With the emergence of James Reimer this season, the Toronto Maple Leafs have witnessed the perfect development of a player through minor league seasoning. It's not something the team is used to. A knock on the Leafs is that they are known for trading away their young talent too early or before giving it a fair chance.
However, such was not the case with Reimer. He was not traded. He simply stepped into the Leafs' lineup and dominated.
If he can do it, why can't other minor-leaguers?
The Leafs have some real talent in their farm system—some raw and some more polished and close to NHL action.
Toronto is hoping that their rebuilding process will receive help from this talent within the organization.
Fortunately, help is on the way. Here are the Toronto Maple Leafs Top 10 prospects in the minors.
Juraj Mikus is a big, lanky defenceman who could be a dark horse to make the Leafs out of training camp next year. In the previous two years, Mikus has gotten a longer look in training camp than most other defensive prospects.
In 56 games this year, Mikus posted four goals and 16 points. In addition, he improved on his plus-minus rating from this year to last, raising from a minus-13 in 2010 to an even rating in 2011.
Signed from Germany, Marcel Mueller has to progress a little more before he reaches the NHL level. However, his strong play in the German League proves that Mueller can play hockey with men and fit in.
Mueller registered no points in the three Leafs games played in this season, but contributed decently at a physical level. His NHL audition proved he isn't ready for the big league yet; however, he has some raw talent.
Another young Leaf defensive prospect, Jesse Blacker has been marinating in the minors for two years now, gaining experience with the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL.
If Blacker's NHL career is anything like his OHL career, he's going to be one heck of a hockey player.
In 62 games, Blacker tallied 10 goals and 54 points, as well as a plus-17 rating and 83 penalty minutes. He has proved that he can be a strong offensive defender in the minors; the next step would obviously be to elevate his game to the NHL level.
With three young goaltenders already in Toronto, Jussi Rynnas may end up becoming a victim of the numbers game.
The 6'5" goaltender's size is enough to attract anyone, really. That size is why he chose the Toronto Maple Leafs when crossing over to North America. The Leafs' goaltending coach, Francois Allaire, is not only considered one of the best in the world, but he also specialized in tall goaltenders.
Rynnas does have quite a bit of talent. He needed some time to adjust to the smaller rinks and faster game of North American hockey, but he did eventually fit in well.
It will be interesting to see what level Rynnas can take his game to.
Leafs fans are going to love this guy.
Projected to be a Darcy Tucker-like player, Brad Ross is a spark plug every night, bringing energy to the team when they need it, and even when they don't.
In addition, Ross can score when called upon. He tallied 31 goals and 69 points in 67 games this season.
Ross played on a line with Columbus Blue Jackets' star prospect Ryan Johansen for most of the year. Hopefully some of Johansen's talent rubbed off onto Ross.
After a strong performance in the 2010 World Junior Championships, Jerry D'Amigo joined the Toronto Marlies at the beginning of the hockey year.
D'Amigo struggled right off the bat, making it clear he wasn't ready for AHL action just yet. He tallied just 15 points in 43 games.
After being sent back to the OHL, D'Amigo returned to his previous quick pace, posting 12 goals and 28 points in 21 games.
D'Amigo is sort of a wild card. Some signs point to him becoming a top six NHL forward, while others read quite the opposite.
Fact: Ben Scrivens' stats in the AHL are actually superior to current Leafs savior James Reimer's stats in the minors.
Leafs fans, I'll give you a second to wipe the tears of happiness from your eyes.
At .924, Scrivens' save percentage bests Reimer's by .004 percent, while his goals-against average of 2.33 is significantly lower than Reimer's 2.59.
This isn't to say that Scrivens could be an NHL goalie like Reimer, but it's still a real positive sign. He is often forgotten about with goaltenders such as Rynnas, Reimer and Gustavsson in the system, but Scrivens has the potential to be quite good.
After being acquired from the Anaheim Ducks in a deal involving Francois Beauchemin, Jake Gardiner has showed Leafs fans a glimpse of what is to come in the future.
Compared to Tomas Kaberle, Gardiner has shown that he has all the right tools to be an effective offensive defenseman in the NHL.
He joined the Marlies after a successful year in college that saw him post 10 goals and 31 points in 10 games. In Toronto, Gardiner registered three assists in 10 games, never fully finding his place.
It shouldn't take Gardiner too long to accustom himself to the surroundings in Toronto. He will likely be running at full pace for the Marlies next year.
Matt Frattin rocketed himself up the Toronto Maple Leafs' depth chart this past year with a strong season at University of North Dakota.
He finished his college year with a league-leading 36 goals and 60 points in 43 games, his point total being the second most in the NCAA. He ended the year as the runner-up for the Hobey Baker Award, an award given to the top player in the league.
After his team was eliminated from postseason action, Frattin was signed to an entry-level contract with the Maple Leafs in time for him to play the final Leafs game of the year. He showed off his hard-hitting game and his nose for the net, earning compliments from Ron Wilson after the game.
“I was probably most impressed with Matt Frattin,” said Wilson. “He was like a dog on the bone with the puck.”
Frattin will likely start the year with the Marlies in 2011-12.
Joe Colborne looks like he could be the real deal someday.
At 6'5", 213 pounds, Joe Colborne is a hulking center who looks to fit into the team's top six one day.
He was originally acquired in a deal with the Boston Bruins involving Tomas Kaberle. When he arrived to the Marlies, Colborne made an immediate impact, scoring a goal in his first game and potting a highlight-reel marker in the shootout. This helped lead the team to a 4-3 victory over the Griffins.
Colborne was called up to the Maple Leafs for the last game of their season to audition for the future. He played well, posting his first career NHL point by way of an assist on a Phil Kessel goal.
His audition impressed Ron Wilson as well.
"Joe made some plays. I was impressed," said Wilson. "He’s going to be a very good player, no doubt."
While it's unlikely that Colborne starts the year with the Leafs next year, there's always a chance. Who knows, he could be the next James Reimer.