Toronto Maple Leaves forward Phil Kessel ranked No. 20 by ESPN

Thanks to Jonathan Willis for this screengrab from ESPN’s Top 100 forwards list.

It’s interesting, how a quibble over the team name is going to distract us from the fact that the 9th highest point-getter in the NHL during the last four years and perpetually healthy elite forward in the prime of his career is ranked just 20th. Even nuttier, ‘retired’ forward Ilya Kovalchuk made the list along with Calgary Flames’ Sven Baertschi, a player with exactly 13 points and 25 games in his career.

Joffrey Lupul, James van Riemsdyk, David Clarkson and Nazem Kadri, ranked 51st, 54th, 64th and 78th on the list respectively, are all listed as playing for the “Maple Leafs” which makes the copy-editing error up top more amusing. As a writer pumping out more than 3000 words a day, I understand a typoe or two in a post, but “Maple Leafs” is one of sports most enduring and recognizeable team names.

Also in the ESPN ranking, Dion Phaneuf was 17th in the defenceman rankings, which is tough to quibble with given the quality of players at that position coming into the NHL recently. He was tied with Kimmo Timonen and Brian Campbell, which is fairly good company. The goalie rankings were a tad more suspect. James Reimer was 17th, despite having a higher save rate in the last three seasons as higher ranked Jonathan Quick, Craig Anderson, Corey Crawford, Carey Price, Ryan Miller and Cam Ward. Nobody would accuse the Maple Leafs of having an all-world defence over those seasons, and given how well he’s played in the NHL, and in two AHL seasons prior to making the Leafs full-time, I find it immensely surprising he isn’t talked about more often.

Jonathan Bernier was also ranked 25th. Without the trade this summer, I doubt he’d have been mentioned on the list, but voters apparently like the potential that comes with presumably being a starter in the NHL. I’m more bullish on Bernier than several statistical junkies paying attention to a relatively low save rate in the early part of his career, but history shows that goalies with his statistics up til age 24 that keep at it tend to regress to the mean. He should be a fine goaltender, and the Leafs are plenty deep in goal this season, regardless of what the Leafs gave up to get Bernier.

And another ranking

Speaking of ESPN rankings… new ESPN prospectus guru and former Hockey Prospectus prospects guru Corey Pronman released his Leafs’ Top 10 rankings last week. Given that we wrapped up our own prospect series on Saturday, I think it’s worth pointing out the similarities in our lists.

Our top five was nearly identical: Morgan Rielly, Joe Colborne, Frederik Gauthier were 1, 2 and 3 on both lists, with Pronman putting Matt Finn 4th and Stuart Percy 5th, while we had the opposite. There’s a definite consensus here. The Leafs have just one high-end prospect in Rielly, and lowering levels of quality with a lot of depth in the system. Pronman ranked the Leafs’ organization 24th and it’s tough to disagree it should be higher. There are some NHL-ready players in the system, but behind Rielly, which players are going to become stars at the NHL-level unless something unexpected happens? That’s the issue you run into by making the safe picks. Brian Burke took a risk last season by drafting a defenceman that sat out much of the season thanks to an ACL injury, and he’s become one of the top defensive prospects in the game.

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  • To be fair, all Kessel does is put up points, so comparing by looking at point totals will, of course, skew things in his favor. I think the list was pretty good through the top 20, as a relatively unbiased fan.
    As far as health goes, obvious the list doesn’t care, because Crosby was #1. That would be my biggest complaint: the 2 Penguins at the top? I’d much rather have all-around scoring centers like Datsyuk, Toews or Bergeron than either of those centers. Malkin can be dominant, but I’d bump him down a bit. Crosby obviously needs to not be #1, but I don’t know where he should fairly go.

    • To be fair, if you’re only going to do one thing, scoring goals and putting up points is a pretty good thing to be doing.

      There aren’t a lot of wingers good at defence. I’d place maybe Corey Perry and Taylor Hall as having “all-around” games.

      • Leaf Fan in Mexico

        It’s a forwards thing, not winger thing, so while I’d say Kessel is probably in the second tier of wingers (top tier is Ovechkin, Hossa… and that may be it. Maybe a few others). Most of the guys over him are centers. Top 11 are all centers save Ovechkin and Kane; I don’t think most take Kessel over either (save biased anti-Ovie fans). Also, arguably Zetterberg (I’ve seen him play center and wing). I also take Hossa over Kessel. Parise and Perry are over-rated, as I said, and should both be below him. Sedins seem to be on the decline, and even if not, I take one Kessel over one Sedin. St Louis is so old I think it’s hard to take him over Kessel, although easy to see why they would put him there (even though I disagree with it). Which puts Kessel at 4th or 5th as far as wingers (if Zetterberg is a winger, 5th). So, re-evaluating overall, he’s 15th. Still good. I mean, sure, 20 is a snub, but not that big of one.

  • Putting Stamkos over Ovechkin was dumb, in my opinion. Similar players, Ovechkin also hits a ton, and just adds more to the team, and is a much more dominant player.
    Parise was too high, I’d say. He’s a guy that I’d have below Kessel. It seems like the Sedin’s have slowed, but you can understand giving them the benefit of the doubt. Perry probably deserves less of that, and is only ahead of Kessel because of one year. That’s another guy you could easily argue Kessel over. Hossa is the best defensive winger in the NHL, in my opinion, and is possibly too low. After him, Getzlaf could be argued to be below Kessel fairly easily, so that puts Kessel at 17. I mean, not a huge difference, really.

  • Couple of things – I’ll take Stamkos over Ovechkin seven days a week. Also, Phil Kessel will play in the Olympics and play well. He’s the Rodney Dangerfield of the NHL and, some day, he’ll earn people’s respect. The guy’s a player.

    • Leaf Fan in Mexico

      Why would you take Stamkos over Ovechkin? If it’s just an age thing, then it’s a totally logical decision, but I think the hate on Ovie is crazy overblown. The Caps rolled out rookie goalies in back-to-back-to-back playoffs; is it any wonder they didn’t win the Cup?

    • Leaf Fan in Mexico

      I agree to a point, I think Kessel was able to up his all round game last year under Carlyle, be interesting to see what he has this year. What I have not liked is his lack of obvious leadership skills, but to be fair, if the Leafs had a couple of other sterling leaders it would nt be an issue. Lupul may have the goods but he is starting to feel a bit glassy.