The Toronto Maple Leafs have been hit hard by both injuries and suspensions to key players in the first part of the 2013-14 season.
These losses have demonstrated that organizational depth is improving for the Leafs but that more young players need to be drafted and signed. Toronto has some excellent prospects. At least one player is already having an impact at the NHL level.
Let's take a look at five of the best Toronto Maple Leafs prospects and project their top-end potential.
Honorable mentions go to Tom Nilsson and Matt Finn in the interest of looking at three forwards and two defensemen.
All stats can be found on hockeydb.com.
Top-End Potential: Top-Six Forward
Former Oshawa General Tyler Biggs is a big winger at 6'3" and 220 pounds. He has the tools to be a very good third-line player, but if he continues to improve his offensive game, he should be able to be a solid top-six forward.
Biggs needs to continue to work on his skating, but his defensive game has improved over the past two seasons with the added responsibility he had in the OHL as a key player for the Generals last season.
Biggs has a quality shot that could be the difference between him being an offensive-oriented player versus a checking winger.
Top-End Potential: Top-Six Forward
Josh Leivo had an opportunity to play with the parent club this fall and did not look out of place. Leivo is continuing to find his way as a pro player, but there are indications that he can be a top-six forward in the future.
The former OHL standout is just 20 years old, and his all-around game shows much promise. While Leivo hasn't been asked to contribute offensively at the NHL level, he produced at better than a point-per-game pace in the last three seasons in the OHL.
Given the Leafs' relative depth at left wing, he is likely to be eased into his NHL role over the next couple of seasons.
Top-End Potential: Top-Four Defenseman
Stuart Percy has the tools to be a strong NHL defender. He picked up 45 points in the OHL last season, and while he is unlikely to be a top-pairing defender, he could still be an impact NHLer.
Percy has average size on the blue line at 6'1" and just under 200 pounds. He's not a punishing defenseman but has good offensive upside. The Leafs have a number of talented young defensemen, so there is no rush with Percy who could stay in the AHL for at least the next one or even two seasons given Toronto's depth.
Percy is not a particularly gifted skater, so he'll need to improve that aspect of his game if he wants to be an NHL regular in the next few seasons.
Top-End Potential: Second-Line Center
Frederik Gauthier was selected in the first round of the 2013 NHL Entry draft by the Leafs. The QMJHL star has great size and reach at 6'5". He has already represented Team Canada internationally, and he is developing into an elite NHL prospect.
Gauthier should have Leaf fans very excited, as he seems poised to become an even better offensive player as he develops his attacking game. While he hasn't put up huge offensive numbers to date, his defensive game is very refined for such a young player. He has 19 points in his first 21 games with the Rimouski Oceanic.
Developing his physical game is also a high priority with his great size. Given his intelligence and his improving skills, he could become a very good center at the NHL level in the next two or three seasons.
Top-End Potential: First-Team NHL All-Star
Morgan Rielly was so good in training camp and in his first 10 NHL games that the Leafs really had no choice but to keep him in Toronto. Because he would have been sent to junior because of his age, it seems obvious that the Leafs management believed he had outgrown the junior game.
The Leafs have had their issues on the blue line this year, but with Mark Fraser back in the lineup, Rielly won't be counted upon as heavily. This is good news as he can spend some time in the press box and not be leaned on too heavily at this critical stage of his development.
Rielly has the potential to be one of the better defensemen in the NHL. He could become a perennial All-Star and a Norris Trophy candidate if he continues on his current career trajectory.