Toronto Maple Leafs: 5 Prospects Who Can Become Difference-Makers
After years of eschewing the draft in favor of pursuing veteran talent, the Leafs have finally changed gears and started to rebuild their prospect system under much-maligned general manager Brian Burke.
Traditionally, the title of "difference-maker" is bestowed upon a player who is expected to make a quick, noticeable impact once he graduates to the NHL, in a statistical sense.
However, there are numerous ways in which a player can make a difference in hockey. From blocking a shot to agitating opponents, there are various ways in which a player can influence the outcome of a game beyond the score sheet.
Currently, the Leafs don't possess a difference-maker in the vein of a player who the franchise can build around (think John Tavares or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins), but they do have multiple prospects who will be able to make a difference at the NHL level in one way or another.
Selected fifth overall in the 2012 draft, Rielly will have plenty of expectations heaped upon him throughout his tenure in Toronto.
The most notable assets Rielly possesses are his skating ability and offensive acumen. His effortless stride allows him to cue the rush from the defensive zone, while his offensive instincts manufacture scoring opportunities.
For all the flash he possesses with the puck, it is important to note that Rielly projects as a two-way defenseman. Although a lofty comparison, he has already been mentioned in the same breath as former Leafs great Bjore Salming due to his ability to think the game.
Without having ever played an NHL game, comparisons are unsubstantiated and unfair at this point in time. However, Rielly has the skill set that can help him be a game-changer by becoming a catalyst from the blue line.
As a prospect possessing a rare blend of skills, Rielly's impact will be noticeable once he graduates to the NHL.
Players who have the luxury of possessing the size, skill and mean streak that Tyler Biggs does are rare. As such, they are highly coveted for their ability to wear down the opposition, play in the dirty areas of the ice and generally wreak havoc.
A prototypical power forward if there ever was one, Biggs will inevitably find himself compared to Milan Lucic. Whether Biggs will have Lucic's scoring touch remains to be seen, but the size, physical play and chip on his shoulder are all comparable to Lucic.
While it would be a boon for Leafs Nation if Biggs eventually settles into a top-six role, he will be able to make a difference even if he finds himself plying his trade on the third line. The current incarnation of the Leafs is built upon speed and skill, while lacking much size and physicality. Biggs will be counted on to lower the boom on opponents and provide the Leafs with the snarl they've been lacking the past few years.
As the Los Angeles Kings showed in the 2012 playoffs, physical players with size can wear down the opposition. Power forwards such as Dustin Brown, Dustin Penner and Dwight King were all instrumental during L.A.'s playoff run and showed that a power forward's contributions extend far beyond the scoreboard.
Biggs will need some more seasoning before he joins the NHL ranks; however, when he dons a Maple Leafs uniform, he'll provide some much-needed physicality.
For all the pizazz fans may see from Jake Gardiner or big hits they witness from Dion Phaneuf, they'll see nothing but heady, measured play from Stuart Percy.
Percy is a player who is rarely noticed due to his sound positional play effectively negating scoring chances before they ever materialize. While Percy doesn't stand out in any one area, nor does he command one's attention with his play, he is well versed in all facets of the defensive game.
Due to Percy's style of play, he's a versatile player to have. He projects as a second-pairing defenseman, but it's not a stretch to say he could effectively move up and down the depth chart if need be. His positional play makes him an asset on the penalty kill and his ability to anticipate how the play will develop means that he can fill in on the power play.
In short, Percy isn't a player that will wow anybody, but he's the type of defenseman every team needs. As a smart, dependable player who can be relied upon in all situations, Percy will become a valuable piece of the puzzle in Toronto.
There are many adjectives one could use to describe a player of Brad Ross' ilk, but "shift-disturber" is the only one appropriate to print here.
Ross is a feisty and fierce competitor, and a player who relishes the opportunity to mix it up and get in the thick of things.
He is unlikely to see his offensive totals from his CHL career translate to the professional game, but his penchant for getting under the skin of opponents will be a valuable trait as he moves forward. Much like Brad Marchand and Patrick Kaleta, Ross is a player who teams hate to play against, but organizations love having under contract.
The NHL is still years away for Ross, but he'll bring a unique set of abilities to the table for the Leafs when he does suit up for them. With no one on the current roster capable of goading opponents into stupid penalties or throwing them off their game psychologically, a void will be filled when Ross makes the jump to the NHL.
At 24 years of age, Korbinian Holzer isn't your typical, run-of-the-mill prospect. After developing in both the German DEL and AHL over the past five seasons, he'll finally get a chance at cracking the big-league lineup on a regular basis.
Conventional wisdom says he'll slide nicely into a third-paring role and replace some of the physical play and shot blocking that was lost when Luke Schenn was traded to Philadelphia.
Holzer isn't a player that possesses an incredible all-around game on the blue line, but he is a hard-nosed defensive defenseman with great size who is willing to sacrifice his body. When Holzer uses his size to lean on players along the boards and in front of the net, or to block shots, he's at his best. In a nutshell, he's a blue-collar type of player that can be counted on to compete night in and night out.
It might seem like a defensive defenseman such as Holzer would be easy to find, but in reality, that's a myth. Players like Holzer who display a willingness to punish opponents with their body and make tough plays are highly coveted, just look at what Anaheim paid Bryan Allen this past summer.
Like any prospect, an adjustment period will be needed in order to familiarize himself with the pace of the NHL game. However, with Holzer's defensive-minded game, he can concentrate on keeping things simple, which will help him with the transition. With a spot all but assured on the Leafs' blue line, Holzer is the Leafs' prospect fans are most likely to see on a regular basis next season.