2015-16 Toronto Maple Leafs Top 10 Prospects

2015-16 Toronto Maple Leafs Top 10 Prospects

Toronto Maple Leafs

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

The Leafs draft guru is Mark Hunter, who is all to familiar with the London Knights star forward Mitch Marner, as Hunter is the former GM and co-owner of the Knights as well. His familiarity with Marner lends confidence to the notion that Hunter knows exactly what type of player Marner is, and will become in the NHL, and that is exciting for Leaf fans. Marner is a dynamic offensive forward who scored two points per game in his draft year in the OHL –  126 points in 63 games. His offensive skill and skating ability are considered to be NHL ready now, but he was returned to London to allow him time to continue to grow physically and gain valuable strength. Marner will be a key member of Team Canada at the WJC.

Scouting Report:

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

Nylander started the year playing in Sweden for Modo and proved he was ready to play in a men’s league as he scored 20 points in 21 games. Nylander played for Sweden at the WJC and was dominant scoring ten points in seven games. He came to the AHL mid-season to join the Marlies and the transition started slow as he adjusted to the North American game, smaller ice and was played on the wing. As the season progressed, so did Nylander and his offence took off. He finished his rookie season with 32 points in 37 games and scored three points in five playoff games. It is very rare for an 18 year old player to score close to a point per game in the AHL and SHL. This summer he was a stand out in the rookie and prospect camps and continued to impress in training camp. His play would be good enough to make some NHL teams, but given the Leafs are in no rush, he will start in the AHL this season and possibly see some NHL games during the season. Next year he has a real chance to earn a full time roster spot.

Scouting Report:

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

The Leafs are either super genius or super lucky for drafting Brown 156th overall. In his draft year, the undersized forward was an eye popping minus -72 on a brutal Erie Otters in the OHL. The following season his point totals increased to just over a point per game and the following year on a line with Connor McDavid, he was the CHL leading scorer, scoring a near two points per game with 128 points in 68 games. Yes that right, Connor Brown led all CHL players in scoring. But his offensive skills were not just a by-product of being an older junior player on McDavid’s line. In his AHL rookie season last year, Brown scored 61 points in 76 games and was named to the AHL All-Rookie Team. Browns value is rising faster than many other prospect rankers can keep up with, as he is much lower on other rankings. Like Nylander, he has had a terrific training camp but is likely due on more year of seasoning in the AHL, helping the Marlies chase a Calder Cup.

Scouting Report:

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

Kapanen may have a difficult time getting out from under the Phil Kessel trade expectations in Toronto. Hopefully Leaf fans don’t lay too much expectation on the son of former NHL winger Sami Kapanen. Kasperi is yet another highly skilled and slightly undersized forward in the Leafs prospect group. His stock began trending down slightly after a disappointing WJC for Finland, where he scored one goal in five games. As an 18 year old he played against men in Finland and acquitted himself well with 21 points in 41 games. He finished the season off with a four game stint in the AHL and had a goal and an assist there. He needs to play the year in the AHL developing his overall game, but he has a high skill level and excellent skating ability. Kapanen also has the opportunity to return to the WJC and improve his performance in that tournament as a 19 year old. This will be a critical development year for Kapanen as he has top six, and bust potential.

Scouting Report:

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

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, Johnson is an offensively skilled and under sized forward for Toronto. Johnson has quietly been developing in the SHL with Frolunda for the past two seasons. He won the SHL rookie of the year after Toronto drafted him, and was the leading scorer for Frolunda the following season. Playing against men he has proven to be offensively gifted scoring 22 goals in 55 games last year. His 22 goal performance was fifth best in the SHL and as a 19 year old, that is quite impressive. Johnson was dominant in the Champions League last year as well, playing in only 12 games, he scored 11 goals and 14 assists for 25 points. Due to the fact he has yet to play in North America, I admittedly have had very limited opportunity to see him play and he could be ranked low as a result. Next year he will come to North America and likely spend some time adapting in the AHL.

Scouting Report:

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

While Leipsic is yet another undersized winger with offensive skills, he brings an element of grit that no other prospect on this list does. Perhaps best known for his ability to get under the skin of opponents by running players and drinking from the opposing goalies water bottle, he is actually the second prospect on this list to lead the CHL in scoring. The year before Brown did it, Leipsic shared the CHL scoring title with Nicolas Petan with 120 points in 68 games. Leipsic made his AHL debut and in his rookie season, scored 54 points in 74 games. Often compared to effective players like Darcy Tucker and Brendan Gallagher, he was rather tame in his first year as a pro. Expect that to change this year in his second AHL season. Leipsic projects as a potential third line shift disturber with second line upside. Dubbed “the most annoying prospect in hockey” by THN’s Ryan Kennedy.

Scouting Report:

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

Two attributes that lend to a high impact NHL career are speed and smarts. Dermott has this covered. In his draft year in Erie, he scored 45 points in 61 games and was a key member of that team along with Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome. Dermott was extremely impressive this summer at Leafs rookie and prospect camps and was a driving player in terms of offence and possession. He was returned for another year of development and growth in the OHL and is a few years away, but his ceiling is as a top four defender with offensive upside when he matures.

Scouting Report:

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 former Mississauga Captain made the Leafs out of camp last season, playing in nine games and did not look out of place. Injuries have been a problem during his career; a concussion in junior in particular interrupted his development. He is a steady, reliable player who may never ascend higher than a bottom pairing in the NHL. After two seasons in the AHL, this will be an important year in determining what direction his career takes. He will see time in the NHL this year.

Scouting Report:

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

Unlike the rest of the Leafs prospects, Gauthier is neither small or highly skilled. He is very strong defensively and uses his size well. Gauthier was excellent in the 2014 Memorial Cup and shut down offensive stars like Anthony Mantha. He was also impressive with Team Canada winning gold at the WJC on a line with Lawson Crouse and Nick Ritchie, as the trio was dominant along the boards and relentless on the forecheck. Gauthier discovered some offensive ability in his final junior season scoring 32 points in 37 games as well. He will begin his pro career in the AHL with the Marlies and will centre a shutdown, forechecking line. The hope is he will continue to develop some offensive upside, but he is a lock for the Leafs in the future.

Scouting Report:

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

Yes, you guessed it, one more very small, highly skilled player rounds out the Leafs top ten. Jeremy Bracco has committed to play for Boston College and will take a few years to arrive in the NHL. There is hope that in that time he hits a growth spurt and can add some much needed strength and bulk.  The Leafs are hoping they have the Next Johnny Gaudreau in Bracco.

Scouting Report:

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

Mitch Marner

William Nylander

Connor Brown

Kasperi Kapanen

Andreas Johnson

Brendan Luipsic

Travis Dermott

Stuart Percy

Frederik Gauthier

Jeremy Bracco