After years of mediocrity and failed attempts to reach the postseason, the Leafs are finally a playoff-caliber team with a deep prospect pool.
The patience shown by former general manager Brian Burke and his successor Dave Nonis is starting to pay off. The Original Six club has several talented prospects who will compete for an NHL roster spot during training camp and the preseason. These players represent the team's bright future, but they also have the potential to impact Toronto's success in 2013-14.
Let's take a look at the prospects with the best chance to play for the Leafs on opening day.
Morgan Rielly is the Leafs' only blue-chip prospect and projects to be a top-pairing defenseman at the NHL level.
The former No. 5 overall draft pick has excellent puck-moving skills, a high hockey IQ and the playmaking skills needed to add valuable scoring production from the blue line and quarterback the power play. He's arguably the league's top offensive defenseman prospect who hasn't played in an NHL game yet.
Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle recently talked about Rielly's future with the National Post:
He only played the one game in London at the prospects camp and he separated himself pretty quickly from a lot of players out there. Now this will be his first full camp. He had a week of camp last year, so now he has an opportunity to possibility play in eight exhibition games.
To have him in our lineup we don’t envision him playing sparing minutes. His minutes have to be somewhere in excess of 12 to 15 minutes. Does he have to play every game? No, I don’t think he has to play every game. But I think what he has to do is he has to show growth.
Unless he looks uncomfortable and not ready for the NHL game during the preseason, expect Rielly to be a fifth or sixth defenseman in Toronto at the start of the regular season. His offensive game is polished enough for the NHL.
It's now or never for Joe Colborne.
The former first-round pick of the Boston Bruins is entering the most important season of his career. The 23-year-old center has tremendous size (6'5" and 213 pounds) and a powerful shot, but he hasn't lived up to expectations over the last two seasons. The Calgary native played in just seven games last year (playoffs included) and tallied zero points.
Given the Leafs' lack of depth and top-tier talent at center, Colborne should get plenty of chances to earn a top-nine role this season. Unlike most centers with his size and strength, Colborne is a great skater, shows fantastic composure with the puck and makes accurate passes in traffic.
The talent to be a legitimate top-six center is there; now it's time for the young forward to take the next step in his development and become a two-way player. A defensive-minded coach like Randy Carlyle should be able to help Colborne improve a lot in his own end.
As one of the top forward prospects in the Leafs' system, expectations are high for former first-round pick Tyler Biggs.
The 20-year-old right winger plays the power-forward style of hockey that is perfect for head coach Randy Carlyle's system. Biggs' size (6'3" and 220 pounds) makes him an imposing presence in all three zones and he's not afraid to block shots and fight for pucks along the boards.
Toronto's penalty kill made great strides last season and finished with the second-best success rate in the league. This is a unit that Biggs will be able to contribute to as a rookie because of his polished defensive game and high hockey IQ.
A good training camp would give Biggs a strong chance to be a third- or fourth-line winger to start the regular season, but the most likely scenario is beginning in the AHL with the Marlies and earning a midseason call up to the Leafs.
Cody Franson's uncertain future with the Leafs could open up a spot on the blue line for former first-round pick Stuart Percy, who has spent most of the last season in the OHL playing for the Mississauga Steelheads.
With the Steelheads, the 20-year-old defenseman tallied 45 points (13 points, 32 assists) in 68 games last year. As a player who is composed in all three zones and makes smart decisions with the puck on his stick, Percy is responsible enough to earn an NHL role to start the season.
He has an above average two-way skill set and enough strength to succeed against NHL forwards.
Even though Percy doesn't have elite skill, he should be a reliable NHLer for a long time because he's talented enough to play in all kinds of situations, including special teams. He's likely going to play an important role on the Marlies blue line this year, but if injuries or a lack of depth create a need on the Leafs roster, Percy would be a top candidate to get called up.
Josh Leivo is Toronto's top left wing prospect and a player who could provide valuable depth in a bottom-six role for the Leafs.
The 20-year-old forward tallied 73 points in 63 games last season for the Kitchener Rangers and Sudbury Wolves of the OHL.
As a speedy winger with the size and strength needed to win pucks below the goal line and score goals in traffic in front of the net, Leivo has a skill set that should allow him to succeed in Randy Carlyle's system.
The most likely scenario for Leivo is playing a top-six role with the Marlies this season, but his ability to contribute on special teams and add some scoring depth to the Leafs lineup makes him a good candidate for a midseason call up.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL columnist at Bleacher Report. He was a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, the 2012 NHL playoffs and the 2013 NHL draft.