Another Look at the Leafs Depth Prospects

Yesterday we started the process of giving lip service to some of players who didn’t receive votes for our Top 20 Prospect list. A few of them we still have some hope for and others were Petter Granberg. Today we finish up with the remaining prospects so we can be in compliance with our duties and the president of the internet will recognize us as an accredited Leafs blog.

Andrew Nielsen

Poor Andrew Nielsen. When most of us look at the 2015 Draft,
his selection in the third round is the pick that confuses us the most. With
most of the draft being focused on smallish, high scoring, high potential
players, in comes a traditional 6’3 stay at home blueliner who leans on people
to be successful.

Elite Prospects
has this to say about him…

“A brutish, big-bodied defenseman that has the size,
willingness to give up the body, and physical maturity to make a difference on
the ice. Establishes an imposing presence when bearing down on opposing
players; does not allow any time or space, and can cause turnovers easily. Has
a good eye and is able to make crisp, accurate passes to teammates; also
possesses a hard shot. While his skating could be improved, he isn’t immobile
and can get around the ice post haste. All-in-all, a physical two-way defender
who establishes pressure on the opposition and can also provide offensive
support. (Curtis Joe, EP 2015)”

What makes me think that we could all be proven wrong on
Nielsen is that Lethbridge was an absolutely horrid team, and in that situation
it’s difficult to stand out as a defender. The Hurricanes lacked a big name
draw to get scouts to their games and it’s entirely possible Nielsen could be a
talent who was buried in a bad program.

With Berehowsky out as coach it’s possible that Lethbridge
will be improved next season, but for Nielsen’s development I still hope he’s
moved. A chance to play in playoff games in a top four role would likely give
us a better understanding of what is so special about Nielsen who right now
seems be another in the line of Leafs bottom pairing depth defenders.

Stephen Desrocher

I guess Desrocher is the other “Who?” pick from the 2015
draft for the Leafs, but in an organization that has just added D.J. Smith it’s
entirely possible the Leafs will make us excited about Desrocher over time.

Like Nielsen, Desrocher is a all situations defenceman in
junior, but his 6’4 200 lb frame seems to have him destined for stay at home
defender in the pro ranks. Speed is an issue, but smarts definitely aren’t and
defensive smarts are a big reason why Oshawa won the Memorial Cup.

The additional knock on Desrocher is that he’s 19 and late
bloomers aren’t usually the greatest prospects at the next stage.

That being said, if Desrocher is able to keep a stripped
down Oshawa club afloat this season there might be more to him than we think.
Right now Desrocher looks like a decent player on a championship team and seems
to lack in any standout abilities. We’re at excitement level: Andrew
MacWilliam.

Cody Donaghey

After a solid 2013-14 and earning a contract after a tryout
with the Leafs things came crashing down on Cody Donaghey. A knee on knee
collision limited him to 27 games in season where big things were expected.

Now that’s not to say Donaghey is done for, it’s just that
his journey to the NHL just became a whole lot tougher. Another year in Quebec the QMJHL (edit: He’s with the Halifax Mooseheads now) will help, and as an undrafted signing he was always considered somewhat of a
project to begin with, but with few right handed shots in the Leafs defensive
prospect pool Donaghey will get his shot. The fact that there are even fewer
offensive defensemen with right handed shots on the Leafs increases that
opportunity even more.

Byron Froese

Froese is a player that many of us doing the TLN prospect
rankings didn’t have on our radar. He’s a bit older at 24, but his strong year
with the Marlies was enough that the Leafs offered him a contract, and may mean
that he’s a potential call up this season.

I admit to look at Froese the same way I regard Trevor
Smith, a very good AHL player and that’s not a bad thing. His ability to be a
proven offensive commodity around less experienced players this season is
something critical for the Leafs.

From
Jeff Veillette on Froese in March:

“In 28 games with the Marlies this season, Froese has put up
23 points, good for the highest points per game count of any player on the
team. He’s also producing points about 400% more efficiently than he ever did
at the AHL level. But, what’s causing this?

As crazy as it sounds, it might be as simple as him shooting
the puck more and taking advantage of the opportunities that come out of it.
“I think it’s something I picked up last year in Cincinnati,” Froese
told me on Sunday. “I realized that the more shots I had, the more
chances I had to score, and the more chaos goes on in front of the net. I found
last year, especially in the playoff stretch, that when I was shooting the puck
more, I had a lot more success.””

It seems that Froese is ahead of the curve on what the
organization wants to do, and may benefit from that, as well as his versatility
to line up at any forward position.

Ryan Rupert

Ryan Rupert was a player that seemed easy to write off as a typical Burke pick. An attempt to chase down heart and soul and use that as a basis for building a team not recognizing that you can pick up any number of those players on July 1st for slightly above the league minimum. The difference between players like Tyler Biggs or Brad Ross and Ryan Rupert though is that Rupert was selected in the sixth round when it seems reasonable to take a player you’d hope to one day add to your bottom six. And like Leo Komarov before him Rupert might deliver as the pest of the future.

In his first pro season Rupert managed to put up 15 goals with the Marlies in a bottom six role, and while that offense isn’t likely to be repeatable in the NHL for him, the 5’9 center seems like he has the potential to be capable utility player for the Leafs at some point, and add a consistent presence to the Marlies in the coming years.

Casey Bailey

Every season there’s always a big name NCAA Free Agent available, last year that name was Casey Bailey, and now that he’s a Leaf it’s safe to say the excitement for him is underwhelming. 

A 23 year old winger who has played six pro games isn’t going to be the most hyped player in a system as newly deep as the Leafs, but what he represents is a low risk lottery ticket. The Leafs have him under contract for the next season and if he can show that he’s in consideration for a job with the Leafs he’s delivered on expectations. He’s a nice layer of depth that prevents rushing to call up Nylander or Kapanen everytime Lupul’s hurt or another asset is traded, and he’s another worthwhile threat on an offensively driven Marlies club. 

While Bailey might mainly be seen as depth at this point, there’s still the long shot of him turning into a found wallet and in the current state of the Leafs he should get a chance to prove that he is the late bloomer we need him to be.

Garret Sparks

If you follow Sparks on Social Media you get a small glimpse into how Sparks is truly a student of the game and puts in a tremendous amount of work to grow as a goaltender. When you add to that his incredible numbers (.936 Sv Pct) from the ECHL last season it’s clear the Leafs need to find a way to give Garret more of a chance in the Marlies net.

With Gibson retaining his Marlies platoon rule and Antoine Bibeau being the hot hand out of training camp last season, Sparks slid in the depth chart, but his two AHL appearances leaving him with a .966 Sv Pct after 120 minutes shows that he needs another serious look in Toronto. With Bibeau’s shine wearing off over time, the Marlies may wish to return to the Sparks/Gibson tandem, allowing the slightly younger Bibeau the opportunity to test out the number one role in Orlando. And with the Leafs possibly looking at dealing the soon to be UFA free agent James Reimer at some point in the season, the pecking order on the Marlies could be important down the stretch.