September 10 2013 01:09AM
I remember Stuart Percy's draft day.
While covering the 2011 Memorial Cup in Mississauga, I met Percy about a month before his draft day. Percy was playing for the host Mississauga St. Michael's Majors (now the Steelheads), and while he wasn't the biggest name on the team, he was making some of the biggest headlines.
Ranked 53rd among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, it looked like Percy would go somewhere around the 3rd round. Brian Burke spoke very highly of Percy however, and suggestions came out that not only would the Leafs like to draft him in the 1st round, but that he may not even still be available by that point.
I was DMing Stuart on Twitter the day before and the day of the draft. Nothing in particular, until around zero hour.
The Maple Leafs traded their 2nd-round pick in 2012, which they got from Boston, in exchange for John-Michael Liles.
Stuart started asking me questions. What happened with the trade? Was the 2nd-rounder the Leafs' pick this year or next year?
I knew that Stuart had grown up a Leafs man, but it was then I could really tell that he was dying to become a Toronto Maple Leaf.
Sure enough, the Leafs managed to select Percy 25th overall in 2011. He's in the Leafs organization! So what's different for him now that he's drafted?
"I think the biggest thing since draft day now is just realizing that hockey is my job now," said Percy. "To take it seriously like how every other person takes their job day in and day out."
We have Stuart Percy ranked 4th overall among all Toronto Maple Leafs prospects, and voted him to be the 2nd-best defensive prospect in the organization. I'd tell you who's in first, but I can't ruin the secret. I wouldn't want you to get RIELLY'D up about it hahaha....ha....Morgan Rielly. It's Morgan Rielly.
One thing I've always said about Percy in the years I've watched him play junior, is he's a quiet player. I don't mean volume-wise. I mean you don't notice him a whole lot. The Carl Gunnarsson type. He's not very flashy, and can appreciate that in a defenceman because flashy blueliners often make a lot of mistakes. Not Percy.
"The strength of Stuart's game is his vision and passing ability," Mississauga Steelheads coach James Boyd explained. "He can get the puck to the forwards when he is under pressure from a forecheck consistently. Every now and then he can make a play - usually under pressure in his own zone - that wows the fans. Sometimes those plays are very subtle but with increased scrutiny those plays are getting noticed more and more.".
And it's true. I have noticed Percy showing more confidence and being more bold with his offensive decisions. While handling the responsibility of being the captain of the OHL's Steelheads, Percy also understood that junior hockey provided him with a great opportunity to learn and improve.
"Playing the last couple years in junior, I tried to experiment in certain situations to try and develop my game in that area," Percy explained. "Some of the things I tried worked, and some didn't. I think pushing outside your comfort zone, you will learn what you can and can't get away with."
The risks Percy is learning to take are also backed-up by skill. Percy was a shootout option for the Steelheads with some success, and that was also on display recently at the Leafs' rookie tournament when he scored in the shootout for them, as well.
Fights are rare with Percy, but he'll drop the gloves if he has to. His OHL fight card has seven fights on it.
Percy's OHL production, while respectable, is a little all-over-the-place. After a good draft year in 2010-11 on a very strong Majors team, Percy's production looked ready to shoot through the roof in 2011-12, but injuries derailed that. Percy has found himself on the wrong end of some pretty brutal hits.
With those hits behind him, and as the captain of a young Mississauga Steelheads team in 2012-13 that was expected to struggle mightily, Percy performed very well. He played in all 68 games for Mississauga and racked up 13 goals and 32 assists for 45 points. He also added some extracirriculars to his workload by playing in the Canada-Russia Subway Super Series.
Percy enjoyed a four-game stint with the AHL's Toronto Marlies once the OHL season wrapped, and he picked up one goal and two assists in four games. The next step is to do that full-time.
"My goal is to be a pro hockey player this season, wherever that may be. Management hasn't told me much but that's what I am focused on throughout the next couple weeks."
"I think that at the next level, Stuart has the ability to be a versatile player," predicts Boyd. "He can bring a bit of everything. He is definitely the type of player that fans appreciate having on their club."
PREVIOUSLY ON TLN PROSPECTS...
#5 Matt Finn
#6 Jesse Blacker
#7 Josh Leivo
#8 Petter Granberg
#9 Tyler Biggs
#10 Jerry D'Amigo
#11 Carter Ashton
#12 Greg McKegg
#13 Garret Sparks
#14 Brad Ross
#15 Dominic Toninato
#16 Tom Nilsson
#17 Tony Cameranesi
#18: Connor Brown
#19: Andrew MacWilliam
#20: David Broll