Welcome to the 2018 Top Shelf Prospects series. As we go through the Summer of 2018 LWOH will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. We will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks) and you can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, we will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2018 draft, as there have been no games since then, and our reports on them will not have changed.
What we 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 2018-19 roster of the NHL team in question. We 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 we pick as our dark horse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played (including playoff games) or is 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and we may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
Toronto Maple Leafs Prospects
The Toronto Maple Leafs took another step forward last season. Some critics felt that the team, which returned to the playoffs in 2017, might suffer if their youngsters had a sophomore slump. That was not to be, as the Leafs put up 105 points and finished third in the Atlantic Division, and sixth in the NHL. With the playoff format though, the Leafs faced the Boston Bruins in the first round. While they put up a brave fight, it ultimately was not enough as they lost in seven games.
The Leafs off-season saw a blockbuster, as the team signed the biggest free agent fish that the league has seen in the salary cap era and maybe ever. John Tavares inked a seven-year deal with Toronto. They also made some minor moves in adding Tyler Ennis, Adam Cracknell, Josh Jooris, Par Lindholm, Igor Ozhiganov, and Jesper Lindgren. The team also said goodbye to long-time Leafs Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk, and Leo Komarov. There were also front office changes. Kyle Dubas replaces Lou Lamoriello as general manager, Mark Hunter left the organization and returns to the London Knights. Dubas also made a number of front-office hires, putting his stamp on the team’s management group.
2018 NHL Draft Picks: Rasmus Sandin, Sean Durzi, Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, Riley Stotts, Mac Hollowell, Filip Kral, Pontus Holmberg, Zachary Bouthillier, Semyon Kizimov
Graduations: Kasperi Kapanen, Josh Leivo, Garret Sparks (age)
Top Prospect: Timothy Liljegren
Defence — shoots Right
Born April 30th, 1999 — Kristianstad, Sweden
Height 6’0″ — Weight 190 lbs [183 cm / 86 kg]
Drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1st round, #17 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
Liljegren had a strong first season in the AHL, especially considering that he was one of the youngest players in the league. He put up one goal and 17 points in 44 games. He played 20 playoff games, putting up four assists as the Marlies won the Calder Cup. Liljegren also won silver with Sweden at the World Juniors, putting up two points in seven games.
Liljegren is an elite skater. He moves well both forwards and backwards, with excellent speed and acceleration. He also has very good edgework and pivots. As such he can cover a ton of ice. Liljegren can make offensive plays rushing the puck, or pinching in at the blue line; but still has the speed to get back defensively. He also has good balance and lower-body strength. This helps him to win his battles along the boards and in front of the net. When carrying the puck, he is tough to knock off of it.
Liljegren has the poise and smarts to quarterback a power play. He has excellent vision and makes good passes to set things up at the line. Liljegren finds the open man and makes tape-to-tape passes through tight areas. He can also make the long breakout pass to hit a teammate streaking through the neutral zone. Liljegren is a very good stick handler. He can move the puck out of danger and avoid forecheckers when starting the transition game. He also has the ability to make plays leading the rush or to join the rush as a trailer. Liljegren’s has high hockey IQ, as he makes almost always makes the smart play with the puck.
Liljegren also has an excellent shot. His slap shot has great power, and he has the ability to get it through traffic and on the net. He can really hammer a laser when he is given a good pass for a one-timer. He also can vary things up with a quick release and accurate wrist shot. Liljegren usually keeps his shot low, looking for teammates to get deflections and rebounds.
Liljegren’s defensive game is very advanced for a teenager, however, there is still plenty of room to improve. He uses his strong skating ability and quick feet to contain his opponent and maintains good gap control. His stick is quick and he can create turnovers by poking a puck away from an opponent or through intercepting a pass. Liljegren could stand to be a bit more physical though. He’s He already has decent muscle mass but could add a little more.
The Leafs would love Liljegren to take a big step forward over the off-season and be NHL ready for the fall. A high-potential right-handed defenceman, he could be the answer to their biggest need. That is not likely to happen though. Liljegren still needs more time in the AHL. He spent last season adjusting to the size of the North American rink, as well as the speed and size of pro players. He needs more ice time and to continue to round out his game at both ends. It would be a successful season, and a realistic goal, if he could take a big step forward this year and be NHL ready for 2019-20.
#2 Prospect: Travis Dermott
Defence — shoots Left
Born December 22nd, 1996 — Newmarket, Ontario
Height 6’0″ — Weight 208 lbs [183 cm / 94 kg]
Drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2nd round, #34 overall, at the 2015 NHL Draft
Dermott had an outstanding season. He started in the AHL, earned an NHL call-up in January, solidified his spot with the big club, and only returned to the AHL after the Leafs were out of the playoffs. He then helped the Marlies to the Calder Cup. Dermott had a goal and 13 points in 37 regular-season games with the Leafs, plus a goal in their seven playoff games. He had two goals and 18 points in 28 regular-season games with the Marlies, and a goal and four points in 14 playoff games.
Dermott is a very good skater. He has impressive speed and acceleration in both directions. He also has a very quick first step which allows him to be first on loose pucks. With his good pivots, edgework and agility he is able to transition from offence to defence, or vice-versa, quickly. This skating ability also helps him to cover a ton of ice. His agility and edgework also help him to walk the line in the offensive zone, opening up shooting and passing lanes. Dermott might not be the biggest player, but he has a strong lower body and is solid on his skates, helping him to win board battles and to clear the front of the net. While he does well against most players, he still struggles with the exceptionally big forwards though just due to the sheer size and strength mismatch.
Dermott’s biggest asset is his hockey sense. His positioning at both ends of the ice is extremely strong. He reads the play well and picks the right times to pinch in at the blue line, to join the rush, or to look to step up and make a hit. With the puck on his stick, he is able to avoid danger with good poise as well as decent stick handling. He uses his vision to make a strong first pass. He can also control the play and quarterback things from the point on the power play.
His shot could use more power, but he gets it through traffic. He also keeps it low and on the net, looking for screens, deflections and tip-ins. He almost always has his head up and looking for the right play, which he makes on most occasions. Dermott is not the type of puck-rushing defenceman to try and go coast-to-coast. He follows up on plays to unleash a wrist shot or one-timer as a trailer.
Dermott is a solid defensive player. His strong positioning and skating allow him to maintain excellent gap control and funnel attackers to the outside of the ice. He is also quick on the puck, retrieving it out of the corners or pouncing on rebounds and clearing them out of danger. Dermott is an absolutely fearless shot blocker, willing to put his body on the line to help the team win.
Dermott did not look out of place in the NHL last year. He should be a full-time NHL player this year. If his development continues, he could be a top-four defenceman for the Leafs for many years.
#3 Prospect: Andreas Johnsson
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born November 21st, 1994 — Gavle, Sweden
Height 5’10” — Weight 180 lbs [178 cm / 82 kg]
Drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 7th round, #202 overall, at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft
Johnsson had a dream season. He put up 54 points in 54 AHL games, earning a late season call-up to the Leafs. In the NHL, he put up two goals and three points in nine regular season games, and a goal and assist in six playoff games. Following the Leafs elimination, he put up 10 goals and 24 points in 16 AHL Playoff games, winning playoff MVP, and leading the Marlies to the Calder Cup.
Johnson is an absolute speedster. He has tremendous speed and acceleration, making him extremely dangerous in the transition game. If defencemen aren’t paying attention, a turnover by one of their team’s forwards can quickly become a stretch pass and a breakaway. This threat is present every time Johnsson is on the ice. His agility and edgework is above average, allowing Johnsson the ability to maneuver through traffic both with and without the puck. His lower body strength makes him strong on his skates and gives him good balance. This certainly helps him in puck battles along the boards and in establishing his position in front of the net.
Johnsson is a goal scorer. He has a hard and accurate wrist shot and a very quick release. His one-timer shows good power and accuracy as well. He also has an excellent backhand, and will often take a shot with his backhand when he is buzzing around the zone. He has good hockey sense and the ability to get open in the offensive zone. Johnsson finds a way to get open in dangerous areas of the ice when he does not have the puck. He is not afraid to get to the dirty areas of the ice and fight for his spot in front of the net.
Johnsson is also a very slick stick handler and this helps him to protect the puck and extend plays. He is always chasing the puck and constantly forechecking hard, and involved in battles along the boards which he is able to do quite well in for his size. If there is an issue in his offensive game, its that he always thinking to shoot the puck, and can sometimes pass up good opportunities to pass to an open teammate, instead, taking a lower percentage shot.
Johnsson is a strong defensive player. He is tenacious on the backcheck, pressuring puck carriers, and he knows how to get himself into good positions. He cuts down passing lanes with an active stick and is willing to sacrifice and block shots. It would not be surprising to see him used on the Leafs penalty kill, even as a rookie.
Johnsson has shown that he is ready for NHL action. There is nothing left for him to do in the AHL. He will likely start out in the Leafs bottom-six. The main question here is one about how good he can be. Will Johnsson’s AHL offense translate to the NHL and can he be a top-six forward at that level?
#4 Prospect: Rasmus Sandin
The Maple Leafs drafted Sandin with the 29th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Sandin. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#5 Prospect: Carl Grundstrom
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born December 1st, 1997 — Umea, Sweden
Height 6’0″ — Weight 194 lbs [183 cm/88 kg]
Drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2nd round, #57 overall at the 2016 NHL Draft
Grundstrom put up 17 goals and 24 points in 35 games with Frolunda in the SHL. He also added two goals in six playoff games and two goals and an assist in seven Champions League games. After the Swedish season, he joined the Marlies, scoring a goals and two assists in three regular season games and eight goals and 14 points in 20 playoff games.
Grundstrom plays a simple game, but a highly effective one. Grundstrom is a quick skater who has good acceleration and gets up and down the wing quickly. He gets in quickly on the forecheck and lays punishing hits on defenders who go back to retrieve the puck. Grundstrom has decent edgework and agility. His stride shows good power, and he has a strong lower body leading to good balance. Grundstrom is able to fight through checks and get to the front of the net.
Grundstrom is a pure goal scorer. He loves to shoot the puck and does so whenever he gets the opportunity. Grundstrom has a heavy wrist shot that can give goaltenders issues. He also has a quick release. He uses his skating to take defenders wide and cut to the net. However, if they have backed off to respect his speed, he is willing to use them as a screen and fire the puck on net.
Grundstrom works hard on the cycle game, using his body to protect the puck and extending plays for his teammates. He is not the most creative player, preferring to make the simple play rather than attempt to deke an opponent or feather a pass through a small opening. This is not always a bad thing though, just ask most coaches who often prefer his type of responsible game. He is not afraid to get involved in the physical game, battling hard in the corners and in front of the net.
Grundstrom is a good defensive player. He understands positioning and brings his physical, gritty style to his own zone. He reads the play well and gets his stick into passing lanes, and gets his body into shooting lanes. Once he does create a turnover, he is quick to transition this to offence. Grundstrom has often been used as a penalty killer by his international coaches. He often irritates his opponents and seems to bring out the worst in them, drawing penalties and getting them off their game.
Grundstrom is expected to play his first full season in North America. Expect to see him get plenty of time with the Marlies, as the deep Leafs forward group is tough to crack. Grundstrom could see some NHL time as a call-up if injuries hit. He is a year or two away from being an NHL regular but adds a unique element with his skill and ability to be a pest.
#6 Prospect: Yegor Korshkov
Right Wing — shoots Left
Born July 10th, 1996 — Novosibirsk, Russia
Height 6’4″ — Weight 180 lbs [193 cm / 82 kg]
Drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2nd round, #31 overall, at the 2016 NHL Draft
Korshkov continues to show slight improvements in his KHL numbers every year. He put up eight goals and 26 points in 52 games last season, career highs across the board. He also put up a goal and an assist in nine playoff games.
Korshkov has decent speed and good acceleration. He is strong on his skates. Korshkov has good balance. He uses that to win battles in the corners, to establish his position in front of the net, and to fight through checks. He has the agility to go with his stick-handling and beat defenders in one-on-one. Korshkov is dangerous off the rush, as he can go wide on a defender and drive the net even if being checked.
Korshkov has excellent size but will need to add some muscle to his frame. He is an excellent playmaker, as he uses excellent stickhandling skill to slow the play down and wait for teammates to get open. With his speed as a threat, defenders are forced to back off and Korshkov can make passes through the open passing lanes. He uses his body to win battles on the boards and to protect the puck in the cycle game. This should get even better as he grows into his body and gets stronger. He has high-end hockey IQ and almost always seems to make the smart play with the puck on his stick.
Korshkov has a decent wrist shot. He could still improve its power and get a quicker release though. He scores most of his goals in tight to the net, where his size helps him establish position, and he can use his quick hands to finish plays. Korshkov can score on rebounds, tip-ins, and by quickly one-timing a teammate’s pass into the net.
Korshkov brings his gritty game to the defensive end. He can support the defence down low and help protect against the cycle. He is also a young player, and still makes some mistakes in positioning and in being too aggressive in going after the puck at times. This is coachable though, as he shows effort. His long stick is effective in cutting down passing lanes.
Korshkov has not signed an entry-level deal with the Leafs and is still under contract in the KHL. EliteProspects indicates that his contract ends after the 2018-19 season. If he has another strong season in Russia, he could get a contract with Leafs at the end of the year.
#7 Prospect: Sean Durzi
The Maple Leafs drafted Durzi with the 52nd overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Durzi. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#8 Prospect: Jeremy Bracco
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born March 17th, 1997 — Freeport, New York
Height 5’10” — Weight 190 lbs [178 cm/86 kg]
Drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2nd round, #61 overall at the 2015 NHL Draft
Bracco had a solid first regular season with the Marlies, scoring six goals and 32 points in 50 games, though he didn’t always get the most ice time. Late in the season, he had 11 points in his final 12 games. However, he added just one goal in four playoff games. As the Leafs sent players like Johnsson and Grundstrom to the Marlies, Bracco was squeezed out of ice time and was a healthy scratch through much of the AHL playoffs.
The biggest knock on Jeremy Bracco is his size, as he’s just 5-foot-10. For an undersized player to succeed in the NHL today, he must be a great skater. Bracco meets that requirement. He has very good top-end speed and excellent acceleration to go along with it. Bracco also has outstanding edgework, and the agility to avoid defenders both on the rush and when working in the zone. His balance and power are good. He added lower body strength since his draft year, but must add more as he now competes against bigger, stronger opponents in the pros.
Bracco also has great hands and this combined with his skating makes him extremely dangerous off the rush. He sees the ice very well and has strong passing skills, making him an ideal playmaker. Defenders must respect his ability to take them wide and cut to the net, and when they back off he can use the increased time and space to create passing lanes and find open teammates. Bracco also has excellent hockey sense. He makes smart plays with the puck on his stick and is able to find open areas without it.
Bracco has a decent wrist shot and a good release but sometimes seems a little too hesitant to shoot. He has the good hands to finish in close and get deflections and rebounds. Overall he must get stronger to win more battles on the boards and to be able to succeed with his frame, though he is not afraid to get to the dirty areas of the ice. He might get knocked down by bigger defencemen but you will find Bracco right back in the corners or in front of the net later on the very same shift. He has a relentless energy in the offensive zone.
Bracco’s defensive game could use some work and this led to a lack of trust from coaches in the AHL playoffs. He needs to be more consistent in his effort on the backcheck as he can have a tendency to puck watch at times and doesn’t always keep his feet moving. He also can fly the zone a little early at times, trying to get things started in the transition game at the expense of defensive responsibilities. This is something that should improve with some maturity and experience.
Bracco has the offensive talent to succeed but must continue to round out his game. Expect him to be back with the Marlies next season. He will likely get a bigger role and more ice time than he got this past season. The Leafs hope that Bracco can improve his offensive production and push for a spot down the road. He is a long-term project.
#9 Prospect: Andreas Borgman
Defence — shoots Left
Born June 18th, 1995 — Stockholm, Sweden
Height 6’0″ — Weight 212 lbs [183 cm / 96 kg]
Signed by the Leafs as an undrafted free agent in May 2017.
With 48 NHL games played last year, Andreas Borgman still qualifies as a Leafs prospect for the purposes of this series. He made the Leafs out of camp and put up three goals and 11 assists last year. He also played in 25 games with the Marlies, scoring four goals and nine points. Borgman played just two AHL playoff games after he was injured in the Marlies first-round series with Syracuse.
Borgman is a decent skater. He has decent speed and acceleration in both directions. Borgman has a powerful lower body that helps him to win battles along the boards and clear the front of the net. He has good balance and is tough to knock off the puck. His agility and edgework are adequate but can be challenged by quick forward
Borgman has some offensive ability. He has a good slap shot and does a pretty good job of getting it through traffic and on the net. Borgman’s wrist shot is an even bigger weapon than his slap shot. It has good power but it is his quick release that really makes it effective when he sneaks down from the point. He also makes a decent first pass out of his zone. He can even through the long home run pass if a forward gets behind the defence. Borgman’s passing skills at the blue line are decent, as is his stickhandling ability and poise with the puck. He does a good job of moving the puck to the open man.
Borgman is also able to skate the puck out of danger in his own zone. He can even lead the rush up the ice. Borgman is not afraid to take chances and is willing to join the rush to get a scoring chance. He is also willing to pinch at the blueline to keep plays alive in the offensive zone.
Borgman’s defensive game is a bit of an issue. He plays a physical style and is willing to throw a big hit but needs to pick his spots better. He can get out of position looking for that hit and leave his man open. He also can get caught flat-footed by particularly quick opposing forwards. His work in battles along the boards and in front of the net is good. Overall, Borgman needs to improve his defensive game in order to be a full-time NHL player going forward.
Borgman played a lot of games for the Leafs early last season but didn’t get another game after being sent down in February. There is some question if there is room for him on the roster this year. It seems unlikely if everyone is healthy. However, Borgman could get some NHL time if injuries hit. He is still young enough that he could take a step forward and work his way up to being an NHL regular.
#10 Prospect: Calle Rosen
Defence — shoots Left
Born February 2nd, 1994 — Vaxjo, Sweden
Height 6’1″ — Weight 195 lbs [185 cm/88 kg]
Signed by the Leafs as an undrafted free agent in May 2017.
Rosen was signed by the Leafs at the same time as Borgman. He also made the roster out of training camp but was sent down to the Marlies after just four NHL games. Rosen played 62 games in the AHL with four goals and 22 points. He took his game up a notch in the AHL playoffs and put up five goals and 11 points in 16 games.
Rosen is a slick skater. He has a very quick first step, excellent speed in both directions, and very good acceleration. He also has superb edgework and pivots. This allows Rosen to transition from defence-to-offence quickly and vice-versa and really helps him to play a two-way game. He also has the agility to keep himself in front of attackers as well as to walk the line in the offensive zone and open up passing and shooting lanes. He needs to get stronger in his lower body, which would improve his balance and make him tougher to knock off the puck.
Rosen moves the puck well. He has good vision and head-mans the puck effectively to start the transition game. He can also retrieve dump-ins and skate the puck out of danger. Rosen is not as big a risk taker and does not join the rush often though. He picks his spots to join the play as a trailer effectively. Rosen makes simple plays at the offensive blue-line and keeps the puck moving. He showed better poise as the season went along and was at his best in the playoffs. Early in the year, he seemed to rush things a bit in the offensive end. His shot is decent, but not overpowering.
Rosen’s skating allows him to keep attackers in front of him and funnel them to the outside and into bad shooting angles. His quick stick is effective in poke checking opponents and creating turnovers. Once a turnover is created, he transitions it quickly to offence. Rosen reads the play well and maintains a good position. His biggest deficiency is a lack of size and strength, which can hurt in battles for loose pucks in the corners as well as in front of the net.
Rosen is in a similar spot to Borgman. It will be tough for Rosen to crack the Leafs roster out of training camp if all the defensemen are healthy. He will likely start with the Marlies, where it will be a constant competition to be in contention for the next call-up if an injury occurs. Whatever Marlies defenceman is playing best at the time, is the one likely to get the call.
Sleeper Prospect: Pierre Engvall
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born May 31st, 1996 — Ljungby, Sweden
Height 6’3″ — Weight 190 lbs [191 cm / 86 kg]
Drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 7th round, #188 overall, at the 2014 NHL Draft
A former seventh-round pick, Engvall had seven goals and 20 points with HV71 in the SHL last year. He also earned an entry-level contract with the Leafs and joined the Marlies at the end of the year. He put up four goals and eight points in nine regular season games, as well as three goals and eight points in 20 playoff games.
Engvall is not the fastest skater, but he is not slow by any means either. Given his height, 6-foot-4, he skates better than one might expect. He also has good agility and edgework, making quick cuts with and without the puck. Engvall needs to improve his strength though. This will give him better balance as well as making him tougher to knock off the puck.
Engvall protects the puck well with his long stick. He can work the cycle game and make creative passes to his teammates. He sees the ice well and anticipates his teammate’s movements. Engvall is a playmaker off the wing who can pass the puck through tight areas. He opens up passing lanes with quick changes of direction. Envall can also score goals with a good wrist shot and quick release. He also has a decent slap shot.
At 6-foot-4, many assume that Engvall will be a physical presence. However, he needs to get better in battles along the boards. He is not a really physical player and his lack of strength can be an issue. This will be the biggest area he needs to improve to adjust to the North American game.
Engvall is responsible and effective in his own end of the rink. He is willing to get involved in the backcheck but this is another area where he can improve with more muscle on his frame. His long stick helps to cut down passing lanes and can create turnovers. He has good positioning and is not afraid to block shots.
With a deep forward group on the Maple Leafs, it is likely that Engvall will start with the Marlies. The 22-year-old will need to adjust to North American ice and to produce in the AHL before he gets his NHL opportunity.
The Leafs best youngsters are no longer considered prospects, but instead are NHL superstars in Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner. Despite this, the system is strong. It may not have many true “blue-chip” level prospects. In fact, there is only one in Liljegren. However, the Leafs have a deep system, that has some quality at nearly every position. The weakest spot appears to be at centre but that doesn’t seem too big a deal given the fact that the Leafs have Matthews, Tavares, and Nazem Kadri at the NHL level.
At forward, the Leafs added Semyon Der-Arguchintsev and Riley Stotts in the 2018 Draft. They join Pierre Engvall, Adam Brooks, Mason Marchment, Dakota Joshua, Dmytro Timashov, and Trevor Moore as other notable forwards in the Toronto system.
On the blue line, the Leafs added Mac Hollowell and Filip Kral to their system. The system also includes Eemeli Rasanen, Jesper Lindgren, Fedor Gordeev, J.D. Greenway, and Andrew Nielsen.
In goal, the Leafs top prospect is Joseph Woll. They also have Ian Scott and newly drafted Zachary Bouthillier.