#10 – Scott Harrington
Harrington is an intriguing prospect. Developing a defenceman is often hit or miss, and the Leafs had the opportunity to cut the line when they acquired Harrington from Pittsburgh in July. While not exactly a blue-chipper poised to win a Norris race, the 22-year-old former second rounder came with 150 games of professional experience on successful teams and an extensive Major Junior career with Mark Hunter’s former London Knights. It’s been over half a decade of sink-or-swim on top teams for him, which has forced him to develop a little faster than most mid-tier talents.
This year, Harrington impressed in just about every training camp appearance he made, leading to him making the Leafs roster to start the season. While he wasn’t dressed every single night, he did manage to get himself in fifteen games. In that stretch, he spent most of his time playing a draw-back shutdown game with Roman Polak which saw the two start most of their shifts in the offensive zone; not so much to try and score but to help the more adept forwards keep the puck from too far across the ice. Harrington’s positive relative possession numbers represent success in this regard.
Harrington was eventually assigned to the Marlies in late November. Since then, most of his appearances have involved him being paired up with offensive juggernaut TJ Brennan. Harrington’s positional awareness and above-average skating ability allows him to stand guard for Brennan as he leads Toronto’s breakout and pinches during offensive opportunities. A similar experiment was conducted with Morgan Rielly when he was up with the Leafs though not much came out of it. At least, not at this stage in the timeline; the future is wide open. – Jeff Veillette
#9 – Garret Sparks
Garret Sparks is having maybe the most surprising season of all Leafs Prospects, and in a good way. The 22-year-old goaltender went took what could have been a significantly diminished career due to injury, and turned things back around; he’s one of the hottest prospect goaltending prospects in the NHL, and it’s not even close.
It may be that there’s just been a small sample size at the NHL level, but something is to be said for a goaltender that can hold his head and ride the hot hand when given a high-stakes opportunity – and from his league debut shutout to the final game before his injury, Sparks proved that the Leafs have a young goaltender in the system who may have the capability of holding his own in the show a year or two down the row. For a team that’s struggled to find consistent goaltending in recent years, that’s something Toronto has to be happy about – and if he can do well in the AHL during his return from injury over the back half of the season, expect him to at least be on the team’s shortlist for candidates either next year or the year after. He’s positionally sound, he’s confident, and he’s still got room to grow; where we observed goaltending depth as a glaring hole in Toronto’s system to start out the year, things don’t seem as dire as they did back in October. – Cat Silverman
#8 – Connor Brown
On our preseason list, we ranked Connor Brown as the eighth best prospect in the Leafs system. This time around, Brown is again the eighth best prospect in the system – and he’s lucky to be there.
That’s not to say Brown has been bad this year, he just hasn’t played. In fact, Breeze only got into eight games this season (scoring four assists) before fracturing his ankle and has been on the shelf ever since. Brown holds down his ranking on the merits of last season when he posted 21 goals and 61 points in 76 games to lead all AHL rookie skaters in scoring, and because guys like Harrington dropped a bunch of spots.
Some of us are concerned that an ankle injury hurts Brown’s stock, since he’s not known for his superb skating in the first place. That said, he’s got a strong offensive game and still figures to be one of Toronto’s top young forwards. Brown will return to game action shortly (he’s already practicing), and if he finishes the season strong, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him earning an NHL roster spot as early as next season. – Justin Fisher
#7 – Jeremy Bracco
Jeremy Bracco is a player that many people, including myself, assumed would have been drafted in the mid to late first round. For whatever reason Bracco slid and the Leafs were fortunate enough to pick up a strong offensive winger who has been one of the highest scoring players in the US National Team Development Program history.
This season had a bit of rocky start for Jeremy as he started the year with Boston College after a summer filled with rumours that he would be joining the Kitchener Rangers. Clearly a player on the fence about which path he’d take, after five games and three assists, Bracco left Boston College in favour of Kitchener and has been thriving there ever since.
On a very talented Kitchener team, Bracco has put up 11 goals, 36 points in 26 games, good enough to be 34th in league scoring despite having played fewer games than any of the players ahead of him. The way the Rangers are built it’s reasonable to expect that Bracco is in for a deep playoff run and possible Memorial Cup appearance, so his decision to transition to the OHL has served him well.
Bracco’s speed and playmaking are easily the qualities to be most excited about. He’s undersized, at 5’9, but teenagers have been known to grow. His defensive game fits with what you’d expect of offensively gifted player who’s played on great teams to have, so while not heavily flawed, is bound to need some work.
It was an oversight for Team USA to not include Bracco in the World Juniors this year, but it’s been nice to see that the disappointment hasn’t slowed him down and he’s spent the past month destroying the OHL to remind USA Hockey of their mistake. – Jon Steitzer
#6 – Travis Dermott
Dermott ranked sixth in our preseason prospect rankings, and he still holds down that position through the middle of his first season on the list.
Already seen as a good decision-maker who can defend efficiently, at least for his age, the focus on Dermott this season was how he’d handle being the go-to guy on Erie’s blue-line and whether his production could take a step forward. While we usually talk about the departure of McDavid in terms of the effect on his linemates specifically, the team as a whole obviously lost a ton of firepower there.
Dermott ranked 13th league-wide among defencemen last season in terms of points-per-game (fourth among draft-eligibles) at a 0.73 clip, but with 31 points in 32 appearances (0.97 ppg) for the Otters this season, he now leads the entire OHL in that regard.
With a World Junior selection in December and what looks like another deep run for the Otters coming up this spring, this season is obviously going to be a nice confidence-booster for Dermott, especially if he keeps up this scoring rate. He still has room to move up this list and bump someone from the top five, but either way, the staff here certainly view Dermott as a prospect worth getting excited about. – Ryan Fancey