Toronto Maple Leafs: Realistic Expectations for Their Top 10 Prospects
The Leafs have made an effort to restock their prospect cupboard in recent years, although they still lack a prospect they can build their team around. However, their ability to address the lack of organizational depth has been commendable.
Hope and optimism, justified or not, consistently abounds in Toronto regarding their prospects. With respect to that, Leafs Nation has developed a penchant for over-hyping many of their draft picks, thus creating impossible expectations for them to live up to.
Expectations need to be tempered regarding the players comprising the future of the organization, but better days are ahead, approaching slowly, but surely.
Here are what Leafs fans can expect from their 10 most promising youngsters in years to come.
Ross is a prototypical "shift disturber" and excellent pest, built from much the same mold as Steve Ott.
His willingness to play a physical game, mix it up after the whistle and stand-up for his teammates endear him to his peers and fans alike.
Ross has posted some gaudy statistics playing on the powerhouse Portland Winterhawks of the WHL, but his offensive contributions won't be anything more than complementary at the next level.
A rambunctious, high-energy player, Ross will need to rein in his sometimes-wild play and control his temper in order to be the most effective player possible.
He'll find his niche as a third-liner, with the ability to chip in a few goals, in the professional ranks.
An imposing physical specimen, Tyler Biggs represents the size, physicality and truculence General Manager Brian Burke so covets.
Known for his punishing physical play and his adeptness at utilizing his sizable frame to his advantage, Biggs possesses the key elements of a burgeoning power forward.
Biggs has the ability to chip in offensively, mainly due to the fact that his size and strength allows him to thrive in high-traffic areas down low and in front of the net. His quick release also tends to catch goaltenders by surprise. His ability to create space for teammates adds to his value as well.
A tough-as-nails player willing to drop the gloves, Biggs is a fringe second-line winger, but at worst a third-line banger willing to throw his weight around.
A prodigious scorer in the OHL, McKegg is a slick, versatile forward capable of lining up at center or on the wing. His hands, hockey sense and vision all bode well for his future success.
As he enters the professional hockey arena, McKegg will need to focus on his attention to detail on the defensive side of the puck. He'll also need to get stronger to withstand the rigors of professional hockey.
An offensively gifted player, McKegg has been pegged as a "steal" by many prognosticators and pundits, but his long-term potential is much debated. He's a bit of a "tweener": a player who isn't a true top-six forward but isn't a third-liner either.
His adjustment to the AHL next season will be telling in terms of his future as an NHL player, but more than likely he'll end up being a third-line player with the ability to create offense. If he can address his defensive deficiencies, he has the potential to be an effective penalty killer.
On paper, Joe Colborne is everything you want in a prospect. Possessing a big frame, tremendous skill and great vision, Colborne's potential is quite apparent.
However, like many skilled prospects who have come before him, consistency is an issue. Game-to-game engagement has been a problem for Colborne, as he adjusts to playing against competition he can't physically dominate as easily as he's accustomed to.
A wrist injury curtailed his development in the AHL this past season, so he'll likely only see spot duty with the big club in 2012-13.
With his size and offensive abilities, Colborne has all the makings of a top-six forward, but his consistency and effort will need to improve if he wants to flourish in the NHL. He'll likely develop into a streaky forward putting up numbers in the 50-point range.
Another Leafs prospect with great size, Carter Ashton has slowly been developing a solid two-way game.
While he doesn't have the offensive pedigree of Joe Colborne, Ashton's ability to cycle the puck and control board play leads to the creation of scoring chances. His willingness to drive to the net and play in the dirty areas of the offensive zone helps him chip in offensively as well.
Possessing the size of a prototypical power forward, Ashton needs to impose himself physically on opponents more frequently. His laboring skating stride must also be improved in order to be effective in the NHL.
Given that Ashton is well versed in the defensive aspects of the game, he should slide into a third-line checking role and see time on the penalty kill, where his reach will be an advantageous asset. His offensive potential is limited, but he can be the "glue guy" that every team needs.
No Leafs prospect list would be complete without the prodigal son, Nazem Kadri.
Much maligned by impatient fans and the unforgiving media, Kadri has made strides since his ascendance to the professional ranks.
A silky-smooth offensive catalyst with exceptional hands, Kadri has the most potential of any prospect in the Leafs' system. He possesses high-end offensive ability and can create myriad scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates.
After two seasons bouncing between the AHL and NHL, Kadri will likely see full-time duty with the Leafs next season. He still needs to get stronger in order to avoid being knocked off the puck so easily, but he plays a fearless game that agitates his opponents.
A bulk of the criticism Kadri has received is unmerited. It's simply the product of playing in a hockey-mad city starved for a winner; thus he's had unrealistic expectations heaped upon him.
He still has some defensive deficiencies, but he's a top-six forward with first-line potential.
Percy was considered a surprise at No. 25 in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, but he's often overlooked because he plays a simple, efficient game.
In Percy, the Leafs have a defensive prospect that thrives in his own end due to excellent positioning and hockey IQ. He's not a punishing physical defenseman, but Percy has the ability to move the puck via his skating ability and vision.
For a mobile puck-mover, Percy lacks the offensive panache of his peers. His shot from the point needs work as it's neither hard nor heavy, but his ability to keep pucks in the offensive zone allows him to contribute.
An unassuming player rarely caught out of position, Percy often sees his contributions get glossed over. He's not exceptionally skilled in one particular area, but he can do a bit of everything. His safe, effective game should land him on the second defensive pairing one day.
He should become a household name if he cracks Canada's World Junior Championship squad in December, something that is more than likely to happen.
Blacker is a great skater whose offensive game has developed quite rapidly over the past few seasons. His mobility allows him to skate the puck out of the defensive zone, and his offensive acumen allows him to create scoring opportunities.
Blacker's skating ability enables him to recover when he's caught out of position, but his defensive awareness needs to be improved before he makes an impact with the Leafs.
While not overly physical, Blacker doesn't shy away from the physical aspect of the game and has displayed a willingness to get his nose dirty.
With a solid combination of size, skating ability and offensive prowess, Blacker will eventually find himself challenging for a top-four defensive position. He could be an effective player on the third pairing as well, however.
Holzer is a big, physical defenseman that has made tremendous strides since he was drafted 111th overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
Many feel Holzer, who plays a sound defensive game with solid positioning, is NHL-ready. Holzer's strengths lie in his ability to play effectively along the boards and clear the front of the net. His long reach and shot-blocking ability are an asset on the penalty-kill as well.
Holzer has adjusted well to the smaller ice surface of the North American game, but improving his mobility and developing quicker feet is essential for him to be effective against NHL forwards.
Holzer's name has been bandied about in Toronto for some time now, and if he is able to break into the NHL, he'll be a hard-nosed, bottom pairing defenseman much like Mike Komisarek, without the exorbitant price tag.
Goaltending is, by far, the toughest position to assess when it comes to gauging potential. Proof of that maxim is Ben Scrivens' ascent to the Toronto Marlies' No. 1 goaltending position.
Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Leafs in 2010, the man they call "The Professor" (due to his Ivy League education) has improved dramatically.
Scrivens utilizes his 6'2" frame effectively, challenging shooters and taking away angles. His calm demeanor allows him to keep a level head and refrain from being shaken.
As with any young goaltender, consistency is key. Scrivens' rebound control and lateral movement are areas in which he needs to improve, as the pace of play is quicker in the NHL.
He's not a franchise goaltender, but if Scrivens can continue his learning curve, he could challenge for a starting job in the NHL. He'll likely be best utilized in a platoon system, however.