Toronto Maple Leafs: 6 Youngsters Who Will Get Regular Time in 2012-13

Steve Wolosewich@@stevewolosewichContributor IIIMarch 12, 2012

Toronto Maple Leafs: 6 Youngsters Who Will Get Regular Time in 2012-13

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    Rebuilding can be as laborious and tiresome as losing—and more often than not, they go hand in hand.

    But this retooling phase can also be an extremely exciting process to witness—seeing the budding young stars of tomorrow finally spreading their wings to take on new and more lucrative roles within their respective organizations. 

    If there is a silver lining to a very up-and-down NHL season for the Toronto Maple Leafs, it comes in the form of a consolation prize for having a strong collection of young players in the system who can help them win in the near future.

    This organization has been in constant evolution since Brian Burke took over as general manager. 

    And it could be said that if there is one thing that has been consistent within the Toronto Maple Leafs organization over the last four years, it's been change.

    The turnover of player personnel has been drastic, but this revolving door of player changes we've seen come through Toronto should only continue until an adequate "core" group is established—that should be the goal, at least. 

    One of the positives to take out of all of this change is their apparent stockpile of young assets biding their time with the Toronto Marlies, waiting for their opportunity to shine with the big club.

    There will always exist some shuffling and retooling with any team that strives to perfect the balance of having veteran leadership and experience while providing developmental opportunities with young upstarts on the rise.

    With the team seemingly taking on a new direction under head coach Randy Carlyle, will there be new or better opportunities for these youngsters to make the jump into the NHL?

    Let's review six young players who should see significant time with the Maple Leafs in 2012-13.

Matt Lashoff

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    Drafted in 2005 by the Boston Bruins in the first round (22nd overall), Matt Lashoff could finally find himself a role on the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    Lashoff is a big body at 6'2'' and could provide the Leafs defense corps with added nastiness in the package of an all-around mobile defenseman.

    Unfortunately, Lashoff's potential to advance beyond his role with the Marlies was stymied when he suffered a serious leg injury in October.

    If Lashoff can rebound with the same vigor and dedication he showed prior to this setback, he will be quite capable of contributing at the NHL level.

Korbinian Holzer

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    Korbinian Holzer was drafted in the fourth round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    At 6'3'', 205 pounds, Holzer has quickly ascended the Maple Leafs' depth chart as the Toronto Marlies' No.1 defender.

    With steady dependability, this big German prospect has likely played himself into a bit of a conundrum.

    As a "fringe" player, he may be too good to hold back in the AHL, but with six other NHLers in his way, he may have to wait patiently until the injury bug bites one of the Maple Leafs' regulars.

    However, you look at Holzer's situation in Toronto—he represents another serviceable player who will be looking to crack the top-six group of Leafs defenders out of training camp next season.

Carter Ashton

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    Carter Ashton may have eluded the Toronto Maple Leafs scouting staff in the past, but it would seem that it was only a matter of time before fate finally intervened.

    The Tampa Bay Lightning originally drafted Ashton in the first round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, 29th overall.

    The Maple Leafs actually went after the 6'3'' power forward plus another first-round pick back before the 2009-10 season trade deadline, but Tampa Bay's former GM, Brian Lawton, wasn't prepared to part with those assets in return for Tomas Kaberle.   

    "Even though our team was right on the playoff bubble and desperately needed an offensive defenceman, I wasn’t prepared to bail on what we were building through the draft,” said Lawton.

    Two years later and Ashton is still wearing blue and white, but this time with a Maple Leafs crest on his chest. At 20 years of age, he has plenty of time to grow into a permanent role within the Leafs' top-six group of forwards.

    Ashton has just three NHL games under his belt for the Maple Leafs, but has already been praised by head coach Randy Carlyle for his strong debut against the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 7, 2012.

    Should Ashton continue to develop his offensive skill and prove that he can use his strength and size to his advantage at the NHL level, he may turn out to be exactly what the Maple Leafs have been sorely missing from their current top six.  

Matt Frattin

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    Matt Frattin has shown flashes of what seems to be a promising future in the NHL.

    He is a strong two-way winger who is able to play a balanced game of sweet and sour. He can surprise the opposition with a quick release off the rush and also shows an admirable compete-level with his hard-nosed forechecking.

    Although his 2011-12 NHL season hasn't been one that has really showcased his offensive upside, he has been defensively responsible on a team that has had significant problems in their own end.

    With Frattin set to become an RFA at the end of the season, Brian Burke will have to assess the value of this steady forward and how he fits into the Maple Leafs' long-term plans.

    At 24 years of age, Frattin might find it more comfortable honing his game in a third-line role next season, where he can continue to build on the confidence he has developed at the NHL level.

Nazem Kadri

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    If there is anyone who has seen both of Leafs Nation's faces more than Nazem Kadri, I'm not sure who it is. 

    When he's good, he's great and when he's not, he's been packaged into nearly every speculative trade scenario under the sun.

    Kadri was selected in the first round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft (seventh overall) by the Toronto Maple Leafs and has since spent his time bouncing back and forth between the Leafs and their AHL affiliate.

    He has an incredible offensive upside with obvious skill on the attack that oozes creativity. His apparent knack for shootouts is also a skill that has become increasingly significant in today's NHL.

    The drama surrounding Kadri lays with his inability to land a consistent roster spot with this Leafs—rightly or wrongly.

    On one side, you have the opinion that Kadri has deserved a proper roster spot for the last two seasons and has consequently been mismanaged by holding him back in the AHL.

    On the other side—although his rookie mistakes have been slightly tempered over time—he still is guilty of trying to do too much with the puck at times and coughs the puck up too often.   

    If he can patch up some of the holes in his defensive game and keep his turnovers to a minimum, Kadri should undoubtedly make waves for the Maple Leafs for years to come.

    Only time will tell if 2012-13 will finally be his time to shine.

Joe Colborne

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    If Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Joe Colborne continues to build on the already solid foundation he has established with the Toronto Marlies, he posesses an extremely attractive set of attributes which could be utilized well at the NHL level.

    This 6'5'', 215-pound center is an intimidating figure, to say the least. Adding muscle and strength to his frame has been the No.1 priority in his development in the AHL.

    He's a big, skilled playmaker who has the kind of potential that has Leafs brass salivating when thinking about the future.

    Getting off to a hot start with the Marlies at the beginning of the season earned him AHL Player of the Month honors for the month of October—16 points in nine games will do that.

    Colborne's points-per-game pace dropped off slightly after that. However, this talented centerman was still voted to be a starter for the AHL All-Star Game held on January 30, 2012.

    If there is one prospect who has the potential to fill perhaps what is the Maple Leafs' biggest hole in their roster, it's "Big Joe."

    Whether he's capable of reaching his full potential as an NHLer with the Blue and White is still anyone's guess, but expect him to enjoy more regular time with the big club in 2012-13 as this franchise looks to turn over a new leaf under the direction of head coach Randy Carlyle.