September 03 2013 11:12AM
via Oshawa Generals
When Milan Lucic was 16, he was cut by the Junior A Coquitlam Express of the British Columbia Hockey League. By 19, Milan Lucic was in the National Hockey League and producing regularly.
This is how we get to Number Nine, Number Nine, Number Nine, Number Nine, in the Leafs prospect countdown, and look at the Maple Leafs' attempt to re-create Lucic, Tyler Biggs, a player they drafted with their first pick of the 2011 draft and has become a polarizing player indeed.
Last season, Milan Lucic was a healthy scratch for a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. After going the first five years of his career averaging 21 goals per 82 games, Lucic stalled for whatever reason. He was still a physical force, hitting, taking penalties, and… well, he was hitting and taking penalties, but the goal-scoring was no longer there. He didn't have enough "hunger" or "emotion", I guess, and the team suffered from his continuous ability to take minor penalties and got none of the scoring for it.
The lesson here isn't that Milan Lucic is a terrible hockey player. He's unique in the sense that he's big and scores goals and fights and is some cross between nostalgia and an anachronism that reminds old school commentators of the good old days. But in the end, he's a hockey player, and how he produces matters above all else. When the production stops, the negatives become more apparent.
I guess we should start this off by saying that Biggs has limited offensive potential. Any offence he develops at this point would be a surprise. It's very uncommon for players that had difficulty producing in junior hockey to become point-producers in the NHL, and it's also very uncommon for players that had difficulty producing in junior to become everyday players. Jay McClement scored 30 goals in his draft year and David Bolland scored 37 in his. Even Colby Armstrong was a point a game player in the two years after he was drafted.
We've covered these issues before with Biggs. This prospect profile is a redundancy, as I've covered reasons to be very bearish on offensive projections for Tyler Biggs earlier in the summer. Every OHL forward selected after Biggs in the 2011 NHL Draft put up more points than Biggs until Austen Brassard at 149 overall.
Biggs, however, is ranked in our Top Ten for a myriad of reasons. I like his potential to fit into a non-scoring role. Justin Fisher likes his potential to be an effective penalty killer and a shutdown guy. In talking to Hockey Prospectus prospect guru Corey Pronman about Biggs' improvement this past season, he specifically mentioned "defence". Most of us ranked Biggs over skilled players, as Justin notes, because Biggs has a legitimate chance to make the NHL, and that usually indicates a "win".
1st round picks have a better chance at making the NHL than 2nd round picks and 3rd round picks, but after about the 22nd or 23rd pick, there's a steep drop-off in the amount of games you can expect a player to play at the NHL level. In hockey, it's easy to pick out the best players from a crowd and when you look back years later, in most cases the player taken first overall becomes the best player taken in the draft, from Steven Stamkos to Patrick Kane to Sidney Crosby to Rick Nash. Biggs was ranked a little bit lower, and he becomes an easy player to like if you believe that a big player can impose his physical will over little defenders, and if you believe in the power of potential.
But after a tough year offensively for the University of Miami of Ohio in 2012, he packed his bags and joined the Oshawa Generals after signing his entry-level deal with the Leafs. Despite some time on the first line, Biggs managed below a point-a-game, scoring 53 points in 60 games, which is very low for a 19-year-old in that particular league. Biggs did score a goal in his five pro games with the Toronto Marlies, and how he adjusts to pro this season is going to be an important part in establishing just who he is.
He draws comparisons to Lucic a lot. Tyler Biggs compares himself to Lucic. Fantasy writers and fans both need to drop hints about Lucic when writing about Biggs. But he's not Lucic, and when Lucic was drafted by the Bruins and surprised everybody by becoming an NHL less than two years later, he wasn't projected to be "the next anything". He was just a big, solid kid whose game evolved offensively because size alone wasn't good enough to make the NHL.
Biggs is Number Nine. He is good at defence and penalty-killing and has some potential to be a solid puck-possession player but he needs to develop his offensive game to be a plus-player in the NHL.