Blooming Buds: A Look at the Toronto Maple Leafs' Top Prospects

John WhiteContributor IIJune 21, 2011

Blooming Buds: A Look at the Toronto Maple Leafs' Top Prospects

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    We are just days from the NHL draft, and with the season over, all the focus has been shifted towards free agency and the 2011 NHL draft. Until recently, the Leafs for the most part have been a team with very little depth as far as prospects go. The team constantly gave away draft picks and young talent for immediate help.

    Brian Burke has done a great job not only improving the Leafs but acquiring young talent for the future as well. The Leafs will likely add some more talented prospects Friday with three picks in the top 39.

    Here is a look at the progress this past season for some of Toronto's top prospects.

Nazem Kadri

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    Splitting time between the Leafs and Marlies this past season, Nazem Kadri has shown some flashes of his offensive skill.

    Kadri started the season with the Marlies. After a brief stint with the Leafs in which he played 17 games, recorded six assists and was a minus-four, he was sent back down. Kadri would go on to record 17 goals and 41 points in 44 games with the Marlies before being recalled by the Maple Leafs.

    In the final 12 games of the season Kadri showed an improvement in his overall play, and despite being limited to mostly third-line duty, he managed to put up three goals and three assists while finishing with a plus/minus of plus-one.

    After finishing the season with the Leafs, Kadri will likely have a spot on the roster come opening night. His work this summer and play at training camp will determine whether or not it will be a top-six role.

Greg McKegg

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    Greg McKegg now seems like a steal for Toronto at 62nd overall in the 2010 NHL draft. Heading into the draft McKegg finished with 37 goals and 85 points in 67 games with the Erie Otters.

    The question surrounding McKegg heading into the draft was if his statistics were simply high because of his linemates. McKegg proved doubters wrong, having a career year for the Otters. The Erie captain put up 49 goals (tied for third) and 92 points in only 66 games. McKegg followed his OHL season by scoring in one of the two games he played with the Marlies.

    McKegg has the potential to be a top-six forward in the NHL if he can work on his consistency. He will likely return to play another season in the OHL.

Brad Ross

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    Brad Ross had another good year in Portland. In 67 games Ross managed to put up 31 goals and 171 penalty minutes. Ross is known for his feisty style of play and has been compared to former Leaf Darcy Tucker a number of times.

    Brad Ross is the prototypical Brian Burke player. While he is a little smaller, he plays hard and has the truculence Burke looks for in his players. Ross has the potential to be a solid top-nine forward in Toronto and with his style of play could become a fan favourite like Tucker.

    Ross will likely return to Portland next season. With Ryan Johansen and Nino Niederreiter possibly making the NHL next year, Ross could take a larger role offensively with the team.

Joe Colborne

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    Joe Colborne was the big piece that came back in the Tomas Kaberle trade. The 6'5'' centre split last season between the Providence Bruins and Toronto Marlies. In 55 games last season Colborne managed to put up 12 goals and 26 points.

    After joining the Marlies and receiving top-six minutes, the big centre showed his offensive potential, putting up eight goals and 16 points in only 20 games with the Marlies. His play with the Marlies got him a call-up for the final game of the season, where he recorded his first career point—an assist on Phil Kessel's goal.

    Colborne has the size and the skill to be a top-six centre in the NHL. He will likely start the season with the Marlies, but if he continues his solid play, he could receive a midseason call-up.

Jerry D'Amigo

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    After a solid performance in the 2010 world juniors, there was a lot of hope for the late 2009 draft pick. D'Amigo had a rough start with the Marlies, struggling in the bottom-six role he was given. He managed to score five goals and 15 points in 43 games with the Marlies.

    Maple Leafs management thought he was better suited to show his offensive skill by getting top-six minutes with the Kitchener Rangers. D'Amigo made an immediate impact, posting 12 goals and 28 points in the last 21 games of the regular season for Kitchener. He also continued to produce in the playoffs, notching six goals and nine points in seven games for Kitchener.  

    D'Amigo will play for the Marlies next season, where he will have to show he can play against men and produce offensively if he wants to see NHL action any time soon.

Josh Nicholls

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    Nicholls was selected by the Maple Leafs, in the 7th round(182nd overall) of the 2010 NHL entry draft.  Another late pick by the leafs scouting staff, Nicholls could prove to be a dark horse. Prior to the draft Nicholls posted 19 goals and 48 points in 71 games with the Saskatoon Blades.  He also managed to finish plus 19.  He was drafted more for his solid two-way play, so it was a huge surprise when he broke out offensively this past season. 

    In 71 games for Saskatoon this past season Nicholls managed to score 34 goals and 87 points. While also improving his plus/minus to a solid plus 50. Nicholls will have an opportunity next season to improve his offensive game as he will likely have a bigger role with the blades next season. 

Keith Aulie

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    For many fans, at this time last year Keith Aulie was just a piece in the Dion Phaneuf trade. This past season Aulie showed that he is not only capable of playing in the NHL, but that he deserves to play there.

    Aulie started the season with the Marlies, posting three goals and nine points in 36 games. It was not his stats that made the defenceman a big part of the team, but his defensive play. Aulie's play with the Marlies allowed the Leafs to move out Francois Beauchemin.

    Aulie established himself as a top-four defenceman with the Leafs and even saw major ice time on the first pairing with team captain Phaneuf.

    Aulie's play has warranted NHL action, and if he continues to play his solid defensive game, he will be a major part of the Leafs defence for a number of years.

Jesse Blacker

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    The Toronto native had a career year with Owen Sound and was a big reason the team won the OHL championship. Blacker finished fifth among defensemen in scoring this season, posting 10 goals and 54 points in 62 games. He also improved on his defensive play, finishing plus-17.

    Blacker carried his solid play into the playoffs, finishing with five goals, 16 points and a plus-seven in the 22 games it took Owen Sound to win the championship.

    Blacker will look to crack the Marlies lineup next season, where he will continue to develop his play.

Jake Gardiner

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    Gardiner was acquired from Anaheim in the Francois Beauchemin trade. Gardiner was drafted 17th overall in the 2008 NHL draft.

    The 6'2" defenseman had a solid season offensively with the University of Wisconsin, posting 10 goals and 41 points in 41 games. Gardiner ended his season playing 10 games with the Marlies, recording four assists, and finished a plus-four.

    With the departure of Tomas Kaberle, the Leafs are looking for an offensive defenceman. While Gardiner will likely start the season with the Marlies, good performance in training camp and during the regular season could get him a call-up and a significant role with the Leafs.