Maple Leafs Early Prospect Analysis

Mat TompsonContributor ISeptember 8, 2009

MISSISSAUGA, CANADA - AUGUST 26:  Goaltender Jonas Gustavsson #50 of the Toronto Maple Leafs takes shots during the Upper Deck NHL Rookie Debut on August 26, 2009 at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, Ontario.  (Photo By Dave Sandford/Getty Images)

Do we finally have legitimate prospects? Are we on the verge of adding young players to our major league team that will make a definitive impact? Or are we just filling our young roster spots with a never ending list of future Matt Stajan’s and Carlo Colaiacovo’s? Nothing against Mat and Carlo, but we need some actual top 3 stars.

Toronto’s biggest problem is not Vessa Toskala’s goaltending, or Thomas Kaberle’s defensive play, the Leafs biggest problem is lacking a top line. The Leafs do not have a legitimate first liner, yet.

Drafting first liners is easier said than done, and is rarely executed like intended. Many first line players grow into their roster spot and surprise their management team. Unless you have a top 10 pick, you can’t assume your drafted player will play on a top line.

However, the Leafs have a top 10 pick in newly drafted Nazem Kadri. Kadri is 6’1, 177 lbs and he is currently 18 years old. He is a speedy forward with quick hands, however many critics question his will from game to game. Motivation is the easiest thing to fix. If you are a slow skater, or you have a bad shot, or you are afraid of hits, it can take years to improve on.  A young player like Kadri will hopefully grow into a responsible man under the guidance of Ron Wilson, Dallas Eakins, and his junior coach providing he returns to the OHL for the 09-10 season. He is a solid prospect, but they key to this young man will be developing his mind and body into NHL form.

Jonas Gustavsson, nicknamed the monster, hails from Sweden. He is 6’3 and 183 lbs at the current age of 24. Last season he backstopped Swedish Elite team Farjestad to a league championship while posting an incredible 1.96 GAA and a .932 save percentage. He is slated to back up Vessa Toskala and is an immediate upgrade to Justin Pogge. That is the main thing Burke has accomplished. Gustavsson may win a Vezina, or he may be a career backup, but he is an improvement on Justin Pogge. Before people in Toronto jump on this monsters back, they need to realize he is a prospect, and a lot better then the previous prospect we had in Pogge.

Tyler Bozak was sought after by 22 NHL teams including all 6 Canadian ones. He is 22 years old, 6’1 and 180 lbs. In 2008 he had the opportunity to make the transition into the NHL however he declined and decided to grow his game at the College ranks. His season was cut short due to a knee injury which is the biggest question surrounding his future. He is a big speedy forward who will most likely make the Leafs, and he has the potential to be a solid top line player.

Christian Hanson is 6’4, 228 lbs. This is perfect for Toronto, and the best part about him is he moves like he is 6’1. Another College signing Burke made last season helps bolster the Maple Leafs prospect roster. He played 5 games with the big club last season and has potential to play on top line one day, but most likely will be a solid second or third liner. Regardless of where he plays on the roster, the Maple Leafs have a solid young player who is big and fast.

With surprises like Viktor Stalberg (6’3, 191 lbs) who Burke said is the fastest player at the Rookie Camp, and Mikhail Stephanovich (6’1, 2002 lbs) who had a breakout year last season in the QMJHL, the Maple Leafs have turned from having zero prospects to having a solid pool of Talent. Add in 19 year old Luke Schenn who might possibly develop into Toronto’s next captain. Brian Burke has been busy in his short time in Toronto, and the Leafs have seen one of the quickest turnarounds in recent years regarding a club going from virtually no prospects to a team who can possibly have a very bright future. Providing Burke continues to acquire draft picks wisely uses them, the Maple Leafs might finally be on the proper journey to a Stanley Cup.