Several Leafs Prospects to Watch at World Juniors

The World Junior Hockey Championship gives hockey lovers some of the best hockey around. The ten day tournament is very popular in Canada, and with the assistance of its Canadian broadcaster TSN, has transformed into an annual hockey must-see comparable in anticipation level to the Super Bowl or March Madness in the United States. The tournament is a great showcase of ten nations’ top prospects, ranging from blue chip NHL draft picks, to underdog prospects trying to get recognized by the bevy of scouts in attendance, to young, talented, draft eligible players looking to improve their projected ranking.

Most teams send at least a prospect or two to the WJC every year, and Toronto is no exception. This year, Toronto is sending three prospects to the tournament: Canadian Frederik Gauthier, Swede Andreas Johnson, and Swiss player Fabrice Herzog. All three were selected in this year’s draft and all are looking to prove themselves to Leafs brass and move their way up the organizational depth chart. The following is a profile of each, their potential, and what they hope to gain/prove the most in Malmo.

Frederik Gauthier, Centre  6’5  214 lbs  Rimouski QMJHL 29 GP  7 G, 17 A

Frederik Gauthier was Toronto’s first round choice (21st overall) in last year’s draft. The general consensus on Gauthier is he has good hockey sense, is a superb defensive player for his age, and is good on faceoffs. One concern with him being he needs to step up his physicality and use his big frame more.

Perhaps the area of most mystery with him is his offensive potential. He has all the defensive tools to become a great bottom six shutdown forward at worst, however, if he develops his offensive game more, he could become a two-way second line power forward. The opportunity to display his offensive game to the hockey world and observing members of the Maple Leafs’ brass is what Gauthier would most like to prove at this year’s WJC in Sweden. So far, he has 1 assist in 2 games, and is playing an effective role on Canada’s energy line.

 

Andreas Johnson, Winger   5’10  176 lbs  Frolunda SHL 32 GP  14 G, 8 A

Drafted in the seventh round (202nd overall) in the 2013 draft, Johnson is a player that has flown under the radar, most likely due to his smaller stature. He is described on eliteprospects.com as: a fast-skating winger with very good hands and vision. “[He] can set plays up as well as take the shot himself. Plays with lots of energy [and] is a very nifty stickhandler.”

The last two seasons, Johnson has impressed with his offensive skills. In 42 games in the Swedish U-20 SuperElit league, he scored 23 G, 31 A. He made the Frolunda’s men’s league (SHL) team, where young players are usually sheltered and do not produce right away. Johnson has bucked this trend, and with 22 points in 32 games, and looks to be in the mix for SHL Rookie of the Year.

Through his first two games at the WJC, he has 2 G, 2A, and if he keeps up his level of offensive play and his size doesn’t hold him back, he could be a top six forward in the future. Johnson hopes to improve at this year’s tournament that his size will not play a factor in limiting his productivity.

 

Fabrice Herzog, Winger   6’2  198 lbs  Quebec QMJHL 34 GP  20 G, 9 A

Herzog was another pick from the Leafs’ draft of 2013. Picked in the fifth round (142nd overall), Herzog is another project player with a long-term development curve.

According to Leafs’ Head Scout Dave Morrison in a Toronto Sun Article: “He’s big, he can skate, he’s not afraid of physical play, and he goes hard to the net.”

Herzog appears to be a low risk/high reward player. His stats for a first year major junior player adjusting to the North American game are good, and he will try to play a key role on a Swiss World Junior team lacking offensive firepower. His performance at this tournament will be a perfect opportunity for him to establish himself as a legitimate prospect in Toronto’s pipeline.

 

There is a common theme among all Toronto prospects: they all have something to prove. The purpose of junior hockey is to develop young players and although there is a lot of national pride on the line, the World Juniors provide a great opportunity for these young prospects to learn in a pressure situation. This is a very exciting time for Leafs fans, as we will learn a bit more about what the team has in these three players, and can possibly capture a glimpse of what the future beholds.

 

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