Top Shelf Prospects: Toronto Maple Leafs
As always you can find a complete listing of my previous articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2012 draft, as there have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed. What I will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2012-13 roster of the NHL team in question. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 45-50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not static rules though, as I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
Rulings: Matt Frattin (57 games), James Reimer (71 games), Jake Gardiner (75 games) are all considered graduated.
Nazem Kadri (51 career games), by my typical rule he should be considered “graduated”, however I feel that he is still a prospect as he has not really established himself as a full-time NHLer and those 51 career games have come as a result of a great many cab rides from the Ricoh Coliseum to the ACC, and back. He is still looking for his place and full time role in the NHL.
Top Prospect, Nazem Kadri, Left Wing/Centre
Born Oct 6 1990 — London, ONT
Height 6.00 — Weight 185 — Shoots Left
Selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs in round 1 #7 overall at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft
Nazem Kadri has played 51 career NHL games and by my typical rule he should be considered “graduated”, however I feel that he is still a prospect as he has not really established himself as a full-time NHLer and those 51 games have come as a result of a great many cab rides from the Ricoh Coliseum to the ACC, and back. He is still looking for his place and full time role in the NHL. Kadri dominated the OHL in his last season in London, with 93 points in 56 games. In the AHL he flirts with being a point per game player. He is however wildly inconsistent. He can play an individual game, or get on a hot streak where he is absolutely dominant and near unstoppable at the AHL level. And he can also go through stretches where he struggles and is invisible.
Kadri is a superb skater. He has great edgework, and great agility which allows him to make quick cuts past defenders. He has very good top end speed, and excellent acceleration to reach that speed in just 2 or 3 strides. He could stand to work on his lower body strength and balance as being knocked off the puck can be an issue at times.
Offensively Kadri has an amazing set of moves and some excellent dangles. He is just sublime with the puck on his stick and has the hands to deke out defenders in a phone booth. He is absolutely lethal in the shootout. His stickhandling is so good, that it can sometimes even cause problems, as Kadri needs to learn that he can’t deke out everyone at the NHL level and needs to use his other skills more. This is something that has gotten better though, and Marlies coach Dallas Eakins should get a lot of credit for that improvement. Kadri has a very good release on his wrist shot, and that helps him to score goals, however he could improve the velocity. He is a creative playmaker with excellent vision. Kadri is also not afraid to go to the dirty areas of the ice to make a play and excels when he works in traffic. He goes to the front of the net with the puck and works in the corners trying to get possession and make plays. He does need to get stronger though to win board battles at the NHL level.
Kadri’s defensive game is a big question mark. As alluded to above he can get himself in trouble when he tries to do everything himself offensively, leading to bad turnovers and the ire of NHL coaches. In his own end of the ice he still needs a lot of work, losing his coverage too often, and getting caught puck watching and not moving his feet. There is little doubt that these defensive issues are the major reason Kadri is not yet a full time NHLer.
Kadri will go to the Toronto Maple Leafs camp with an excellent chance to gain a roster spot. With two full years of pro hockey behind this former 7th overall pick, the time to make an impact at the NHL level is here. I would bet that Kadri will be a member of the Leafs out of the gate and will push for more prime ice time going forward. Due to faceoff issues and defensive issues it looks like Kadri’s NHL future may be as a left wing, instead of as a centre.
Top Prospect #2, Joe Colborne, Centre
Born Jan 30 1990 — Calgary, ALTA
Height 6.05 — Weight 213 — Shoots Left
Selected by the Boston Bruins in round 1, #16 overall at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft
Traded to the Toronto Maples Leafs in February 2011
It was an up and down season for Colborne this year. He started off the year very strong for the Marlies and even earned himself a promotion to the Maple Leafs in November where he played nine games. He would also get a one game call-up in April. Colborne played very well in his NHL stints scoring a total of 5 points in those 10 games, including his first NHL goal vs Tampa Bay, all in limited ice time. However the season ended on a down note for Colborne. He went over two months without a goal down the stretch in the AHL, and picked up just 2 goals and 8 points in 15 AHL playoff games. Its is unclear though how much we should make of this slump as Colborne was apparently playing with a badly injured wrist that required surgery this summer.
Colborne is a very good skater for a guy his size. It is rare to find players who are 6’5″ and have the above average top end speed and quick acceleration that Colborne possesses. He also has good agility for a player his size and is unexpectedly deceptive and elusive in the offensive zone. He has tremendous strength and is very difficult to knock off the puck. Add to this a huge wingspan and good soft hands and puck protection and control are the strength of Colborne’s game. He is also an extremely good playmaker with excellent vision and passing ability. Colborne scores goals from having quick hands, he can beat goalies in tight and can capitalize on rebounds and tip ins in front of the net. His great reach is a huge advantage in these areas. Colborne’s wrist shot has good accuracy and velocity, but he could work on his release.
Colborne’s defensive game is a work in progress. For a player his size, you’d really like to see him be more aggressive and take the body more. He doesn’t seem to have a mean streak, and while his size helps him in many ways he doesn’t take full advantage as Colborne just does not play a physical game. He also needs work on the basic fundamentals of defensive hockey in terms of positioning, staying with his man, and keeping the cycle game to the outside.
Barring a huge training camp and preseason, Colborne will likely start the season with Marlies. He needs to dominate in the AHL this year and be prepared for any injury callups that may arise. Time is running short for Colborne as this will be the last season he can be sent to the AHL without first clearing waivers. Colborne needs to prove that he is ready for an NHL job, and with Tim Connolly and Matt Lombardi entering the final year of their contracts with Toronto, the time is now for him to seize this opportunity. He either needs to be in Toronto by the end of the year, or performing so well down the stretch in the AHL that the Leafs have no choice but to pencil him into the Leaf lineup for 2013.
Top Prospect #3, Tyler Biggs, Right Wing
Born Apr 30 1993 — Cincinnati, OH
Height 6.02 — Weight 200 — Shoots Right
Selected by Toronto Maple Leafs round 1 #22 overall 2011 NHL Entry Draft
Biggs graduated from the USNTDP after winning two IIHF U18 gold medals with the club. He was never a big point producer for the club but he played an aggressive physical game. Biggs played last season with the University of Miami where he scored 9 goals and 17 points in 37 games as a freshman. However Biggs has since signed an ELC with the Leafs and announced his intention to play this season for the Oshawa Generals in the OHL.
Biggs is seen by many as a power forward in the making. He has excellent size and plays a robust physical game. A very good skater, Biggs is often in quickly on the forecheck and throws punishing checks to defenders. He causes chaos and panic for opposing defencemen. He is also not afraid to get involved in fights or rough stuff after the whistle and it will be interesting to see how that plays out in the OHL,a league with far more rough stuff than the NCAA. He is certainly not afraid of going to the front of the net or of battling for loose pucks in the corner and with his size is very effective in doing both of those things.
There are questions about Biggs’ ultimate offensive upside. He has a heavy and powerful wrist shot but he can take too long loading it up and his release needs to improve. He also could use quicker hands in close in order to score more goals on tip ins and deflections. His vision is average at best, and he is not a strong playmaker at this point. Biggs has never been a huge point producer, but he’s also never been given prime ice time and linemates either. The Leafs are hoping that given a big role in Oshawa Biggs will show some untapped offensive potential.
Biggs is at least a year or two away before being a serious threat to make the Leafs. As mentioned he will go to Oshawa this year and is likely to be on the America team at the World Junior Championships as well. Long term, Biggs is very likely to be an NHLer as at worst he should become a crash and bang player who provides energy and physicality to bottom lines. The Leafs brass have stated that they think he has more offensive upside and can be a top 6 winger, so it will be something to monitor in the OHL.
Sleeper Pick, Ben Scrivens, Goalie
Born — Spruce Grove, ALTA
Height 6.02 — Weight 192 — Shoots Left
Signed as an undrafted free agent in April 2010.
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Scrivens has been a dominant goaltender at every level he has played at. In 2010, after a brilliant 4 year career at Cornell he was the most sought after undrafted free agent goalie coming out of the NCAA. After signing with the Leafs, Scrivens quickly dominated the ECHL for the Reading Royal, and earned his way up to the Marlies. With the Marlies Scrivens has proven to be one of the top AHL goalies and was absolutely ridiculous for three rounds in the AHL playoffs leding the Marlies to the Western Conference Championship, before running into the juggernaut that was the Norfolk Admirals in the AHL’s Calder Cup Final.
Scrivens has great size and plays a compact and efficient butterfly technique. His legs are extremely quick and he takes away the bottom of the net very well. His lateral movement and puck tracking ability are also very good, and he is very quick on moving side to side to take away one-timer opportunities. Scrivens size helps him to cut down angles, but he is also very aggressive playing at the top of his crease to take away even more space from shooters. Like many young goalies, Scrivens could use a bit better rebound control, especially on hard low shots.
At this point it would appear that Scrivens is number 2 on the Leafs depth chart for this upcoming NHL season. However there is plenty of time before the season starts and their are still rumors swirling that Toronto would like an established number 1 goalie. If they acquire one he will need to beat out James Reimer for the backup position, and this will be a tough task for Scrivens, but not impossible.
When Brian Burke took over the Leafs four years ago, the prospect pipeline was bare. He has built an impressive stable of prospects that is extremely deep. There are a number of talented players who I just don’t have the space to give a full review to. I’ll give a few quick point form notes though.
Greg McKegg: A pure sniper, the talented centre played very well after being traded to the London Knights. Great shot, great release. Potential top 6 talent. Unclear at this point if he will be a centre or a winger at the pro level. Needs to work on his defence in the AHL.
Stuart Percy: Cerebral two way defender. He has excellent hockey sense and great poise. Concussion this season slowed his development. He won’t wow you with any one particular skill but is solid in all aspects.
Korbinian Holzer: Defensive stalwart in the AHL. Very solid in his own end of the ice and played against other teams top lines for the Western Conference Champion Marlies. Is very close to cracking an NHL Roster as a defensive dman.
Brad Ross: The heir to the Darcy Tucker throne in Toronto. Super pest, super annoying, and brings a little bit of secondary offence as well. He might be the definition of Truculence.
Jesse Blacker: A great skating defenceman who is very good at bringing the offence from the back end. Needs to learn when to pick his spots, when to pinch and when to join the rush without getting caught. Just finished his first year in the AHL. He needs more time with the Marlies, but the upside on this defenceman is tremendous.
Add to the players reviewed names like Jerry D’amigo, Mark Owuya, Carter Ashton, Leo Komarov, Nicolas Deschamps, and Jussi Rynnas and we can clearly see that the Leafs system has the kind of deep prospect pool that can rival any other team in the National Hockey League. This was clearly seen in the excellent performance of the Toronto Marlies this season, who were a top AHL club all season long and who went all the way to the Calder Cup Final before losing to Norfolk. However the team still has some issues. The pool may be deep, but it lacks elite prospects especially at forward. The only elite prospect in the system is Morgan Rielly. There are question marks around top prospects like Kadri and Colborne and it is unclear if any of the Leafs forward prospects will become elite offensive producers. Four years after he left the team for the Vancouver Canucks, Toronto continues to search for the player who will take the place of Mats Sundin as their main man down the middle. This is the difference between the absolute top systems in the NHL who feature both elite talent and depth, and the Leafs whose prospect pool will be ranked in the next tier down in my final rankings.
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