TLN TOP TWENTY PROSPECTS: NO. 13 - Garret Sparks

Steve Dangle
August 28 2013 08:52AM

 

Name: Garret Sparks
Position:  Goalie
Hometown:  Elmhurst, IL
Size:  6'3, 205 lbs
2013 Team:  Guelph Storm, Toronto Marlies

Acquired:  Draft, 7th Round, 2011

We’ve ranked Garrett Sparks as the Leafs’ 13th-best prospect. So what? What does that even mean?

I know for me personally, Sparks changed places more times than any other Leafs prospect while I was making my ranking list. The main reason for that is because he’s a goalie, and he’s the only goalie who made the Top 20 list. Is Sparks a better goalie than Carter Ashton is a forward? What about Greg McKegg or Jerry D’Amigo? How about Matt Finn as a defenceman? That’s difficult to judge. I must have bumped Sparks up or down a spot 10 times before plunking him here at 13.

What we were able to agree on as a staff here at TheLeafsNation.com, is that Garret Sparks is the Leafs’ best goaltending prospect.

The Leafs drafted Sparks with one of their 7th-round picks in 2011, 190th overall. Because the pick was so late, and because the Leafs needed another goaltending prospect in the organization, the pick made sense. Still, you have to wonder what Sparks did to make the Leafs use a pick on him.

When the Leafs drafted Sparks, he was coming off his OHL rookie season, with just 19 games played with the Guelph Storm. Posting a 3.64 GAA and .890 SV%, it’s not like Sparks’ stats jumped off the page at you, either.

Whatever it is the Leafs saw in Sparks in 2011 has risen to the surface.

Not only did Garret Sparks played in more regular season games than any other OHL goaltender last season (60), but he’s played in the most OHL regular season games over the past two seasons combined (119). Add 11 OHL playoff games to the mix and four Toronto Marlies appearances to that list, and this is a guy who has faced a lot of rubber.

With his rise in starts, Sparks’ stats have risen over the past two seasons, as well. After posting an improved 3.11 GAA and .907 SV% in 2011-12, Sparks posted a much better 2.65 GAA and .917% this past season.

I had the chance to talk to Sparks about his OHL journey.

“If the OHL has taught me anything, it's that when you get an opportunity, it is something you need to seize, or you'll never get to where you want to go. So being able to play the amount I have been has been a blessing in the sense that I have had 128 opportunities to take the ice and show why I belong. Obviously, with time you become comfortable with a level of play and you look for your next challenge, but I'm fortunate for the time I've had in the OHL with a great club and for the chances I have gotten and the experience that I've gained that has helped me get to where I am.”

As I briefly mentioned earlier, Sparks played the first professional hockey of his career last season with the Toronto Marlies. He didn’t play a lot – just three regular season appearances and one in the playoffs – but he didn’t look out of place. In that small sample, Sparks faced 76 shots and stopped 68 of them, posting a .895 SV% and a 2-0-1 record.

“Coming up to the Marlies at the end of the season was an eye-opening experience. It was an incredible ride, being thrown into the fire and seeing what you're made of is something I'll never shy away from, and that's what I got. The few opportunities I got to play were great experiences and tools.”

So now the debate is on for this season in 2013-14. What’s next for Sparks? It would appear he’s ready for the full-time jump to pro in the AHL, or perhaps lighter competition in the ECHL is the better route. If he does make the Marlies’ roster, it would be surprising if Sparks stole the starting job after the fantastic season Drew MacIntyre had, but Sparks definitely won’t turn down a new role.

“My goal this year is to play as high a level as possible and compete for time. I've played virtually every game the last two years and to me this year is about development. Maybe this year is more about quality over quantity for me.”

If there’s one thing Garret Sparks is serious about, it’s goaltending, which is great news for the Leafs organization. If there’s another thing he’s serious about though, it’s Chipotle.

“The allure of Chipotle is impossible to capture in words. It is an athlete's best friend. It's got everything you need and is delicious. What more could you want?”

The answer to that question, Mr. Sparks, is a Stanley Cup.

Hard-hitting journalism , folks.

Speaking of hard-hitting, here's Sparks laying a hit, which is awesome/hilarious.

PREVIOUSLY ON TLN PROSPECTS...

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#20: David Broll 
Honourable Mentions

 

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Steve Dangle has a YouTube channel with over 3 million views and is the co-host of the Steve Dangle Podcast on iTunes and SoundCloud. Steve has also worked for CBC, the NHL Network, Leafs TV, Nike, the KHL, and most of all, the Toronto Zoo. stevedangle.com
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#1 Thain
August 28 2013, 09:39AM
Trash it!
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Please don't be the next Pogge. Please, please, please.

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#2 Justin Fisher
August 28 2013, 11:34AM
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Obviously, you have to do what's best for the player and his particular situation, but with two relatively young goaltenders in the NHL,the Leafs can take a slow development path with Sparks.

I don't think the Marlies is the best destination for him. He needs to play 50+ games, at least, and won't get that in the AHL with MacIntyre there. I'd rather see Sparks get a whole ton of starts in ECHL, bring him up for AHL spot duty when needed. Move him up to the AHL next season, and aim for some NHL starts in 2015-2016. It'll never work out as nicely as I've laid it out, but it's not a bad 'plan'.

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#4 Jerey Ian
August 28 2013, 06:38PM
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Steve Dangle wrote:

But does that make Chris Gibson the Marlies backup then? That's always been strange to me - having your 4th guy in the ECHL and your 5th in the AHL. I understand the logic, and it might be the right path though.

One of the Marlies goalies is going to be on Standby for a decade with Reier and Bernier with the Leafs. Maybe trade bait.

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#6 Justin Fisher
August 28 2013, 07:28PM
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@Steve Dangle

Gibson got a contract despite being pretty terrible for two seasons. I'm all for goalie depth, but I don't know why he was signed. If he's going to 'prove himself', he shouldn't get Sparks' ice time to do so.

Let Gibson play 20-ish games backing up MacIntyre, and let Sparks play the 60-ish games in the ECHL. It's a little backwards, but more than anything, I believe that young goalies need experience more than anything. Facing better competition is great, but not at the expense of getting so few starts. Just my opinion.

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