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The Maple Leafs in-waiting—the most exciting Leaf prospect?

After my recent post on the newest MLSE executive who shall today remain nameless (I said what I have to say the other day; I’ll move on for now…) I wanted to chat about something more positive and hopeful.

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:

  • Finn
  • Leivo
  • Broll
  • Sparks
  • Rielly
  • Blacker
  • Granberg
  • Percy
  • Ashton
  • Biggs
  • Devane
  • D’Amigo

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….


  1. I am potentially excited about Reilly as well Michael, but sincerely hope he does NOT make the roster this year. Why? To me that would speak more to the weakness of the current roster, rather than to Reilly's skills which still have plenty of time to develop, thanks. It would also seem to be a sign of more meddling by management which we can ill afford...

    The only other name on the list I have anything to say about is D'Amigo, who poses a bit of a conundrum to me. 2 years ago he took the Marlies on his back and carried them to the finals, yet didn't do much for the Marlies this past year and hasn't shown much at the NHL level. While he may be potential Captain material for the Marlies, as we've seen with Ryan Hamilton, AHL Captains rarely amount to much in terms of NHL assets, other than perhaps on the trading block...

    1. I think you know my feelings on Rielly, Sean- like you, I'd much rather he spend his final year in junior playing out west, being a mainstay on Team Canada, etc. and then join the Marlies at the end of his junior schedule.

      As for D'Amigo, I noticed his apparent drop-off last season. Not sure if he has reached his celling, or needs a new challenge...

  2. I think Rielly is by far the best prospect on this list. I'm of two minds on whether he should be on the roster this year or not. I really don't see the point of him going back to Moose Jaw. I could see him on another CHL team but to go back to Moose Jaw could really hurt his development. The Warriors are a really bad team that struggles to make ends meet in the CHL. Last year they refused to trade Rielly to a better team because without him they couldn't sell tickets and are hard pressed to make money. Going back to play for a last place team that has no hope of being even mediocre and refuses to trade him is not really an ideal situation. Getting your brains beat in night after night is not going to help him get better and in fact could lead to bad habits setting in. Another year in junior in the right situation could be good for him I'm just not sure Moose Jaw is that situation.

    The other two names that jump out to me are Finn and Blacker. I think this year Blacker is going to take a big step forward and while probably playing for the Marlies is going to get top two ice time. I expect him to be a main stay on the Leafs in a year or so. I think his skill level and compete level are going to make him a very good two way dman.

    Finn intrigues me. An early second round pick that was rated by almost every draft report I saw as a mid to late first rounder I think the Leafs may have got a gem in a steal. The only reason he fell was because a lot of the late first round pick teams were looking for forwards and had lots of dmen in the system. His falling down the draft was more a situational thing than a referendum on his skills from everything I have read. Last year was a giant waste of a year for the guy. Hit by injuries and dealing with a severe case of mono all year (that he played through)his play suffered badly. I think this year he comes back with a vengeance. If there is a hidden gem on this list this is the guy. A solid defender with very good first pass and offensive instincts. I have high hopes for him.

    1. Good to hear your perspective on Blacker and Finn, Willbur. On the Rielly question, yes, I've been told the situation in Moose Jaw is rather untenable and as a result not great for his overall development, which is a concern.

      However, is it possible that if the team is out of contention again this season they would consider trading him to a playoff-bound franchise? He is in his last junior season and the ticket generation lost would be minimal if he was traded by the deadline, unless I'm missing something. Is that a possibility?

    2. Could the Leafs pay the Warriors a chunk of cash to help the team financially and, thus, allowing the team to trade Reilly to a competitive team?

    3. Hi Alan- in the "olden days" (pre-universal/entry draft) my sense is the answer would be yes. (I think the Maple Leafs bought an entire team just to get the rights to Dave Keon in the 1950s, but I may have that story confused somewhat...)

      Nowadays, I don't know what the restrictions are when it comes to NHL teams and their relationship with junior teams. My guess is the kind of payment we are talking about would not be allowed, as it would set some kind of precedent that neither the NHL or the junior leagues would want.

      Maybe someone who visits here and has knowledge of this sort of thing can let us know...

  3. That's always possible I guess. But that's still 2/3 of a season playing in a no hope situation. From what I have heard there was some pretty heavy pressure on them to trade him last year and they refused so there is no guarantee. Also wouldn't the situation have been much the same last year? They must have realized that there is a pretty good chance (at least 50-50, probably higher)that he wouldn't be back this year and they still kept him. Apparently those 10 or so home games meant a lot to them so I wouldnt bet against them doing the same thing this year.

  4. Good Evening, Michael,

    One aspect of VLM that I really enjoy is the comments (and your replies) from your many knowledgeable readers. This section has given me much food for thought over the past few years.

    Jim posted a comment, after the Bolland - Gauthier blog of 30 June, of which I found myself nodding in agreement. He said in part;
    "...the difference between winning teams and the Leafs in the last 45 years is that other teams sometimes draft superstars with a pick other than number one. The Leafs have never drafted a league best calibre player in this way... Just once I would like Toronto to be able to draft a Chara(56), Lidstrom(53), Mike Richards(24), Claude Giroux(22),,,"

    In that spirit I would like to propose two lower Leaf draft choices whom I believe could become star players.

    1. Petter Granberg: Granberg is a 6'3" 200 pound (and still growing into his frame) right hand shot defenseman. He was drafted in the 4th round, 116th overall. He is a shut down defenseman who makes accurate first passes out of his zone. He has been compared to Carl Gunnarsson but is much more physical. He plays a smart defensive game and due to smart positioning and a long reach does a great job containing opposing forwards. He has a World Junior Championship and a World Championship under his belt already. He has two years in the Swedish Elite League and is close to NHL ready. Speculation is that he will need a little time in the AHL to get used to the smaller ice surface.

    Could Granberg be that minute eating shut down defenseman that Leaf fans crave and a low draft choice star that Jim is looking for?

    2. Carter Verhaeghe: Verhaeghe is a 6'1" 181 pound (still growing) centre who will turn 18 in August. He plays for the Niagara Ice Dogs and should get 1st line duty this year. He has great puck handling skills and has the potential to develop into a top NHL centre. He was drafted in the 3d round, 82nd overall.

    It is nice to see some of our lower draft choices with skill and potential.

    1. For me, and probably for a lot of hockey fans, one of the most fun things about following a team's progress is indeed watching the development of young players drafted by the organization. Right away they become one of "our own", and as a result you always look to see how they do as they finish their junior, college or European careers.

      As you note, Pete Cam (and triggered by Jim's earlier comment) it is especially heartwarming when picks you don't necessarily think will become starts hit it big. We know the Red Wings get credit along these lines, and while the Leafs have managed some late-round picks that had nice careers, it's true we have not had a legitimate star make his way from back of the pack, as Jim noted.

      It would be tremendous if either of the young men you mention fill that bill. I know precious little about either of them Pete, but if they have you you indicate they have, they merit close attention. Thanks for dropping those names and providing some information on how they might fit down the road.

  5. On today's topic I'm exactly on seandelville's page.
    Reilly should not be moved up to the Leafs this year (and maybee not even next year?), and D'Amigo was the best Marlie 2 seasons ago but last year fell off.
    No other name really jumps out at me. Kadri isn´t a prospect anymore and Nonis traded away our best one in Frattin for... some locker room troubles most likely.
    I hope someone on the Marlies jumps out at us this year and makes us take notice (almost always one or two players do).
    Steady as she goes and everything will be alright for both the Marlies and Leafs.

    1. Thanks for chiming in today, portuguese leaf. Interesting that no one sort of jumps off the page for you. We'll see if "steady as she goes" is good enough going forward!

  6. Did I hear Red Wings?

    Tom Nilsson isn't on the list but is a terific prospect. If I had to liken him to a similar player it would be Detroit's Nicklas Kronwall. Here is the scouting report:

    "Nilsson is a hard-nosed defenseman. He doesn't have a huge body, but will still play a very physical game and loves to hit. On top of his defensive ability, he can also contribute offensively. He skates very well and owns a hard shot."

    Here are some hilights from the recent World Juniors. He's mobile and mean, watch for the hit:

    Many called him the best defenceman for Team Sweden in their recent run which took them to the World Junior gold medal game.

    Even though we drafted Nilsson 100th in 2011, he's got quite a pedigree with play for Team Sweden in the World Juniors and U 18's. So unlike some of our other prospects, he has experience against the world's best.

    He could be a terrific sleeper pick. It would not surprise me if he eventually becomes a second pairing defenseman who logs lots fo minutes. Imagine if the Leafs had been able to draft a player like Kronwall in the 100th spot.

    1. Interesting, DP. I know nothing about this kid, but that is an impressive background. Thanks for letting me/us know.

      Any player that could even be a bit like Kronwall would be solid in my eyes!

    2. A couple more quick videos of Tom Nilsson hits, one is against first rounder and top prospect Filip Forsberg:

      You can see the reason for the Kronwall comparison.

  7. With the exception of Morgan Rielly, I haven’t seen any of the prospects play. I have little to add to my already stated impression that he is a high potential, extra gear player and a little scuttlebutt from Mosaic Place staff that he is a likeable kid. However, I can speak to a favourable general impression about the amateur scouting department headed up by Dave Morrison. I have a sense that, despite a propensity of JFJ and then Brian Burke to trade away high draft choices, Morrison’s staff has done well in finding good quality players in the later rounds. European scout Thommie Bergman, for example, seems to be able to pull rabbits out of hats, despite being allowed only late picks. Someone else has already done the math I am sure but the deep prospect pool that everyone seems to think is there, along with the Reimer’s, Gunnarsson’s. Kulemin’s, Komarov’s and several others were draft picks made in later rounds.

    One thing I liked about Burke was that, while a spender, he was also a saver, constantly gathering draft picks for Morisson’s team to work with. In contrast, Nonis’ attrition of future draft selections in overpaying for roster players has me concerned for the future. Again, the jury is out, Nonis has not surrendered a first round pick and he has picked up a draft pick or two I guess, but he has let go of many more. I am of the opinion that the amateur scouting staff is good enough that they should be given a maximum number of resources to work with, irrespective of the round that is offered. I am sure anyone reading my opinions must be growing tired of me saying: “There is quality in quantity.”

    1. I'm with you on Morrison, Bobby C.- his track record suggests he has been able to identify useful players in later rounds, and deserves the opportunity to do his (along with his staff) job as best he can.

      On a complete side note, I've written here a bit about Morrison's Dad, Jim Morrison, who played with the Leafs in the mid-later 1950s and was the player who went the other way in the famous trade that brought future Hall-of-Famer Allan Stanley to Toronto from Boston.

      Good to hear, by the way, that Rielly's 'rep' is solid. I know you've seen him play in person and think a lot of his potential. Thanks Bobby.

  8. I would point to Ryan Rupert as a late (6th) round draft pick last year.
    He is a Ken Linseman type agitator who could develop into a checking centre with an attitude, the kind opposing teams love to hate (think Gallagher with Montreal).

    1. Is Rupert the youngster playing in London with the Knights? (Is he the one that has a twin brother?) I don't know a lot about him but if he is as you describe (God, Linsemen was a pest, and a pretty good player, too), that would be just fine...thanks Steve.

  9. Since I agree that Rielly is an clear source of excitement, I am realizing that (in general) I'm thankful that we finally have some commitment to development and will acknowledge that my excitement may have as much to do with unfamiliarity as with potential.

    I am unfamiliar with Petter Granberg, yet am excited to see where he 'fits in' upon his North American introduction. The young man just seems to exude a message of success at every level in Sweden and I'm hopeful that he has been 'under the radar' and almost ready for primetime.

    I'm a little more familiar with Josh Leivo, who (like Verhaeghe, mentioned by Pete Cam above) was a wisely-chosen, barely-draft-eligible young'un who had a good second half (if I remember correctly). If he (or both) had been a little older, I doubt we could have gotten such a player in the 3rd round... I'm excited to see what they can do and think they have great potential (ya, I cheated a bit on the Verhaeghe mention... but it's hard not to give kudos to another comment, when you find agreement with them after you've made your own choice :)

    Sounds like Pete Cam and I have a similar perspective, here!

    1. I have a lot of regard for both Pete Cam and yourself, InTimeFor62, so I'm pleased to hear your "reports"! I wouldn't know Granberg if he ran into me, but your update makes me feel hopeful...

  10. Michael, indeed this is the Rupert you are thinking of. His fraternal twin brother (Matt?) was invited to Leaf camp with Ryan last year as an undrafted player.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to confirm that for me, Steve.

  11. One name which missed your list, and maybe rightfully so, is Greg McKegg. I was expecting bigger things from him this past year, but maybe he found himself playing a more defensive role for the Marlies. This coming year will be his opportunity to step up and play a more important 2-way role with the Leafs.

    He did finish the year well, posting 14 points in his last 24 games, and then 6 pts in 9 playoff games. With Hamilton and Zigomanis moving on, and Colborne hopefully staying up with the Leafs, it may mean more minutes for McKegg at center. I'm anxious to see if he has matured, or whether he'll be just another player who can't make the grade.

    Guys like Rielly, Leivo and Granberg seem to be the leaders amongst the Leaf prospects. Thankfully the cupboard is no longer bare!

    1. McKegg is a solid player, and as you say Don (TML_fan), may surprise us this coming season.

      Was he the guy who had such a good playoff run for the Marlies in the spring of 2012? I'm thinking of a forward who scored some big goals...Scott? Is he still in our system?

      We do have a number of young players who are "this close". We'll see in September just how close! Thanks Don.

    2. No, McKegg was with the London Knights in the playoffs in 2012. Scott did okay in 2012, but was even better in 2013, putting up 9 pts in 9 games. At the end of May, Scott was signed to a one-year contract in Sweden with Brynäs IF of the Elitserien. Leafs probably told him they were going with more youth for the Marlies this coming season. Scott is 25 years old, whereas McKegg just turned 21.

    3. "Was he the guy who had such a good playoff run for the Marlies in the spring of 2012? I'm thinking of a forward who scored some big goals"

      Matt Frattin: 10 goals in 13 games in the 2012 AHL playoffs.

      I think we are going to regret trading him.

    4. Yes, while a little older than most "prospects", DP, Frattin is someone (as I've written here before) that has the potential to be a mini power-forwasrd at the NHL level, if he can harness his game and be consistent.

  12. Wish I could add something but I have only been able to watch the Marlies a few times on SN so most of my info comes from sites like this. But as I mentioned before Rick Dudley said the Leafs were on the verge of being an elite team over a year ago on his exit interview on the Fan where he said the Leafs are at the same point as Tampa and Chicago when it was all doom and gloom in the fan base. He also said he thought the Leafs were close to or even the top team in the NHL for prospects. Dudley mentioned Peter Granberg was a top prospect and nobody had even heard of him at that time.(PS. I saved the Dudley interview from last year on my computer and just listened to it again and everything he said is starting to come true).

    1. Granberg is not a name I had been terribly familiar with, but people are starting to tell me about him. I'm looking forward to seeing him play over here. (Nilsson as well, as DP brought to my attention above...)

      You've mentioned the Dudley piece before. I do remember that interview (though not clearly!) Maybe his words will ring accurate in the end. Whether Colborne will be the second-line center he forecast is difficult to say at this point. Thanks Alton.

  13. Well here's some news that could affect our prospects:

    Central Florida's ECHL team, the Orlando Solar Bears, also announced a new NHL affiliation, with the Toronto Maple Leafs.,0,5713132.story

    This actually somewhat important.

    Jamie Devane's development was greatly impaired because he couldn't get any minutes with the San Francisco Bulls in the ECHL during the lockout. I now doubt that he will become a regular NHL player and think he is more likely to shuffle between the AHL and ECHL. In 4 or 5 years when the Leafs are more sure of what they have they will probably cut Devane loose to make space for a younger prospect whose potential is undetermined and has more upside.

    This year, Devane needs a really good season with the Marlies or some time down in the ECHL where he dominates and proves that he is more of an AHL level talent.

    1. I'm glad to hear the Leafs will actually have some flexibility with an ECHL team affiliation. I know you've mentioned Devane before here DP, and like you, I hope he can get a real shot with the Marlies this year.