TLN Top Twenty Leafs Prospects Midterm Ranking: #5 to #1

#5 – Josh Leivo

For a couple of years now, it’s seemed like Josh Leivo is right on the cusp of earning his keep with the big club. Since wrapping up a strong junior career with the Sudbury Wolves and Kitchener Rangers, Leivo has done nothing but produce in the pros. The former third-round pick scored 23 goals in his debut season in the AHL last year. This year, he has 13 points in 22 AHL games. Not stellar numbers, but steady. Leivo also measures well in shot-based metrics: he’s averaging 2.64 shots on goal on a per-game basis this year. Most eventual top-nine NHL forwards average in the realm of 3 per game in the minors.

As far as a scouting report goes, there’s a lot more to like about Leivo’s game. At 6”2’, he’s got the size. He’s a good skater. Likewise, Leivo has a strong two-way game, capable of playing well in any zone. But perhaps most noticeable of his skills is his wrist shot which boasts lethal accuracy.

With 2 goals and 1 assist in 16 NHL games spread over parts of two seasons, the 21-year-old winger has a good chance of getting some extended playing time with the Leafs to end the season. If and when guys like Daniel Winnik and Mike Santorelli are traded, you can expect Leivo to be among the first called up. – Shawn Reis

#4 – Connor Brown

Going into this year, I was a Connor Brown doubter. Yes, he had produced a metric boatload of points with the Erie Otters, but the first reaction to that for many wasn’t “wow”, it was “why?”. Was it Connor McDavid giving him the “I’m the best” boost? Was he the benefactor of Dane Fox’s magic hockey stick? This was a team that also had Andre Burakovsky, Dylan Strome, and Brendan Gaunce – Erie was very loaded with talent, and Brown just so happened to be one of the oldest guys of the bunch. 

I thought there was no way that he’d just glide into professional hockey and continue impressing. Boy, I was wrong. As we approach the 60% mark of the Toronto Marlies’ season, Brown has a twelve point lead in the team scoring race, and is behind only Charles Hudon of Hamilton in AHL rookie scoring. On a team like Toronto, who are dead last in goals for (97 in 44 games), that’s something to be proud of. He’s also the only player of the bunch to take part in every single game this season.

What stands out most about Brown is his creativity, particularly as a setup man. He finds himself empty spots in the offensive zone where he can be patient as he identifies a trigger man, who often ends up in a can’t-miss scoring situation. Brown also leads the team in goals (though Matt Frattin is 1 behind with 17 fewer games played) and shots on goal, so it’s not like he’s shying away from taking his own opportunities either. Brown isn’t physical by any  means, but shows fearlessness in pursuit and protection of the puck. Working with skating guru Barb Underhill will be key to having a smooth transition to the NHL, but if he stays committed, I have no doubt that he’ll be a top-sixer in the NHL. That’s a lot more than I felt comfortable saying a few months ago. – Jeffler

#3 – Stuart Percy

Stu is one of the few prospects we’ve seen in the NHL with any regularity this season. After starting the year as a twenty minute a night defender for Carlyle’s Leafs and looking like he was in the NHL to stay, reality slowly set in and he was returned to the Marlies to be one of the top minute guys there.

Injuries have slowed Percy’s progress somewhat, having only played 20 games with the Marlies and 9 with the Leafs this season, but if the Leafs fire sale goes as planned and Percy gets healthy he could be playing a significant role on the Leafs for the final couple of months of the season. While he still has a lot to learn, Percy is arguably the fifth best defenseman in the organization.

So what is kind of player is Stuart Percy? He’s a reliable defender who relies more on smarts than physicality or speed to defend. His positioning will be his greatest strength when he figures out the NHL game. He’s a capable puck mover, but lacks the flash that often gets noticed for either good or bad reasons. At the rate he’s developing it seems he could top out as a solid second pairing defenceman, and looks ready to be a full time bottom pairing defender in the NHL next season. – Jon Steitzer

#2 – Andreas Johnson

Generally speaking, it isn’t often that players drafted in the 7th round get consideration in the Top 20. Andreas Johnson is an incredibly skilled and talented exception, having ranked climbed our list from 14th in last year’s midterm ranking to 7th in our preseason list. He’s now all the way up to #2, beating out Stuart Percy for the spot on a technicality – they tied, but Johnson received four 2nd place votes while Percy got only two.

Johnson has had some tremendous success with the Frolunda Indians this season, both in the SHL and in the first-ever Champions Hockey League. In the SHL, Johnson has scored 28 points in 43 games as a 20-year old – his 18 goals tied for fourth in league goal scoring. In the CHL, Johnson exploded with an even more impressive 11 goals and 25 points in just 12 games.

As his contract with Frolunda extends through next season, it’s probable that we won’t see Johnson in Toronto until 2016, either at the NHL or AHL level, but he’s produce enough for our writers to shoot him up our rankings. There’s a significant drop off after our consensus #1 pick, but Johnson leads the second grouping of Leafs prospects due to his exciting offensive potential. – Justin Fisher

#1 – William Nylander

The Maple Leafs surprised – and delighted – everyone by drafting William Nylander 8th overall last year. A small-ish, super-skilled Euro? That did not seem like the MO of this franchise. The pick signalled a big change in philosophy, especially when it was revealed that the Leafs would have moved down if both Nylander and Winnipeg pick Nikolaj Ehlers were off the board at 8. 

Not everyone was a fan of the pick – many thought the Leafs needed a big power winger and were upset when the Leafs left Nick Ritchie on the board. But Nylander’s done everything since being drafted to show why he is an incredibly important building block for this franchise moving forward.

After pre-season, Nylander went back to play for MODO and had an insane year for a 18 year old, posting 20 points in 21 games. He played big minutes and all situations, entirely as a centre. The numbers shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, as his offensive game has been described as elite by almost every scout you can find. In fact, a few scouting services said he might have the most elite offensive skill set in the 2014 draft. And if you can find video highlights of some of his work in the SHL, you’ll see that Nylander is a special talent.

He also represented Sweden in the World Juniors, posting 10 points in 7 games. Again, he was one of the go-to players for that team, and was essentially a one man breakout when he was on the ice. An exciting player to watch with the puck, as his possession game is obscene. 

In January, the Leafs recalled him with the intent of giving him some time in the AHL. He has 2 points in 4 games so far, playing on the left wing. There’s been a noted focus on getting him used to the smaller ice, a more physical game, and for Nylander to focus on developing his defensive side. 

If Nylander can even become simply competent at defense and little fan-favourite things like faceoffs, he could become a top-line centre for the Leafs. If not, he projects as a top-line winger. A bright future for one of the most important Leafs picks in recent history. – Bobby Cappuccino