One of the goals for the Toronto Maple Leafs recently when drafting a player is to avoid potential risk and take a skater who could be an asset down the road for the club. Now, an asset to a team can be useful in numerous ways, especially as trade bait, but it would be nice if one of those assets were able to crack the roster of the blue and white someday. The only problem is that, with their draft history, the Leafs have struggled to turn these supposed assets into quality talent for the team. Since the 2004-05 lockout, the only draft picks (outside first round selections Luke Schenn, Nazem Kadri, and Morgan Rielly) to make any sort of lasting impact in Toronto were Carl Gunnarsson and James Reimer.
This isn’t going to be a piece that bashes the drafting history of the Maple Leafs, but instead a piece to look at recent draft choices who just may be able to prove their worth to management and the fans in LeafsNation.
At the moment, the Leafs forward lines look something like this:
James van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Phil Kessel
Joffrey Lupul – Nazem Kadri – David Clarkson
Leo Komarov – Mike Santorelli – ???
??? – ??? – ???
It is very unlikely any changes happen among the first two lines. The chemistry and point production between JVR-Bozak-Kessel has made them a lock to play together again next season. The second line could change, but barring a trade for another offensively gifted player (unlikely as the Leafs are nearing the salary cap), it is likely this line could stay together. Also, Komarov and Santorelli were brought to Toronto to help with their dreadful penalty kill. After that though, the final spot on the third line and the entire fourth line remain open.
The most likely options would see the recently re-acquired Matt Frattin on that third line, with a fourth line that could feature Troy Bodie (who has easily made Colton Orr expendable) and free agent signing Petri Kontiola moved to the wing between Peter Holland. Nothing is set in stone though, so here are a few younger prospects who will be competing for roster spots come September.
Prospects who Could Crack Leafs Roster
William Nylander – The scouting report on the Leafs first round pick this past June is that he has a tremendous offensive upside. Nylander has said that he wants to be a Maple Leaf next season, though unless he plays on one of the top two lines, it would be a mistake to waste his offensive talents by rushing him onto a team to play third/fourth line minutes. Plus, Clarkson should be given another chance. Fans were upset when the highly paid Clarkson did not produce, but what do you expect when he played the majority of the season on the third line with Nikolai Kulemin and Holland/Trevor Smith (not to mention no PP time) after playing the past two years with the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise (with PP time included).
Frederik Gauthier – When the Leafs selected the 6’5 centerman in June 2013, they were already projecting he would be a third-line center. While the hulking center from the QMJHL’s Rimouski Oceanic saw his offensive numbers decline in 2013-14, reports say the Leafs are impressed by the improvement in his two-way game. He will likely have to compete with Holland and Smith for a roster spot, but after a solid playoff with Rimouski, if he can play well in the rookie camp and pre-season, Gauthier could make the big club.
Josh Leivo – Leivo was one of the reasons why the Toronto Marlies over-achieved last season. 2013-14 was a coming out party of sorts for Leivo. When given the chance, he excelled on the power-play and also used his great wrist-shot and big body to produce 23 goals, which was second on the Marlies. He could fit in well on that third line with Komaron and Santorelli, a line that could shutdown opponents and provide a little offense, but he will need to beat out Frattin and Carter Ashton, who has transitioned well into a bottom-six type of forward, to make the team.
Sam Carrick – Carrick may have been the hardest working player on the Marlies last season. He can do it all at both ends of the ice. Offensively he improved from 4 PTS in 19GP with a -2 rating to 35 PTS in 62 GP, and a +17 rating. He was also a major reason why the Marlies penalty kill was successful, and even notched two shorthanded goals. Though he may not be the biggest guy on the roster, he plays a heart and soul game each and every night, almost like a Darcy Tucker type of player (Carrick also had 115 PIMs). The only problem is that he is a center, so he may have to move to the wing if he wants to make the lineup for October.
Defensively and in goal, it is unlikely to see a Leafs draft pick make the team, though there are scenarios where it could happen. If one of Jake Gardiner or Cody Franson are not re-signed and are let go/traded (or if Gardiner is moved to forward), then Stuart Percy and Petter Granberg could make a run at making the team. In his first full season in the AHL, Percy excelled when handed the responsibility of more ice time with duties on the power-play and penalty kill. For Granberg, it was his first full season in North America, and though he was shaky in the rookie camp, he quickly adapted to the North American style and became a worthy shutdown-defenseman. Only problem is that while they succeeded in their one, full AHL year, wil Percy and Granberg continue with quality play at the NHL level?
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