The Toronto Maple Leafs have stocked their prospect shelf quite significantly over the past few years, giving the fans something to get excited about.
I, as most diehard Leaf fans do, have opinions on the current prospects and what the likelihood is of each making the NHL.
For some I think there is an 80 – 100 percent chance they will someday make an impact on the big club, and for other I realize there is no way in hell they will make the jump from the Marlies.
This leaves the final prospect category: "The Question Marks."
In my opinion, the prospects listed below are ones with lots of potential, but either haven’t performed or have faced significant adversity in the past which has held them back from cracking the Leafs roster.
Didominico was drafted late (164th overall ) in the 2007 entry draft, and was most likely chosen to be a depth guy who kills penalties and plays a hard, gritty game.
Didomenico broke those expectations by producing more than a point per game every year of his career in the QMJHL.
His clutch offensive ability was even more apparent in the playoffs, scoring an amazing 54 points in 29 games between the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons.
During the 2008-09 playoffs, Didomenico suffered a devastating injury, crashing into the end boards and breaking his upper thigh bone completely in two. This, during a more than two-point per game playoff explosion.
Not many fans or critics thought Didomenico could recover from such a severe injury, although during rehabilitation he worked heavily on strengthening his upper body, which has given him the much needed NHL size.
Didomenico should get a shot with the Marlies this coming year, which should give them much needed scoring depth and penalty killing ability. I think he could crack the Leaf roster later in the season if he performs the way we all think he can.
Mitchell was drafted 74th overall in 2007 from the Oshawa Generals, the year he scored the most goals in his OHL career (43.) Mitchell consistently put up good numbers in the OHL, and was counted on to do the same for the Marlies this past season.
His performance was a little disappointing scoring only two goals in nine games, so the coaching staff deemed him not ready to play with the farm team. Mitchell was sent down to finish the season with the Windsor Spitfires who are currently playing hard for the Memorial Cup.
Mitchell is a leader who plays with a lot of heart and passion. He’s also a stalky guy that is hard to hit off the puck.
His leadership and scoring ability is sorely needed on the big club, even if he is destined to play a third line role.
Mitchell and Didomenico share the same fire and passion for the game —potential linemates in the future?
Stefanovich was taken 98th overall in the 2008 entry draft from the QMJHL. He is somewhat of a high risk/high reward type player who oozes potential, it’s just a matter of him reaching it.
There’s not much more to Stefanovich’s game than scoring and speed. He wowed the Leafs organization and their fans with a 49-goal season in 2008-09, and with hopes high the Leafs offered him an entry-level contract.
Stefanovich entered the Leafs training camp with high expectation of being the up and coming future sniper, although he had a less than impressive showing.
Actually bad enough to be sent back down to the Quebec Remparts for another year where he only scored 25 goals in 53 games.
Most say this lack of goal production was due to him working on the defensive side of his game, a side that needs to be developed to have a lengthy NHL career.
Hopefully he will have a big year with the Marlies this coming season, although I can’t see him cracking the Leafs roster until at least the 2011-2012 season.
Frattin was taken 99th over in the 2007 entry draft, and is a promising prospect from the NCAA. He’s a gritty player who has good hands and a great shot, comparable to Dale Mitchell.
Frattin was having a successful NCAA career, that is until he had a ridiculous incident with the police while at school in 2009, which led to a suspension and Frattin being discharged from the hockey team. Luckily, he was reinstated later on in the 2009-2010 season.
Frattin came back like a man possessed and picked up 19 points in 24 games with the University of North Dakota.
His offensive game was not the only thing impressive, it was his physical play. He looked like something out of a Slapshot scene, throwing his body around and making himself and his team harder to play against.
He will most likely finish his fourth and final year in North Dakota, hopefully getting an entry-level contract after a solid NCAA career.
Will he make the Leafs? If he stays out of the slammer he’s got a shot.
Ruegsegger was another late pick (166th overall) in the 2006 draft, who is a former teammate of Tyler Bozak from the University of Denver.
Ruegsegger has actually played above and beyond expectations, which made me want to mention him for those who haven’t heard of him (no one seems to talk about him.)
Rugsegger has had a very strong and consistent NCAA career, tallying 123 points in 147 games over four seasons. We are still waiting to see if he will be offered a contract with the Leafs.
In my opinion, he is worth a shot because of his scoring ability and leadership qualities.
The only knock on his game is his skating, which will most likely hold him back from being an impact top-six forward in the NHL.
If players like these can make the jump to the pros, the Leafs will have a lot of character in the dressing room. Even if none of these guys turn out to be top line talent, I would love to watch them in a Leafs uniform for years to come.
What is your opinion on these players and how far do you think they can go in their hockey careers?