Toronto Maple Leafs Prospects: Beasts on the Back End
This article is devoted to the giants of the Toronto Maple Leafs defensive prospect pool. It's truely unbelievable when looking over the players the Leafs have in their defensive system, and just how monsterous about 90 percent of them are.
Brian Burke loves big, stay at home, shutdown-type defenders who make a living of plastering the opposition at the blueline and ruining any hope of a potential scoring chance. Burke has definitely made his mark over the past year and a half, drafting and signing shrek-like teenagers who can fill this role for the future Toronto Maple Leafs.
Now all of the credit can't be given to Mr. Burke, since he inherited a few of the defensemen on this list. John Ferguson Jr. did have a hand in assembling the current Leafs prospect pool, who Burke continues to praise to this day.
So sit back and enjoy a look into the bright future of the Toronto Maple Leafs beastly defensive core.
Height - 6'6"
Weight - 210 lbs.
As i'm sure all of you know, Keith Aulie was aquired in the trade for Dion Phaneuf last January. He adds tremendous depth to our propsect pool, and isn't very far from taking a spot on the Leafs roster.
You may also remember him playing the primary shutdown role on the gold metal winning 2009 Canadian World Junoir Championship team. Aulies' reach and strength enabled him to dominate the best forward lines each nation could throw at him.
Playing for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL, Aulie showed some offensive upside in 2008-09 putting up 6 goals and 33 points in 58 games. These totals were good enough for the 2nd highest in defensive scoring. While he does have an above average shot, he won't be expected to play a big offensive role in the NHL
Aulies' development may have taken a minor hit due to required shoulder surgery last February (similar to what Mike Komisarek had done last season). Aulies' season with the Toronto Marlies was cut short, and the rehabilitation effected his training regiment over the summer. So he may need at least another half a season in the AHL to regain his upper body strength.
As of now Aulie is projected to have the most upside out of the Leafs defensive prospect pool, mainly because of his NHL ready size and a well-balanced skill set.
Height - 6'4"
Weight - 190 lbs
Juraj Mikus was a draft pick from the John Ferguson Jr. era, selected in the 5th round (134th overall) in the 2007 NHL entry draft.
Attribute Mikus' development to Trenchin Dukla of the Slovak Leauge, where between the ages of 17 and 19, he played with and against grown men. Here he was able to polish his offensive skills making him a legitimate two-way threat on the blueline.
To get acquainted with the North American style of hockey, Mikus made the trip overseas and put in a full year with the Toronto Marlies last season. He quickly assumed the role of power play quarterback and posted a 5 goal and 33 point season. Decent numbers on an offensively challenged team.
When Mike Komisarek went down with a shoulder injury, it was a toss-up between Mikus and Carl Gunnarsson for who would get the call to fill the void. I think we all know who won, but this just goes to show how close Mikus is to getting promoted to the big club.
Out of all of the current defensive prospects, Jesse Blacker and Juraj Mikus have the most offensive upside. If there is an injury to one of the Leafs defensemen during this coming season, look for Mikus to begin his NHL career.
Height - 6'3"
Weight - 190 lbs
Holzer is another prospect who developed against men while playing as a teenager in the German Elite League (DEL). Another solid draft pick by John Ferguson Jr. (or at least his European scout at the time), Holzer plays a physical shut down game and is also able to chip in offensively.
After a breakout season with the DEG Metro Stars (6 goals and 22 points in 52 games), Holzer signed an entry level contract with the Leafs earlier this year. His international experience with team Germany in the World Championships and the Olympics gave him the much needed confidence to become an NHL blueliner.
Many believed that Holzer was the best defenseman on the German Oylmpic squad, with the exception of Christian Ehrhoff.
Holzer will be a very important player on the Toronto Marlies this coming season, and could also be a candiate to play a few games for the Leafs. If given the time to get used to the North American game, Holzer has a great chance to become a top-4 defenseman in the NHL.
At 190 pounds, he could also use some time to fill out and become stronger. But make no mistake about it, when he is ready, Holzer will be a fantastic addition to the Leafs blueline.
Height - 6'3"
Weight - 200 lbs
Not bad size for one of the youngest players to be drafted in 2010. Granberg was selected by Toronto in the 4th round (116th overall) and may just turn out to be a steal.
Granberg has played his last few years in the Skelleftea development system in Sweden, and should be progressing to the Swedish Elite Leauge for the upcoming season. In one of the better leagues in the world, Granberg will have the chance to grow into his body and continue working on this all around game.
Prospect reports claim Granberg is quite talented for his age and does not limit himself to being a solid defensive player. He has shown he can chip in defensively with a good shot and a strong first pass.
Granberg will also bring a physical presence to the ice, which is a part of his game that Burke really likes. Although, because of how young he is, and a current contract which will keep him playing in Sweden until 2013, we most likely won't reap the benefits of Granberg's game for a while.
Height - 6'4"
Weight - 195 lbs
Simon Gysbers was one of the lesser known college free agent signings of 2010. Of course Burke salivated over his NHL ready size and gave him a shot with the Marlies after finishing his NCAA career with Lake Superior State University.
Gysbers didn't exactly blow anyone away with his play in the AHL, but didn't look completely out of place. He added only one assist in 14 games played with the Marlies, while learning how to adapt to the faster style of the play in the American Hockey Leauge.
Gysbers will most likely find his playing time diminish with the Marlies this upcoming season due to the presence of guys like Keith Aulie, Korbinian Holzer and Jesse Blacker.
With so many big defenseman in the system that play the exact same style as Gysbers, he will have to take his game to another level to be an everyday NHL defenseman.
Only time will tell if he will get a call up for a game or two with the big club. If he does, i'm predicting that is all he'll ever see.
Height - 6'6"
Weight - 220 lbs
I should be saying Eric Knodel is by far the biggest defensive prospect in the Leafs system, but he only squeaked out Keith Aulie by about 10 pounds. This kid is an absolute monster and would be the biggest player on most current NHL rosters.
Knodel is still early in this development, having played last year in the USHL with the Des Moines Buccaneers. Although he is not projected as an offensive talent, Knodel scored 3 goals and put up 17 assists in 50 games last season, which shows he does have some potential to be a two-way blueliner.
Knodel is a bit of a project pick who was again favoured by Burke in last years draft because of his massive frame and physical dominance in front of the net. He's project to be a Mike Komisarek type player, except not as a top-4 defenseman.
Again, we will see how his development progresses, but I wouldn't be surprised if his NHL career is short-lived. With this kids size, I hope we get to see him in a Leafs uniform in a few years.
You would think that would be enough size to last the Leafs the next 10 drafts, but there are still a few more big boys in the system that deserve an honorable mention:
Jesse Blacker - 6'1" - 190 lbs
Although Blacker doesn't stand out as a big player on the ice, he plays much bigger than he is. He takes every opportunity to lay a Phaneuf-like pounding to a winger taking the puck over the blueline. He also got in his share of fights in the OHL, so he will bring a nice, well-rounded game to the Leafs in a year or so.
Andrew MacWilliam - 6'2 - 215 lbs
Not an offensive bone in his body, but racked up 220 penalty minutes in the Alberta Junior Hockey Leauge. Enough said.
Barron Smith - 6'4" - 195 lbs
Hasn't scored a goal in over three years. Love his size but don't love his chances.
Having this much size on the back end will only be beneficial for the Leafs moving forward. They key to a successful squad will be players like Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gnnarsson who will provide much needed offense to balance the defensive pairings of the future.
The next decade looks pretty bright for the Leafs blueline, and it should be fun to watch the perfect mix of size and skill.