Toronto Maple Leafs: Predicting When Each Drafted Leaf Will Make the NHL
Well, another draft has come and gone and the hopes and attention of Leafs fans everywhere will turn to the young prospects' progression through the system.
After a few years of slight disappointments (Luke Schenn and Nazem Kadri haven't really lived up to expectations, then again, that's no easy feat in Toronto), the pressure will shift to the shoulders of Morgan Rielly and Matt Finn (along with the rest of the 2012 draft class) to provide some excitement from a young age in Toronto.
While it's almost certain that none of the players drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2012 will be seeing any ice time this coming season, there is a chance that the early round selections may be NHL-bound in a year or two.
With an already deep pool of talented young defensemen, the pressure will undoubtedly be on Morgan Rielly from the get-go to prove that he was worth the fifth overall pick in the 2012 draft despite said depth.
With the ability to move the puck at will and his smooth skating ability, Rielly could turn into Toronto's next Jake Gardiner, which is a thought that has all of Leafs Nation salivating.
Unfortunately, Rielly only suited up for 18 games last season in the WHL after suffering a knee injury that curtailed most of his season.
In those 18 games, however, Rielly posted 18 points and impressed scouts throughout the NHL.
Thanks to his injury last season, it is likely that Rielly will play another year of junior hockey, though after his recent performance at the Leafs' prospect camp, Rielly may be fast-tracked to Toronto's AHL affiliate Marlies.
Either way, I'd expect to see Rielly in Leafs blue sometime during the 2013-2014 season, whether it's from the start or mid-way through the campaign.
Widely expected to be a first-round selection in 2012, Matt Finn somehow dropped all the way to pick No. 35, where Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke wisely scooped him up.
Another defenseman, playing for the Guelph Storm of the OHL, Finn will be known for his defensive prowess more than his offensive game (according to hockeysfuture.com). That should be fine with Leafs fans, who have already seen an abundance of offensive minded blue liners join Toronto's ranks over the past few seasons.
Even though Finn is known for his developed defensive abilities, he was still able to tally 47 points in 61 games this season for Guelph in only his second OHL season.
Expect to see Finn playing with the big club sometime after the 2013-2014 season when his game has developed to a more advanced level and the Leafs have more room for him on the blue line.
Toronto's next pick didn't come until the fifth round, where they chose Dominic Toninato with the 126th overall pick.
Having just turned 18 years old, Toninato will be more of a long-term project than Toronto's earlier round selections.
As is the case with most Minnesotan prospects, Toninato appears to have some major upside and recorded 27 goals and 34 assists this past season for Duluth East HS in just 29 games and one point in four games for Fargo of the USHL.
After an excellent prospects camp in which Toninato notched two goals, Toninato spoke with the dreaded Toronto media and indicated that he's likely going to play one more year in the USHL before heading to play NCAA hockey in Minnesota (NHL.com).
This means he'll be in Fargo for 2012-13, followed by the NCAA in 2013-14, then the AHL in 2014-15 and then we may see him with the Maple Leafs in 2015-16.
Hopefully Toninato will skip a step along the way, but for now it appears as though Toninato is still a long way from the NHL.
With the first of two picks in the sixth round, the Leafs chose hometown boy and Erie Otters winger Conner Brown.
Though Brown had an incredibly bad player rating of minus-72 this past season, Erie was by far the worst team in the entire CHL, giving him a bit of relief on that front.
Brown was also able to accumulate 53 points in 68 games during his rookie season in the OHL, which is nothing to scoff at considering the fact that he had absolutely no supporting cast.
Just as Toninato still may be a few years away from cracking the Leafs roster, don't expect to see Conner Brown dawning the blue and white until at least the 2014-15 season.
With pick No. 157 of the draft, the Leafs chose agitator Ryan Rupert, who has spent the past two seasons with the London Knights.
In 2011-12 Rupert collected 120 penalty minutes in just 63 games, showing of his toughness alongside his ability to contribute here and there on the offensive end (he added 48 points to those penalty minutes).
Rupert's problem is that he's not quite a top-6 forward and is a little small to be an effective bottom-6 guy.
At 5'10" and 180 pounds, Rupert will definitely need to add another 15 to 20 pounds to become a decent bottom-6 role player.
Unfortunately for Rupert, I don't see that happening.
I wouldn't expect to see Rupert in the NHL wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs uniform until at least the age of 24 or 25 (he just turned 18 this past week) if he ever does make the jump.
Being a seventh-round selection in the NHL draft doesn't carry many expectations.
For Toronto, however, seventh-round Swedish defensemen seem to be a recipe for success (Carl Gunnarsson, anyone?).
Viktor Loov looks to continue that trend after being chosen by the Leafs with the 209th pick in the 2012 NHL entry draft.
After playing last season in Sweden's second tier league (also where the Leafs found Carl Gunnarsson), Loov will look to make the jump to either Sweden's top-tier league (the SEL) or maybe even defy all odds and land himself a gig with the Toronto Marlies (not all that likely).
His performance at last week's prospects camp certainly endeared him to the Maple Leafs' director of player development Jim Hughes, according to the Toronto Sun, which means Loov may be further along than most expected.
Look for Loov to surprise many and make the jump to the Marlies by next season and start seeing some minutes with the big club as soon as 2014-15.