Some of you who visit and post here at VLM have put forward some intriguing thoughts lately regarding "prospects"- you know, the names of young kids in the Leaf system who might take up residence on the big club’s bench at some point down the road.
Compared with any point in the last decade (or more), we certainly seem to have any number of promising young apple-cheeked forwards and defensemen who will be vying for a roster spot in the near future. For some it will be as soon as training camp in September; for others, it may be more of a two to three-year window of opportunity to see if they will “stick”.
Those of you who visit VLM know I’m no expert on our prospects. Oh, I’ve seen a number of them play, but I don’t follow the junior ranks as I once did, and though I catch the Marlies on television on occasion, I’m not the best judge of what we have in the pipeline. (You likely already know some of the other sites that provide far better information in this regard than I can—sites like Maple Leaf Hot Stove, Blue Chip Prospects, Hope in the Big Smoke and of course Pension Plan Puppets all spring to mind…Leafs Nation, and TML Fans, too.) But I do know we now have some kids who can play, who are in the up-and-coming category.
So in the spirit of some optimistic summertime Leaf banter, let's bat around the names of the Leaf prospects that you have been following and are truly excited about. (I realize there is a point at which a young player is no longer a “prospect”—Jake Gardiner comes to mind. He’s heading into his third full season here so for me, even though he spent a good part of this past season with the Marlies, he is past that developmental stage I’m talking about today. Colborne and Kadri are excluded for me as well. That doesn't mean they aren't still being developed and won't improve, simply that they are no longer just "prospects".)
Still, there are plenty of other names that would meet the rather broad criteria I’m establishing for this discussion. The players should be no older than 22, and be someone you’ve seen play in person at some point or a lot on television, or at least have been reading about and following for a while. Beyond that, the reasoning for your choice is your own. Maybe you think the player you have in mind will be exciting to watch, like a Phil Kessel. Perhaps you believe they will bring a pugnacious attitude, or will be a fantastic shutdown defenseman. Whatever traits you like, it’s your call.
Some of the obvious candidates (players that those who know their stuff have talked to me about in recent months) include:
Truth be told, if I had to pick one player (and this one is too easy, I realize) I have to admit I am a bit caught up in the Rielly fanfare. Like most of you, I've seen him play a few times now and it's hard to imagine he won't be a really, really, good NHL player. But again, I’m looking to you for input here. I’ve provided a list but there are others that I’m not even aware of, I’m sure, that could be mentioned. If there is a hidden gem out there that some of us may not be aware of, or may not have seen enough to recognize their long-term potential to be a big-time Leaf, let the readership here know.
Think on this, and let me know the one (two at most) players who you are really looking forward to seeing in blue and white, and who you feel will be significant contributors at the NHL level.
This is the time of year to think happy thoughts, so let’s go for it….