#20 – Nikita Korostelev
When the Toronto Maple Leafs nabbed Sarnia Sting forward Nikita Korostelev in the seventh round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the term ‘late-round steal’ was bandied about almost immediately. In some eyes, Korostelev was a second-round talent, having scored 53 points in 55 games for the Sting in his draft year. To get someone like Korostelev so late was a huge win for Toronto, and made his immediate debut in TLN’s preseason prospect rankings at #11.
To say the first half to Korostelev’s 2015-16 season has been disappointing is an understatement. Despite returning to a fairly strong Sarnia team that features New Jersey Devils top prospect Pavel Zacha and 2016 top prospect Jakob Chychrun, Korostelev has been unable to even keep pace with his previous season’s numbers – he has just 26 points in 36 games.
While you’d rather Korostelev be able to produce offence on his own, Sarnia’s recent addition of Philadelphia Flyers youngster Travis Konecny should greatly improve an average offense and, hopefully, light a fire under TLN’s 20th best prospect. – Justin Fisher
#19 – Frederik Gauthier
If Frederik Gauthier ever etches out a career in the NHL for himself, it’ll likely be as a fourth-line center. However, we as a staff feel at least reasonably confident that he can fulfill that upside, so he’s able to still squeak onto our list of the top 20 prospects in the Maple Leafs organization.
He’s having a satisfactory season at best – 11 points and 27 shots on goal in 28 games played for the Toronto Marlies in his first season of pro hockey. That said, it’s hard to expect much more from a guy who was never able to go over a point-per-game in junior. So while his numbers are far from intimidating, they’re to be expected. What’s really to be remembered here are the finer details of Gauthier’s game: at the end of the day he’s still 6”5’, an ace on faceoffs, and well above average when defending in his own zone. Mike Babcock praised him for as much in the preseason, and it’s enough to leave us feeling like his highly specialized skillset can and will be found useful by the Leafs at some point down the line. – Shawn Reis
#18 – J.J. Piccinich
Making his debut on the list, JJ Piccinich is one of those prospects you forget about. Playing a bottom-6 role that most 18-year old freshmen find themselves in, Piccinich probably dropped out of the consciousness (if he was ever there to begin with) of most Leafs fans. This past summer when he decided to leave Boston University to join the London Knights, Piccinich was overshadowed by the Knights addition of fellow Americans Max Jones and Matthew Tkachuk. We didn’t really know what to expect from the winger who had only 4 points in his 25-game NCAA career.
Piccinnich’s OHL career got off to a rocky start as he had to work his way back into the lineup after a preseason injury. Once he got going, Piccinich wasted little time adapting his playing style to the OHL game. With 21 goals and 45 points in 36 games, Piccinich sits fourth on the team in scoring and is doing so while playing a secondary role behind the top line of Marner, Dvorak and Tkachuk.
Piccinich has a very good shot and is able find open space to put himself in a position to score. He plays very well with the puck on his stick which is likely why he started to look better when taken off of the Marner line and matched up with Max Jones. His skating is nothing to write home about but it’s good enough for him to play at the NHL level.
He has been getting better as the season goes on and if he’s able to become more consistent there is no reason to believe that Piccinich won’t be a player that Leaf fans will start getting excited about over the next few years. – Tom Hunter
#17 – Jesper Lindgren
Two of our writers left Lindgren off their list altogether, but seven of us placed him as low as 20th and as high as 11th. It appears that some of us are convinced that Lindgren will eventually arrive in Toronto as one of the Leafs’ top, young puck-moving blueliners while others like the upside but need to see more. Personally, I think both stances are fair.
Lindgren spent most of his draft season piling up points as a 17-year old on a powerhouse MODO J20 team. This year, Lindgren is out of the junior leagues and plying his trade against men. Spending most of the season so far with MODO in the SHL, scoring three points in 24 games, Lindgren was recently loaned out to his hometown IF Bjorkloven in order to get him more icetime. That might sound like a demotion, but it’s likely best for his development; MODO is a veteren-heavy squad and Lindgren averaged just over 10 minute of icetime per game, making him a sixth or seventh defender at best. With Bjorkloven, Lindgren has already scored two points in four games.
Lindgren will be a slow burn, but aggresively offensive and smooth-skating defenceman could surprise over the next few years. I don’t see him rising much higher in these rankings anytime soon, but he certainly deserves a place in the back of your mind. – Justin Fisher
#16 – Stuart Percy
Stuart Percy is one of the bigger question marks on this list, since it’s especially difficult to predict whether he’ll climb back up again or fall out of it completely in the next year or so.
It wasn’t long ago that Percy was earning a stint with the Leafs and looking like a guy who could easily adapt to the pace of the NHL, but a year of injury and stifled development has things up in the air for him, and as such he’s fallen down our rankings quite a bit.
Percy has played the majority of games for the Marlies this season and has seen a slight uptick in his production (0.44 points-per-game through 30 appearances), so that’s definitely a positive. But for me it seems the Leafs sort of hit the reset button here on Percy when they drafted Dermott this past summer, and the former has taken a dip on our list until he can establish his game again and generate some excitement to get him back up there with the younger guys who’ve become much more of a focus recently. – Ryan Fancey