#20 – Christopher Gibson
Christopher Gibson is the lowest ranked goaltender on our list. In theory, this wouldn’t be a particularly good look, but in practice, the young trio have played so well that they’ve improved our emphasis on the position in the midterms. Gibson is having a pretty strong year as the Marlies’ time-splitter; over 22 games, he’s posted a 0.918 save percentage and earned himself a shutout.
These numbers are an improvement over last year; he’s already played more AHL games this year despite it only being the beginning of February, and he hasn’t gone through a particularly bad stretch yet. Consistency has been the model of his game, and the 22 year old as rewarded for it in December, earning a brief call-up to the Leafs (with no games played). If he can avoid slipping up, Gibson could find himself in that go-to call up spot for a while yet. Particularly if he has more games like the one he had this weekend; stopping 52 of 54 against Utica in game that wouldn’t have otherwise been a Marlies win. – Jeffler
#19 – Fabrice Herzog
Fabrice Herzog barely made it into our Top Twenty this time around, being listed by only four of our eight writers. Personally, he dropped completely off my list for two reasons.
First, I don’t understand the move back to Switzerland. After scoring 32 goals and 58 points for the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts last season, and even getting in five games with the AHL Marlies, I’m not sure why Herzog felt the need to return home to play for EV Zug this year. I get that returning to Switzerland is returning home, and I get that he had a good deal of success with the Zug U20 team before coming to Canada, but was this really the best challenge he could have found? As a 20-year old winger, perhaps he would have had a difficult time seeing the ice with the Marlies. Maybe he just doesn’t like the idea of playing barely-pro hockey in Florida.
Second, Herzog hasn’t exactly thrived in Switzerland. In 37 games, Herzog has scored six goals and added two assists. Maybe he wasn’t good enough or maybe he just couldn’t get ice time, but whatever the case, Herzog has actually moved on from EV Zug and has signed a new two-year deal with the ZSC Lions which will keep him in Switzerland until 2017. He’s very much a depth prospect at this point, but still has the best name in the organization. – Justin Fisher
#18 – Garret Sparks
Garret Sparks remains in the same spot as he was in our pre-season rankings, but he doesn’t remain in the same spot in the depth chart. Groin injuries took him out of Leafs and Marlies training camp, which lead to him starting the season with the Orlando Solar Bears. Unfortunately for Sparks, the other two haven’t played poorly enough to be sent down to Orlando, though he’s been more than equal to the task in his current role. His 0.929 save percentage is the best in the ECHL – this despite having a few re-aggravations of his injury (which is now 100%). He also has two shutouts in those seventeen games. Sparks has played two games for the Marlies this year, posting a shutout and following it up with a 2 GA performance while Antoine Bibeau recovered from a brief injury.
In a sense, you have to feel for him – goalies of his age don’t usually drop a league after putting up good numbers in their AHL rookie year, and they would almost certainly get a serious look while putting up the numbers he has this year (combining the ECHL, AHL, and NHL, hes third in SV% in North America). But alas, this is the issue with positions of strength; until one of the other two falters, he remains. – Jeffler
#17 – Dominic Toninato
While he’s dropped one spot from the preseason rankings, Toninato is having a solid sophomore season for the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs. In 25 games so far, Toninato leads his team with 22 points. In fact, his 14 goals is double what the next best goalscorers have – three Bulldogs are tied with seven
He’s been so good that he’s actually wrestled the first line centre job away from more experienced and established players – like fellow Leafs prospect Tony Cameranesi. High-scoring number one centre of the future!? No, probably not, but I’d keep my eye on this guy. He’s progressed nicely year over year and maybe we should start giving him a little more credit. – Justin Fisher
#16 – Tom Nilsson
Tom Nilsson has had a very similar development path to that of another Leaf prospect, Petter Granberg. Both are Swedish, both are stay-at-home defensemen, both represented their country at the World Juniors, and both were drafted in the 4th round by the Leafs. Not known for his offense, Nilsson is well-known for his defensive zone attributes. He’s very physical and likes to use his body and stick to seal opponents off. Now playing his first season in North America, Nilsson has accumulated 6 points in 36 games playing mostly in the top four on the Marlies blueline.
There are some discouraging signs for Nilsson, though. The biggest would be his large lack of any sort of offensive capabilities. Last season playing for Mora IK in the Swedish Hockey League, Nilsson put up just 4 points in 50 games. His very poor shot-rate (27 shots in 36 games) for the Marlies doesn’t bode well for his future either. While it’s okay to be a stay-at-home defender, Nilsson seems to lack even the basic skills with the puck that you’d hope for from a possible NHL defenseman. Currently out with an upper-body injury, it will be interesting to see how the rest of his season goes once he returns to the ice. – Shawn Reis