As we approach the half-way point of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ season this Wednesday, there’s no better time to take stock of the organization’s best young talent. In our preseason rankings, we saw a huge number of 2015 draftees debut on the list and displace a lot of incumbents. Now we see, after a half-season, we see who’s made big impressions and who’s disappointed.
In past years, we’ve had more complicated criteria for defining a prospect. At the start of this season, we decided to simplify things and go by Calder Trophy eligibility. Essentially, if you’re eligible to win Rookie of the Year honours, you’re eligible for our list. As such, one name you might expect to see but won’t is 22-year old Joshua Leivo. Two brief stints in the NHL makes him ineligible.
As for who actually took part in these rankings, nine of our writers submitted lists – Jeff Veillette, Jon Steitzer, Ryan Fancey, Cat Silverman, Bobby Cappuccino, Shawn Reis, Adam Laskaris, Tom Hunter and myself.
So, can Mitch Marner hold on to the top spot? How does the trading away of Carter Verhaeghe and Matt Finn affect the results? Have any goalies impressed enough to crack the list?
It’ll be very interesting to see how things play out, but before we really get into it, let’s take a look at the prospects who just missed out on the Top 20 list. Here are our honourable mentions… players that received votes from our staff, but didn’t accumulate enough points to stick.
An honourable mention in the summer rankings, Zach Hyman received just a lone mention in the TLN staff Top 20 this time around, and finds himself back amongst those who just missed out. The 23-year old Hyman is currently in his first year of professional hockey with the Marlies, putting up 20 points in 35 games in a top-six forward role. Hyman came to the Marlies after a four-year career at Michigan where he was named a Hobey Baker finalist, and a three-year career with the Hamilton Red Wings where he was named CJHL player of the year.
Despite the resume of performing at high levels in the past, Hyman’s yet to crack an NHL roster five and a half years after his draft day, which causes for skepticism as to what his window of opportunity may be. Of course, players have made their debut later than that- including NHL All-Star Leo Komarov, and he’s not old, but Hyman’s running out of time to make a meaningful impact at the NHL level, especially in an organization where there’s more impressive, younger forward prospects coming up through the system. – Adam Laskaris
Admittedly I may have placed Tony Cameranesi a little high when we submitted our top twenty lists, but honourable mention is likely an ideal landing spot for a player who has been buried under the hype of the 2015 draft class.
At 5’9, and 22 years old, it’s easy to write off a player who is just now becoming a point per game player in the NCAA as a Senior. And given the Leafs track records with Irwin, Hanson, Bailey, Brenner, Gysbers, etc. its not too difficult to be jaded towards Cameranesi, Toninato, Vesey, and Joshua.
For the past couple of seasons it seemed like Dominic Toninato might be the top Leafs prospect on Minnesota-Duluth and at the very least fit in with the depth of bottom six forwards playing a similar style to Gauthier and Carrick.
This season Cameranesi has been making the most of being one of only a few offensive options on an extremely low scoring team. Using his excellent speed and above average playmaking abilities, Cameranesi has thrived in the first line center role.
His skating affords him the opportunity to take risks on a team that plays pretty conservatively, and his size is yet to pose an issue for him. With the Marlies likely to graduate a substantial number of their top six forwards next season, Cameranesi might be a reasonable in-house replacement, although his NHL ceiling seems like it tops out in the bottom six and it will be an uphill battle to get there.
It will be interesting to see what the Leafs do with Cameranesi as he has the potential to be a Byron Froese type surprise, but is a true long shot for anything more. Given that upside it may be better in the organizations best interest to trade Cameranesi to an interested club or simply walk away this summer and not burning a player contract on depth. – Jon Steitzer
This is the first time since starting this prospect ranking series that Viktor Loov hasn’t cracked our top twenty list, and I’ll be surprised if he ever gets back there.
At 23-years-old, Loov hasn’t really taken much of a step forward in his second year as a pro in North America and is currently sitting on just 8 points through 35 games for the Marlies. He’s never been seen as much of a point-producer anyway, but you’d still like to see more from him at the minors level if he’s ever going to be considered for a legit NHL gig. It just seems at this point he’s an absolute long shot to become a real option for the Leafs down the road, and instead appears to be an AHL mainstay.
If there’s one positive to look at with regards to Loov, it’s that the Leafs haven’t given up on him yet, while some of his blue-liner peers like Nilsson, Finn and Granberg have found homes elsewhere recently. Perhaps the Leafs are fine waiting him out a little longer and seeing if he can eventually make his way to doing some spot duty in their bottom pairing, but that’s about as far it looks he can go at best.
Because of this limited upside, Loov falls outside our rankings now that younger prospects with untapped potential and higher expectations have flooded the system. – Ryan Fancey
Byron Froese didn’t make it on our list at the start of the year, nor was he an honourable mention. But his past thirteen months have been all about exceeding expectation.
Froese, a former client of Kyle Dubas and former player of then assistant coach Ben Simon, was signed to a pro tryout by the Toronto Marlies when the team was short on scorers. Unlike previous AHL stints where he was placed in a bottom six role, the Marlies recognized the elite production and shot volume he was producing in the ECHL and put him in a position to succeed offensively. Froese took it, scoring 42 points in 44 games, earning himself a full contract, followed by an AHL extension, followed by an NHL contract in July.
Many still doubted that Froese would make the Leafs, and at the end of camp, they were proven temporarily correct, as he was sent down the the Marlies. After three goals in four games and some roster shuffling up top, however, he was called up to the big club for his first NHL tour of duty in his career.
Froese has been criticized by many since coming up for his lack of offensive contributions, though it’s worth noting that he’s riding a shooting percentage of just 2.3% and has an offensive-to-defensive Zone Start ratio of just 26% at Even Strength, the lowest on the team by a significant margin. Despite playing these fourth-line, highly defensive minutes, Froese has maintained a 47.6 CF%, which is below the curve in Toronto but not bad considering where he plays his shifts and the situations he plays in.
Much of Froese’s success comes from his work ethic; he’s not afraid to go the extra mile to move the puck in the right direction. One would imagine that his shooting percentage will regress back upward soon, given his 11.6% accuracy in the ECHL and 9.4% in the AHL; both slightly above average. It’s possible that he could be used in offensive situations if need be, but barring injury, the Leafs will likely have at least 2 or 3 higher pedigree centres ahead of him at all times. Mike Babcock will likely continue leaning on him as his defensive fourth line centre for a while yet.
But hey, when you’re a year removed from not being sure if you’ll ever get an AHL contract again, playing on the Toronto Maple Leafs is a pretty sweet leap. – Jeff Veillette
Antoine Bibeau came into the season as a part of what seemed like a relatively weak goaltending depth chart (and for the Leafs, the chart still could be stronger), but his placement so low for many of us was likely just a byproduct of what’s been a very, very good season for Garret Sparks.
Bibeau remains what he’s been since day one, which is a former QMJHL netminder with a good amount of raw talent but a lot in his game that needs to be developed if he hopes to have an impact at the NHL level. It hurts his chances that Christopher Gibson played well in his recall for the Islanders and Sparks has been so spectacular at all level this year, though; ideally, Bibeau would be improving at a similar rate to them, and he seems to be struggling a bit this year. There’s still plenty of time to see him succeed, but he’s no longer in contention for Toronto’s best goaltending prospect – and not by a long shot. – Cat Silverman