seasons now. He can play a variety of roles which makes him a versatile player. His size allows him to work very well down low and he protects the puck effectively. For Leivo, not only will this year be about continuing his development, but defining his role at the professional level. He has a lot of tools at his disposal, and the professional game will call for him to be consistent in using them. Leivo projects as a top-nine power-forward who can play special teams.
5. (3) Matt Finn, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 35th overall, 2012
Entering the 2013-14 season Matt Finn will look to rebound off of an injury plagued 2012-13 campaign. Finn missed large chunks of the season with mono and a knee injury. He managed only 41 games, but was able to tally 31 points. Although his season was limited, his resume earned himself one of the 10 defensive spots at Team Canada's Under-20 Summer Camp.
For Finn, he just needs to get back playing consistently to find the next level in his game. He will be relied heavily again in Guelph, and should be one of the OHL's top defenseman if healthy. Finn has a strong all-round game comparable to fellow Maple Leaf Stuart Percy. Similar to Percy, Finn could also use continued work on his foot speed. He projects as a steady top-four defenseman.
6. (7) Stuart Percy, D, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 25th overall, 2011
A strong rebound performance from the 2012-13 season has Stuart Percy in a favourable position entering the season. He is likely one of the Marlies top-six defenders to start the season and his style of game could see him logging big minutes. Percy possesses a great head of the game which allows him to read and track developing plays. His calm demeanor allows him to move the puck with ease up the ice. Percy has already played a handful of AHL games over the last two seasons and fit in well. Mobility against tougher competition remains a question mark over a full season. Percy projects as a secondary defenseman who can provide a special teams option both on the power play and penalty kill.
7. (4) Carter Ashton, RW, 6.5C
Acquired in trade with Tampa Bay Lightning, February 27th, 2012
Like Colborne, Carter Ashton will also look to make a prominent step forward this season. While he is likely to start the season with the Marlies, Ashton will have the opportunity to take on a key role as one of the clubs more seasoned players. The 22-year-old missed the last 18 games of the season with a broken bone in his foot and upon his return he looked a step behind. Only scoring 11 goals last season, Ashton will look to push over the 20 goal mark this year. He has good size and solid scoring instincts down low, but needs to make better use of his frame off the rush. A strong start to the season could see him as one of the Maple Leafs first call-ups at forward if or when injuries arise.
8. (5) Jesse Blacker, D, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 58th overall, 2009
Jesse Blacker returns to the Marlies lineup as one of the clubs seasoned defenders. This not only means he will be allowed the opportunity to take on a leadership role with the team, but will be expected to take a large step forward in his development. Blacker's development has stagnated a bit over the year due to injury troubles and consistency issues. He has a solid foundation of tools to work with, but putting them together consistency has been an issue for the 22-year-old. While time is still on his side, the developmental gap he had over other prospects is starting to shrink.
Expect Blacker to see plenty of ice-time with the Marlies and potential call-up situations throughout the upcoming season. He is likely to be a fixture on both the powerplay and penalty kill and should be among the Marlies top point producers from the back-end
9. (9) Jerry D'Amigo, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 158th overall, 2009
One of the Maple Leafs prospects who seem to be ready for an NHL look is Jerry D'Amigo. The two-way threat has had two strong seasons for the Marlies where he has played primarily in a defensive role for the team. This season may allow D'Amigo to showcase the offensive side to his game. Like Ashton, D'Amigo is one of the clubs more seasoned forwards and has been a producing forward (career high 17 goals last year) even with limited power play time. He is likely to be given more of an offensive leash this year under Spott and could take the next step in his development.
10. (6) Tyler Biggs, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 1st round, 22nd overall, 2011
In Tyler Biggs, there is a lot of hope to what he could become. At 6'3 and over 220lbs, he is a monster on skates and moves well for a player of his size. He can dominate down low in the offensive zone and cycles the puck well. Defensively he is sound and can be used as a penalty killing forward, a role he is likely to have with the Marlies. He can be an intimidating figure when he wants to, but questions have surrounded his consistency. Physical inconsistency cannot be an issue for Biggs at the professional level as it is likely a trait that he will need to become synonymous with. With such a young Marlies group, Biggs first season will be a good barometer for where his development stands amongst his peers.
11. (10) Greg McKegg, C, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 62nd overall, 2010
In what was an inconsistent year for the rookie forward, Greg McKegg showed flashes of strong play down the stretch last season. Finishing the year with only 23 points (eight goals) through 61 games, McKegg had been pushed down the depth chart early in the season due to the NHL lockout. In the playoffs, he started to find the net a bit more scoring three times in nine playoff games. He finished the post season with six points; finishing top five in Marlie playoff scoring. McKegg will likely be counted on as a top-six forward with the Marlies this season. His offensive skill set should also make him a mainstay on the powerplay. McKegg will have a great opportunity to seize a starring role with the Marlies, and has the skill set to do it. However, his consistency issues remain a key flaw in his game.
12. (13) Petter Granberg, D, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 116th overall, 2010
If Leivo is the Maple Leafs hottest rising forward prospect, then Petter Granberg would be his defensive counterpart. Granberg has seen himself go through a steady development phase playing in the SHL. While he missed a large portion of last year due to injury, Granberg returned to action just in time to help his club (Skelleftea) capture the Elitserien Championship. Granberg also went on to win a gold medal at the World Championships as one of the youngest members on team Sweden. For the recently turned 21-year-old, Granberg has a lot of experience under his belt. His flashes of strong play at the Maple Leafs Summer Development camp give early indications he may make the jump to the NHL sooner rather than later. Granberg has excellent size and keeps his defensive game simple and honest. He projects as a shut-down type at the NHL level.
13. (11) Brad Ross, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 43rd overall, 2010
Like McKegg, Brad Ross also had an underwhelming season. For a prospect coming off a WHL career that saw him score 109 goals and 245 points in 270 games, his performance was lackluster. Ross finished the year with eight goals and three assists through 40 games. In the playoffs, he only managed one assist. Ross is another second-year forward who is expected to shake off a tough season. Towards the end of the season he started to find success as a crease crashing forward, which will be an area he will need to master over the next few seasons. Ross offers more offensively then he has shown this past season, but is unlikely to become a big point producer. Consistency in the hard-nosed style of game that saw him drafted will be an area of focus this season. Ross projects as a bottom-six forward with agitator qualities.
14. (15) Dominic Toninato, C, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 126th overall, 2012
Another prospect who put himself on the radar this season was Dominic Toninato. Following in the footsteps of fellow Minnesotan and Maple Leafs prospect Tony Cameranesi, Toninato will be attending University of Minnesota-Duluth this season. He finished the year leading Fargo Force (USHL) in scoring with 29 goals and 70 points through 64 games. The playoffs saw his production dip, as he only produced six points through 13 games. His successful season landed him an invitation to the USA National Junior Evaluation Camp where he asserted himself well in a series of exhibition games. Toninato's is a well-rounded forward who can excel in both ends of the ice. At this point, he is still considered a long-term prospect who will spend the next few seasons in the NCAA.
15. (14) Tom Nilsson, D, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 100th overall, 2011
Following a similar development path to fellow Swedish defenseman Granberg, Tom Nilsson makes his SHL debut this season with Frolunda. The tough, hard-hitting rearguard signed an entry-level deal with the Maple Leafs in mid-March, but was loaned back to Frolunda for one more season of development. Expectations would be that Nilsson joins the Marlies next season, but (if needed) he has a contract in place with Frolunda until the 2015-16 season. The 20-year-old is a mobile defenseman who hits with aplomb. His offensive game is still in development, but is unlikely to be a focal point in his game
16. (16) Tony Cameranesi, C, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 130th overall, 2011
The slick speedster put himself on the radar with a strong rookie season at Minnesota-Duluth. For Tony Cameranesi, the next season will be building on his successful rookie season and possibly making his name notorious league wide. He is not the biggest player, but what he lacks in size he makes up for with speed and skill. Cameranesi will likely need to find an offensive niche at the pro level to be successful, although that is not a slight at his game away from the puck. His offensive skills are well documented, but he needs to add strength and move the puck more efficiently. Cameranesi remains a long-term prospect who could spend another three seasons with Minnesota-Duluth.
17. (NR) Carter Verhaeghe, C, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 82nd overall, 2013
Sheltered behind some of the OHL's more talented forwards, Carter Verhaeghe looks to capitalize on a larger role this season with the Niagara IceDogs. The 18-year-old forward impressed over the summer at Maple Leafs Development Camp showcasing his offensive ability. Having scored 18 goals and 44 points last season, Verhaeghe's skills were shadowed by the high-end skill of OHL forwards such as Brett Ritchie (DAL) and Ryan Strome (NYI). Verhaeghe is a smart forward with a strong work ethic. He has strong offensive tools and good defensive awareness. Verhaeghe will have an opportunity to shine in Niagara with the team's top players graduating from the junior ranks.
18. (NR) Garret Sparks, G, 7.0D
Drafted 7th round, 190th overall, 2011
Garret Sparks strong OHL season and handful of AHL games gives him an inside track on the vacant Marlies backup position. With the starter's role all but locked up by Drew MacIntyre, Sparks will compete with recently signed free-agent goaltending prospect Christopher Gibson for the vacant goaltending spot. Sparks season in Guelph saw him develop into more of a consistent goaltender. He posted career highs in games played (60), goals against average (2.65), save percentage (0.917), shutouts (seven), and wins (36).
19. (NR) David Broll, RW, 6.0C
Drafted 6th round, 152nd overall, 2011
With size, strength and skating ability David Broll has all the makings of a future fourth-line energy player. The 20-year-old completed his OHL campaign with a breakout year. Broll scored 17 goals, 37 assists and added 77 penalty minutes. He started to become more confident offensively as the year wore on, but is not expected to produce much offense at the professional level. Broll tips the scale at nearly 240lbs, which makes him a monster to handle. With his wrecking ball style, he dominates opponents with thunderous body checks. He has a high work ethic and plays a consistent brand of physical hockey that will make him a nice fit to a team's energy line. He will need to keep his conditioning in check and continue working on his defensive game to become a more effective pro.
20. (NR) Ryan Rupert, C, 6.0C
Drafted 6th round, 157th overall, 2012
Ryan Rupert's Jekyll-and-Hyde season has him rounding out the Maple Leafs Top 20. Goalless in his first 20 games, Rupert went on to score 11 goals and 46 points through 54 games. What makes Rupert such an intriguing prospect is that aside from his small stature, he is a pit pull on skates. He plays the game on the edge and can change momentum in a shift. Rupert is also a strong two-way player and has understated offensive ability. Rupert projects as a gritty two-way forward. He will likely return to a similar role with the London Knights next season, with the Marlies a possibility thereafter.