TLN’s Top 20 Leafs Prospects: Honourable Mentions

We’ve finally wrapped up the TLN Top 20 Prospect countdown, and have declared Mitch Marner the finest prospect in all the land by the slimmest of margins. We had some players unexpectedly high (Harrington) and some that may seem low as soon as the CHL season starts up (Timashov). 

That doesn’t mean we’re done with prospects, as there are plenty of players who didn’t make our list. Today we’ll take a look at some of the players who received votes but didn’t make the cut and Wednesday and Thursday we’ll take a look at the players we ignored completely. It’s entirely possible that we’ve completely missed the boat on some of the guys and might realize that we have a diamond or two in the rough.

Jesper Lindgren

Lindgren received votes from four of our seven writers, but since not one valued him over 18th on the list, it wasn’t enough to pull him any higher. Lindgren had more people voting for him than Matt or Sam Carrick, but no one who was unreasonably high on him to shift the numbers.

Lindgren is another is a seemingly long line of Swedish defensemen drafted by the Leafs. Stralman and Gunnarsson certainly set the bar high, and opened the door for Loov, Nilsson, and Granberg, but Lindgren might be a bit more promising again, as he’s a bit more offensively driven like Stralman. Lindgren put up 33 points in 39 games in the Swedish under 20 league and will get his chance to prove what he can do for MODO in the SHL this season.

Assuming the year goes well for Lindgren it still wouldn’t be shocking for Lindgren to do another season in Sweden. With a crowded Marlies blueline bringing him over isn’t going to be the highest priority unless Lindgren absolutely blows everyone away.

Tom Nilsson

Tom Nilsson is the opposite situation of Lindgren. Only one person ranked Nilsson, but the person who did had him fairly high. A year ago, I would have been one of the people high on Nilsson, expecting his defense first style of the Swedish League to be even more effective on the smaller ice in North America. What happened was that wasn’t necessarily the case, and the Leafs are likely looking at another defender along the lines of Petter Granberg. 

Now that Nilsson is a bit more settled into the North American game it seems that we’ll learn whether he can evolve his game to be valuable in all situations. Nilsson will be a bit of a project even if things go well, but a lackluster season for Nilsson and upcoming free agency might see Nilsson on his way back to Sweden if he doesn’t establish himself.

Antoine Bibeau

Bibeau was the only Leafs goaltender to receive any votes, and did so from four of the writers, though 3 had him at 20th. Since nobody knows goaltenders like a goaltender, here’s a take on Bibeau from TLN’s resident goaltending expert, Cat Silverman:

I’ve been almost overly critical of Leafs goaltending – at least when it came to their prospect depth charts – for the last handful of seasons, and Bibeau has been no exception to that rule. 

At this point, I still consider him a project goalie, much like the other two in Toronto’s system – but while I’m starting to warm up to Bibeau, I think he’s still got a lot in his game that needs work. A product of the QMJHL’s inconsistent goaltending development system, Bibeau is heavily reliant on his size and his reaction speed as a big, athletic netminder with plenty of NHL upside. 
What I don’t like about Bibeau’s game is his consistency; I think he’s got a bit of trouble reading talented shooters (something that could be a problem for him if he graduates into the NHL too early) and that results in him allowing goals that he wouldn’t with more sound technique. He’s a hard worker and possesses plenty of confidence, which serves him well – but I’d like to see him make conservative saves not just because he knows he fills the net, but because you can tell he’s made an accurate read on the play. 
I think it’s possible for Bibeau to hit the NHL one day, and behind the right defense he could probably pull off being an NHL starter – he’s got the physical stamina to carry off that kind of workload. It’s also possible that a chance to work with Steve Briere will help him in the future, as the former USHL/NAHL goaltending coach is good for working with technique incorporation in addition to natural talent. Plenty of people are too high on Bibeau, but plenty of others are also guilty of being too low on the prospect – he’s worth keeping an eye on as the upcoming year gets underway. 

Zach Hyman

Hyman is another player who received a number of votes but none high enough to make the list. Instead Hyman lands on the honourable mentions list. 

Hyman had a breakout season playing alongside Dylan Larkin last year, and after it was clear he wasn’t interested in signing in Florida, he was dealt to Toronto for Greg McKegg. The trade breaks down to being fairly even, though Hyman brings a bit more size up the middle than McKegg and what he lacks in offence, he makes up for with having more of a two way game than McKegg did. 

Hyman is also a former client of Kyle Dubas, so he’s got familiarity going for him, as well as hometown boy status which should open a few doors for him. The reality of the situation is that Hyman brings a very similar skillset to other Leafs center prospects. Carrick, Gauthier, and Toninato are all two way players in the lower leagues who are projected for the bottom six of a NHL team if they are lucky. Hyman and Carrick are both likely to get looks with the Leafs this season, though with Hyman that might be a bit premature. A strong year with the Marlies might set him up well for gig with the Leafs next season and beyond or we may learn that the Panthers were right to let him go.

Dominic Toninato

A solitary 19th place vote lands Toninato on the Honourable Mentions list, though I have to admit I was close to including him as well, not that it would have made a difference.

Toninato is very similar to Hyman in a lot of ways, although he never had someone as good as Dylan Larkin to inflate his numbers. Toninato has a bit of a skating advantage over Hyman as well, and although he’s a step back offensively, Toninato might be the best defensive forward prospect in the organization outside of Gauthier.

Toninato will once again be the leader for University of Minnesota-Duluth and his junior year should be his last with the team if he’s going to make a jump to pro. Long term Toninato should find a place in the Leafs organization. He has enough ability and hockey sense to carve out a niche as a bottom six forward for either the Marlies or the Leafs.

Nolan Vesey

I was the only person to include Nolan Vesey on my top 20 list, and at 19th I’m still not expecting the world of him, but a young offensive winger taking the long route to the pros is at least a little interesting. Picking up 23 points as a Freshman isn’t too shabby, especially when he isn’t on a very solid team. At 6’2 Vesey has enticing size, but at 20 he’ll need to take a big jump in his sophomore season, and try and hit the pro ranks sooner rather than later. While his older brother is going the distance at Harvard, University of Maine is definitely not the ivy league, and if he can get to a point per game pace he’s future might be brighter in Orlando or on the Marlies following this year.

  • SEER

    The only one who I don’t have a video made for yet, is Vesey.., but I’m thinking that he will be a little longer developing than some of the others..

    Nilsson, Hyman, Bibeau and Toninato are four that might just surprise some, in camp… All are under-rated, in my opinion..

    TOM NILSSON MONTAGE

    —> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQiz6jUSlAA

    ………………….

    ANTOINE BIBEAU 2014-15 HIGHLIGHTS

    —> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIZyzC2PiOw

    ………………..

    ZACH HYMAN 2014-15 MONTAGE

    —-> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nlb4C5J7gN0

    ……………..

    DOMINIC TONINATO 2014-15 HIGHLIGHTS

    —-> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oqe_i8WFW88

    …………………..

    …and here’s a link to my LEAFS PROSPECTS PLAYLIST.., which will give you a look at most of the others, before Friday, Saturday & Sunday’s Rookie games (all begin at 7:30pm.. , Ontario time)

    —-> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YY_8NNteTXc&list=PLjIjS3gHB-tbFStV2WKDkWIS8vai02cEO

  • Benjamin

    I figured you guys didn’t bother with the goalies. No love for Sparks? He had a pretty good season last year, and has improved very steadily since being drafted.

      • Benjamin

        I realize that, my question is why not?

        Edit/Add-on: He just hasn’t done anything wrong in my eyes. I worry Bibeau is basically Pogge 2.0, and Gibson had the bad playoffs + has already been let go by another NHL team, but what are the knocks against Sparks?

        • Personally, I think he’s the best goaltending prospect the Leafs have, but it worries me that he couldn’t win the starting gig in the AHL and was forced into the ECHL for playing time. That may be political, but it’s still a concern for me. He did very well there, but still

          Having none of the goalies ranked is more an indication of how good the skater prospects are. That… and none of Toronto’s goaltending prospects are all that good to begin with. They’re ok, but none of them are sure things to make it past the AHL level.

    • As the person on the site with a Sparks bias (and one who didn’t vote) I can say that from my perspective, we know a bit more of what we’re getting from Bibeau at the moment. Sparks had a great year but he just changed up his style quite a bit to prevent further injury. I’d like to see a year in the AHL playing true hybrid to get a better feel for where he falls in the goalie depth chart.

      Luckily he’s still super young. Not seeing him ranked this year shouldn’t be a red flag for you (and I promise we’ll cover him and his development this year when we can if Justin lets me). Not having him on the list doesn’t mean we think he’s bad, but there’s little data with his current style of play to work with when voting.

  • lindgren is the only one i have real hope for. he has the highest upside. he needs to add a lot of weight and get better defensively. nilsson looks like he can be a fine bottom pairing guy and the college prospects never give me much hope. i’m always skeptical of them given our history with them… they could be bottom 6 guys or not good enough at all. if they make a successful impact in the nhl, great. if not, oh well. bibeau looks good but needs to be consistent. i can see him as a good back up. toninato looks like our best college prospect but again, i’m not holding my breath for most of these guys.

  • Benjamin

    @ Cat and Justin

    Thanks for the thoughtful responses. Definitely didn’t know about the shift in style, and the uncertainty about what he might have done or not done in the AHL does make sense.

    Hopefully the goaltending picture gets a little less murky this year.