The Toronto Maple Leafs rookie camp, which will kick off in a couple of weeks in advance of their main training camp, features not just draft picks and signed players, but also a bunch of guys playing for a job.
Are any of them of interest as potential future NHL’ers? After the jump, we will look at each.
Garrett Clarke – Clarke, whose describes himself as having “the most durable suitcase in the CHL,” is just about as famous as an undrafted defenseman can be. He ruffled feathers when he backed out of a commitment to the Fargo Force/University of North Dakota to play in the ‘Q’ after being drafted sixth overall in that league’s entry draft. He’s played for four teams in three seasons – including an ugly trade from Halifax that featured plenty of intrigue and hurt feelings.
Skill-wise, Clarke has a lot to offer. He’s a super-pest, capable of driving opponents (and unfortunately, teammates) mad, and he adds a willingness to fight and offensive talent to the mix. The issues here revolve around his penchant for taking bad penalties, and the fact that he can’t seem to avoid off-ice drama no matter where he goes. He’s a boom-or-bust style invitation, and the Leafs’ willingness to gamble on him could pay off.
Dave Cowan – If Cowan’s name seems familiar, it should: he played at the Leafs’ rookie camp last season. He’s also surprisingly long in the tooth for a prospect – he’ll turn 26 in December. Unfortunately, the 6’4” rearguard didn’t get a full opportunity last season, as he took a hit in a rookie match against Pittsburgh and suffered a dislocated shoulder. He’s a defensive defenseman who has spent his last four healthy seasons at Robert Morris University but missed all of last year. He has a contract with Toronto’s ECHL affiliate.
Mitchell Heard – Heard is probably the highest profile unsigned player at this year’s rookie camp, thanks to an offensive explosion at the Leafs’ rookie tournament earlier this summer. He’s slipped through the Entry Draft twice now, but has some offensive ability and put up decent numbers despite not getting any power play time.
Kyle Neuber – 16 games into his professional career, Neuber already finds himself with his third NHL organization. He was drafted as an overage player by Columbus in 2009, and had attended Canucks’ training camp in 2008. He’s an enforcer who barely played last season due to injuries, and that’s the only role he’ll ever fill: he had 31 points in 199 OHL games.
Mike Schwindt – Another defensive defenseman, Schwindt’s offensive upside is extremely limited: in three OHL seasons he has just a single goal. He’s 6’4” and plays a physical game, but he has also passed through the NHL Entry Draft twice already.
Matt Stanisz – It’s really hard not to pull for Stanisz. He’s not a goon, and he’s not even a particularly punishing hitter. As Brock Otten of OHL Prospects tells us, he’s something else entirely:
Stanisz isn’t the biggest (about 6’1, 200lbs), nor is he the most physical defender, but he’s quietly effective in his own end. He makes the smart play, keeps things simple and has been a highly positive (+/-) defender the past three seasons. This year, his offensive game was taken to that next level where he finished in the top 10 of defenseman scoring.
Otten also lists Stanisz as one of his top-10 overagers worth signing to an NHL contract.
Dennis Urban – Small, offensive defenseman came within two points of leading Robert Morris University in scoring last season. He finished second on the club (including among forwards) in points and shots, as well as first in assists and plus/minus. Remarkably, two-thirds of his points came at even-strength. He followed that performance up with nine points in 14 games with Toronto’s ECHL affiliate and he’s clearly a guy with offensive upside even at the professional level.
It’s a really strong group of undrafted players, further evidence of Toronto’s ability to attract this sort of player. Naturally, the odds are against each of them, but there is enough talent in the group that it bears watching.
For another take on this group, please see Leafs Prospects.