Prospects: An apparent possibility of advancement or success. The outlook for the future.
There has been a lot of talk over the course of the year when it comes to the Toronto Maple Leafs organization.
Many questions have arisen during the first year of the rebuild.
There have been questions about management, the current NHL roster, and just about everything else that relates to the team—including their prospect system, or "organizational depth" as some like to refer to it.
And while I have gone through the entire hockey season hearing buddies and adversaries tell me "the Leafs have no good young guys," I have to disagree. Sometimes politely, sometimes not so polite.
Fact is, it's a myth.
They may not have a Cody Hodgson or a Nikita Filatov. And it doesn't look like they will have a John Tavares in their system either (although if you ask me, Nazem Kadri and Jiri Tlusty could make a pretty good two-thirds of a second line in the future.)
You see, there are players, Toronto Maple Leafs drafted players, who unbeknownst to some, and seemingly against all laws of science, are enjoying success in the junior or US college route.
So I present to you, a Case Study on just a sample of the prospects currently property of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are having success in the junior ranks, and who could very well one day contribute to the success of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Please note the following are in no particular order:
- Pure sniper
- Hard working, fast skating
- Isn’t afraid of physical contact
- Confidence issues in past
After looking awful at the start of the year, the Leafs sent Tlusty down to the AHL where he was to find his game. With increased ice time, and a little fatherly advice, he found his game and then some.
Following a slow start in the A, Tlusty caught fire, and now has 61 points in 57 games, 23 of which are goals.
Putting a slow start and a nude photo scandal behind him, Tlusty appears to be fully accustomed to the North American pro game. He is no question part of the Leafs' future, and could become one of their top scorers within five years.
Taking an approach similar to what he did with Bobby Ryan, Burke will probably keep Tlusty in the minors for the remainder of the year, and have him come out to camp fresh in September. The Leafs view Tlusty as a top-six winger.
- 6’1”, 211 lbs, Defenseman
- Vorobiev doesn’t do anything spectacular, but does a little of everything good.
- Has many scouts wondering if he ever plans to come over from Russia to North America
- Has been banished from KHL due to Heart Defect
Vorobiev has moved to Moscow in order to get a second opinion on his heart ailments and whether or not they will truly end his heart career. Either way, it seems as though he is not in the future plans of the Toronto Maple Leafs, which is unfortunate. One can’t help but think of how good of a prospect he could be.
- 6’2”, 202 lbs, Centre
- Has good scoring ability and size
- Sniper ability, reads play well
- Lacks consistent effort
Stefanovich finished in the top 20 in scoring in the QMJHL, playing for the Quebec Remparts. He managed 76 points in 56 games, including 49 goals.
By all accounts Stefanovich took big steps this year towards making himself a viable NHL player, and could very well end up being a fourth-round steal for the Leafs.
- 6’5”, 210 lbs, Right Wing
- Big body, hard worker
- Team player with tons of character
- A strong, big forward who uses size effectively on ice
- Great hands
- Good speed for someone his size
Hayes fell off a little bit toward the end of the year with St Mary’s last season, and in his freshman year with Boston College recorded only 13 points in 35 games, eight of them goals.
Still, many believe Hayes has all the tools. Freshman generally aren’t given a ton of ice time, so it will be interesting to see how Hayes develops in the coming years as a sophomore, junior, and senior.
Has experience with team USA in the World Juniors, and played well for them this past Christmas in Ottawa. More ice time and experience should equal more comfort and production for Hayes, who could becoming yet another steal from last year’s draft.
- 5’11”, 165 lbs, Centre
- Small guy who plays bigger and scrappier than he is
- Good hands, decent speed
- Versatile guy who is great on penalty kill and a good faceoff man
- Has excellent hockey sense
- Played very well for Canada at 2008 World Juniors in Ottawa, winning gold
There perhaps isn’t a Maple Leafs prospect who has taken a bigger forward leap in the past year or so than DiDomenico. A high-scoring forward when the Leafs drafted him in 2007, the Woodbridge, Ontario native has added other facets to his game, making him a more complete player. His experience in the World Juniors showed his ability to play on a big stage.
This season for Drummondville, he scored 59 points in 51 games, 40 of which were assists. DiDomenico, like most any other prospect, needs to add muscle, and work on his skating going forward. A long playoff run in the Q will also help build confidence and experience for the young centre.
The Leafs recently locked him up to a three-year entry-level deal, all but ensuring him as part of their future going forward.
- 6’3”, 191 lbs, Left Wing
- Big body, great acceleration
- Can reach top speed very quickly
- A sniper with a natural scoring touch
- Plays an intense game
Stalberg finished third in scoring at University of Vermont last year during his sophomore year, and this year as a junior took the reigns of the team scoring, finishing with 43 points in 36 games. Stalberg has 81 points in 114 career University games, and was drawing serious consideration for the Hobie Baker award towards the end of the year.
For a player picked 161st overall in the 2006 NHL entry draft, the Leafs have been impressed with his progress so far as a prospect, and will likely allow the native of Stockholm, Sweden to play his senior year with Vermont before bringing him in to the organization two years from now—though the Leafs may push hard this summer to get him signed to leave school early.
- 5’11”, 180 lbs, Centre
- Natural goal scoring with game breaking ability
- Seems to know where to go to score
- Smart player with great hockey sense
- Leadership capabilities
Rau is another Leafs prospect who took big steps this year toward legitimizing himself as a future NHLer. Rau finished tied for seventh in scoring for the entire WCHA, notching 28 points in 28 games.
As noted above, he is a natural goal scorer who can change the complexity of the game on his own. Despite his small size, Rau doesn’t shy from contact, and doesn’t hesitate to initiate it either.
Drafted 228th overall in the 2005 NHL entry draft, Rau’s Colorado College team was recently eliminated from the playoffs, meaning he will likely spend the summer trying to work out an entry-level deal with the Leafs that will likely see him start next year with the Toronto Marlies.
- 5’9”,207 lbs, Right Wing
- Small forward who plays bullish, robust style of play
- Self-describes his style of play as “buzzsaw-like”
- A small frame, but a solid forward who is hard to knock off the puck
- Not a sniper, but has the ability to put pucks in the net
- Has ability to make something out of nothing
Mitchell, signed to an entry level deal last year, is in the plans of the Toronto Maple Leafs. A third-round pick in 2007, the scouting staff in Toronto feels they got another steal taking Mitchell.
Despite his small size, he is a talented, physical guy, attributes that scream Brian Burke-type player. Mitchell finished fourth in scoring on a very talented Windsor Spitfires team this season, posting 68 points in 66 games, including 33 goals.
While Mitchell has a potential over-age year left in the OHL with Windsor, the talk is he will be suiting up for the Leafs organization next year. His likely destination is the Toronto Marlies, though after the heart filled performances of their young players this year, the Leafs will likely give every rookie a chance to make the big team out of camp.
- 6’0”, 173 lbs, Left Wing
- Talented winger with a great shot
- Great speed allows him to beat opponents to loose pucks
- Defensive game needs work
A native of British Columbia, Winnett recently finished his sophomore year at the University Of Michigan, a season that seen him net just 11 points in 32 games. Possibly the stat Winnett is most proud of is the fact he was able to register a plus-seven.
Winnett has decent size, but (again like most prospects) needs to add muscle to his frame, particularly with the physical edge he usually plays with.
Winnett was drafted 104th overall by the Maple Leafs in 2007. He is considered by the team to be a project pick. The organization feels he has potential to be a top six winger, but needs to work on a lot of things during his last two years with the Wolverines.
- 6’0”, 200 lbs, Right Wing
- Has a great shot, and knows how to score
- Willing to get his hands dirty
- Loves posting up in the slot
- Needs to improve skating
Frattin has spent the past two years playing on a very young North Dakota Fighting Sioux team, and while he only registered 15 points in his freshman year, he was the only rookie to play in all 43 games for the team. Frattin saw his role increase this year, and as a result netted 23 points in 39 games to finish seventh in team scoring.
Frattin has improved on many of the areas the Leafs asked of him, but still has a ways to go before he makes the jump to the pro game. The Edmonton, Alberta native, will likely finish out his college hockey career before joining the Maple Leafs organization.
- 6’4”, 210 lbs, Centre
- Blessed with NHL-ready size
- Uses his body to his advantage on the ice
- Likes standing in front of the net, where he is hard to move
Considered a prospect when the Leafs picked him 129th overall in 2008, Champagne has great size, soft hands, and knows how to control the game with his size and skill. Notable again is the fact that Champagne has to work on his skating, which is average at best. But the LaSalle, Quebec native has great hockey sense, and has a solid two-way game.
Since being drafted by the Leafs last year, Champagne took his game to a new level with the P.E.I. Rockets of the Quebec Junior League this past season. Notching 61 points in 52 games, 24 of which goals, Champagne has impressed the Leafs with his improvement.
Champagne still has a long way to go, but will get his chance at making an impact within the organization.
- 6’0”, 185 lbs, Right Wing
- Is competitive and strong
- Great two-way game
- Has hands to score
- Skating is below-average
Drafted 166th overall in the 2006 NHL draft, Ruegsegger was seen as a project, who has taken considerable strides towards making himself into an NHLer. Since being drafted by the Leafs, the Denver, Colorado native has played with his hometown Pioneers in the NCAA.
In 35 games with the Pioneers this season, he tallied a respectable 26 points. Still, after just finishing his sophomore year, it seems Ruegsegger will need all four years of his collegiate eligibility to hone his skills in order for him to have a real good shot with the Leafs.
This former USA World Junior team member has shown flashes of offensive brilliance, but needs to combine that with foot speed and a better skating stride in order to be an effective NHL player someday.
- 6’2”, 187 lbs, Left Wing
- Great skating
- Good scoring touch
- Good stickhandler
Flaake, the Leafs' fifth-round pick in 2008, hasn’t put up a ton of numbers in two years with Cologne in the German league, scoring only one point in 30 games last year, and 16 in 43 this year. Still, one must consider this is a men's league where Flaake, who recently turned 19, is facing very stiff competition.
The points may not overwhelm you, but the jump from year one to year two in encouraging, and the Leafs feel Flaake is getting a great experience playing with older men, a technique that has worked out for Leafs players Jiri Tlusty and Nikolai Kulemin.
Flaake was one of the top scorers on Germany’s World Junior team, in which he played against people more his age. It is too early to tell just yet, but the Maple Leafs like to think they have a solid two-way threat, and possible third line forward with speed for the future.
- 6’3”, 190 lbs, Defenseman
- Defensive-minded, but will kick in offensively
- Likes to shoot from the point
Holzer is a long ways off from being considered NHL ready, but that doesn’t mean he won’t get there eventually. Another Leafs prospect playing in a men's league, Holzer scored seven points in his first season with DEG and nine in his second. He also got into playoff time with the team, helping his experience and development.
Selected 111th overall, Holzer must continue to learn, and do the little things he has been doing over the past few years, and it appears he will have time. The Leafs and Holzer have a mutual agreement where he will likely stay over in Europe for a few more years at least working on his skills with the MetroStars.
(Compiled with help from HockeysFuture and the Toronto Marlies. All stats are taken from players' official junior/college teams websites.)