A look at the Toronto Maple Leafs top 10 prospects heading into the 2015-16 season.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have been one of the better drafting teams in the NHL over the past decade. Identifying and drafting talent has not been their problem. Asset management on the other hand has let them down. Toronto has been easily separated of their early draft picks and top prospects for decades for the “quick fix” in the form of an established and often aging veteran.
When Brian Burke inherited control of the team, the prospect pool for Toronto was brutally awful. Burke brought it closer to respectability, but since new boss Brendan Shanahan assumed control, it has been priority number one.
Under the “Shana-plan” the Leafs have begun acquiring draft picks, focused on skill over truculence and adopted the Detroit Red Wings philosophy of allowing player to develop in lower leagues. It will be a slow process which will take years before dividends start paying off, but when they do, they will do so for decades and decades.
1. Mitch Marner: Right Wing – 5’11” / 160 lbs
Drafted: Fourth overall in the first round of the 2015 draft by Toronto
As with many high end point producers of the current age, Marner’s skill set begins with his skating. His start up speed is fantastic and comes complete with high level agility and pivoting. Although small, his wheels make him difficult to catch. His wrist shot is strong and accurate and the slapper is also solid, something he practices when playing the point on London power plays. He is simply magical with the puck, as his hands are incredibly fast and his creativity his top notch. Even though his goal scoring was among the best in the OHL, his playmaking skills are even better. His offensive IQ is elite and he is not shy about contributing in his own zone as well. He could naturally stand to gain a few pounds of muscle to better withstand the physical rigors of the professional game, but his overall skills scream first line dynamo and it could be as a center or at right wing. – Hockey Prospectus
2. William Nylander: Centre – 5’11” / 169 lbs
Drafted: Eighth overall in the first round of the 2014 draft by Toronto
He has very good top end speed and excellent acceleration and change of pace ability. He uses this to fool defenders off the rush and to open up passing and shooting lanes by quickly changing speeds. He also shows very good agility and the ability to get around defenders one-on-one. His balance is good, but he could use more core strength in order to avoid getting knocked off the puck by bigger defenders. In the offensive zone, Nylander shows off outstanding hands, and incredible stickhandling ability. He is an outstanding playmaker with great vision, and can pass the puck through the eye of a needle. His shot features a quick release, and good accuracy, but needs to add some power. He must add mass, and become better along the boards and in front of the net. He also needs to make smarter decisions with the puck, sometimes he should make the simple play when it is available, instead of making the more complicated and riskier play. These are minor concerns though, most 18-year-olds have the same issues with needing to add muscle, and those with high end offensive talent often need to be coached to take a few less risks with the puck. – Last Word on Sports
3. Connor Brown: Right Wing – 5’11” / 160 lbs
Drafted: 156th overall in the sixth round of the 2012 draft by Toronto
Brown was one of the top rookies in the AHL this season, putting up big scoring numbers while also logging minutes in defensive situations. He’s a very smart two-way forward with above-average skill whose skating looked a lot more impressive when I saw him live this season as opposed to last season in the OHL. Brown isn’t a blow-you-away dynamic skill player, but he is talented and with that base, plus his character and hockey IQ, he could end up a quality NHL player. – Corey Pronman, ESPN
4. Kasperi Kapanen: Left Wing – 6’0” / 178 lbs
Drafted: 22nd overall in the first round of the 2014 draft by Pittsburgh
Acquired: Trade with Pittsburgh 2015
best assets are his puckhandling and quick lateral dashes at full speed .. has produced highlight reel plays, but also has games where he is a no-show .. strong crossovers propel quick, compressed stride .. hard, accurate backhand .. dangerous one-on-one .. high-end cross ice awareness when stationary in the offensive zone with the puck .. needs to develop stronger net drive and more consistent work ethic .. defensive play will need further refinement, more dedication .. flashy player with second-line talent – will get top-line opportunities here. – McKeens Hockey
5. Andreas Johnson: Left Wing – 5’10” / 183 lbs
Drafted: 202nd overall in the seventh roof of the 2013 draft by Toronto
He has excellent timing and a great release on his wrist shot. The Frolunda winger can skate past his man to the outside, or wiggle his way through coverage with his wheels and hands and projects as a deadly power play weapon who can set up around the corner of the crease and put pucks in nets. If there is less certainty on his part than with his high ranking counterparts in the Toronto system it is due to his lack of experience on North American ice. After one more season in the SHL, he will start to gain that experience. – Hockey Prospectus
6. Brendan Leipsic: Left Wing – 5’9” / 165 lbs
Drafted: 89th overall in the third round of the 2012 draft by Nashville
Acquired: Trade Nashville 2015
Leipsic is a small, energetic winger who hits everything that moves and makes life miserable for his opponents. The speedy forward is offensively skilled, a gifted finisher, and can produce on the power play. He needs to add strength, more consistency throughout the season, and play on the edge without going over the line. The physical winger could project into a top-six forward at the NHL level but at worst, a checker with some offensive upside. – Hockeys Future
7. Travis Dermott: Defence – 5’11” / 197 lbs
Drafted: 34th overall in the second round of the 2015 draft by Toronto
Dermott will not wow you with any flashy type of play but will impress with an overall efficient style where he is in the right positions, makes the right plays, doesn’t panic under pressure, will jump into attack at the right times and do so in a very controlled and competitive manner. A steadying, calm influence with a solid base of skill and intelligence. – TSN
8. Stuart Percy: Defence – 6’1” / 187 lbs
Drafted: 25th overall in the first round of the 2011 draft by Toronto
The upside is not high end, but he plays the smooth game that portends to a long career as a number four or five blue liner. He has a smooth skating stride with very good edge work and sees passing lanes very well. He will not be a big point producer, but should eventually be worthy of time on the penalty kill and will assist in the transition game. – Hockey Prospectus
9. Frederik Gauthier: Centre – 6’5” / 214 lbs
Drafted: 21st overall in the first round of the 2013 draft by Toronto
He’s big, and has improved his skating, with his mainstays being his great checking and faceoff abilities. I once envisioned a player with average offensive upside combined with high-end defensive skills when he was an under-18 player, but that reality is starting to look pretty unlikely, given his lack of development offensively during the past two years. – Corey Pronman, ESPN
10. Jeremy Bracco: Centre/Right Wing – 5’9” / 173 lbs
Drafted: 61st overall in the second round of the 2015 draft by Toronto
Early on, there have been many comparisons of this youngster to Patrick Kane. I think that is big stretch but I do see skills in him that might warrant the comparison. He is an undersized player with flash, magician-like soft hands and superb stick-handling skills that cause defenders fit in one-on-one situations. Takes full advantage of his light frame and quick feet to blow by defenders. There is much more to the pro game like unearthing pucks and working physically along the boards to gain possession, and handling your man on the backcheck. This is the part of his game that determine where a team selects him. A member of his homeland’s team roster for the World Junior Under-20 at Christmas 2014. – Draftsite.com
Honorable Mention: Nikita Soshnikov, Rinat Valiev, Antoine Bibeau, Dmytro Timashov, Scott Harrington, Casey Bailey, Josh Leivo, Zach Hyman, Viktor Loov, Sam Carrick.
Players under 25 years old and with less than 25 career NHL games played qualify as a prospect for purpose of this list.
Written by Peter Harling, who can be found on twitter @pharling