Ranking the Top 5 Under-the-Radar Prospects for Toronto Maple Leafs
Slowly but surely, the Toronto Maple Leafs have been building their organization through the draft.
Yes, many top players like Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf, Cody Franson, James van Riemsdyk and Jonathan Bernier have been acquired through trades.
However, young talents like Nazem Kadri, Morgan Rielly and Josh Leivo are poised to be important contributors in the years to come.
Most Leafs fans know the most heralded prospects in the team's stable. William Nylander, Frederik Gauthier and Matt Finn are elite prospects.
But there is a group of lesser-known players which could be important to Toronto's future success. Let's take a look at the top five under-the-radar prospects in the Maple Leafs' organization.
5. Sam Carrick, Centre
No organization can have too many prospects at the centre-ice position. In the Leafs' case, they don't have nearly enough presently.
One prospect who could end up being a very good NHL depth centreman is Sam Carrick. He's not overly big at 6'0" and 207 pounds, but he's willing to fight. Standing up for his teammates is a constant in his game.
He had 35 points in his first full AHL season. He also added nine points in 14 playoff games.
The 22-year-old native of Markham, Ontario, has displayed grit and determination in his short pro career. He's a prospect to keep an eye on.
4. Tom Nilsson, Defenceman
While Petter Granberg has likely had more publicity, another fourth-round pick from Sweden, Tom Nilsson, has displayed some promise as well.
Nilsson is not an offensively gifted defender, but he is a rock in his own end. He's a mobile player who can move the puck with ease. He's not a dominating presence at 6'0", but he loves to take the body at every opportunity.
Nilsson should be a member of the Toronto Marlies in 2014-15. Fans will get an opportunity to see how well his game translates to North America.
3. Greg McKegg, Centre
Greg McKegg is another centre who has the potential to develop into a bottom-six NHL forward. He's not an incredible skater at the pro level. This could limit him to playing on the wing if he does make the jump to the NHL in the coming years.
McKegg has displayed some very good progress by increasing his AHL points total from 23 in 2012-13 to 47 in 2013-14. Nineteen of those points were goals.
McKegg put up some great point totals in the OHL, so there is some good offensive awareness in his game. He's certainly worth watching in the next season or two.
2. Tyler Biggs, Winger
While Tyler Biggs was once very much on the radar of Leafs' prospects, this has changed over time. Although he's just 21 years of age, because he is a former first-round pick, many would like to see him already making an impact at the NHL level.
Biggs has the physical tools to be a very good NHL power forward. He's 6'2" and 220 pounds with some relatively soft hands.
It remains to be seen if he can develop into a second-line winger or if he will be a third-liner who can contribute offensively from time to time.
Regardless, it is much too early to give up on this talented American. With Steve Spott transitioning from Marlies head coach to Leafs assistant, it will be interesting to see if he lobbies for his former player to become an NHL skater if his game progresses as hoped.
1. Rinat Valiev, Defenceman
Russian defenceman Rinat Valiev is somewhat of a late bloomer. The former KHL defender has shown a willingness to commit to the North American game.
He had a good debut with the WHL's Kootenay Ice that saw him earn 28 points during the regular season. He added nine points in 13 playoff games.
At 6'1" and 190 pounds, Valiev will not dominate physically at the pro level, but there is a lot of upside here if he continues to progress as much as he did last year in the CHL.
Valiev could be that "diamond in the rough" that all organizations hope to find outside of the first two rounds of the NHL draft.
All stats can be found on hockeydb.com unless noted otherwise.