Can Mitch Marner fend off the competition and remain the Leafs top prospect?
#5 – Dmytro Timashov
What a jump. When this top-20 list was put together in September, Dmytro Timashov was ranked #18 – to put that into context, that was six spots below Freddie Gauthier. When he was drafted in the fifth round last summer, people likely looked at his statistics and thought “he must be a one trick pony, plus QMJHL stats mean very little”. A mere six months later while watching him at the World Juniors that analysis was universally changed to “how the heck did that guy drop to the fifth round?”
While the World Juniors were his coming out party, Timashov has been incredible all season. With 53 points in only 29 games, the first half of his season was more than anyone expected. The thing is, he’s been great so far in the second half. During the tournament, Timashov was traded to Shawinigan and has 7 points in only two games with his new team.
He’s flashy, explosive, and does things with the puck on his stick that people expect from a top-5 pick like Mitch Marner. Timashov is showing that he has elite playmaking skills and the ability to create dangerous offense every shift, though he’ll have to put on some muscle and work on his awareness without the puck on his stick to succeed at the next level. Luckily for Leaf fans, his weaknesses are things that can be developed while his raw talent looks to be through the roof.
He’ll be turning 20 on October 1st, so Timashov will be AHL eligible next season, meaning we are likely to see him on a Marlies team that will need a boost of offense with the inevitable departure of William Nylander to the NHL. He’s not the perfect prospect but as a 5th round pick, Leafs management couldn’t possibly be more excited by what they see in Timashov. Don’t be surprised if he jumps ahead of a couple of these top-5 guys by this time next year. – Tom Hunter
#4 – Andreas Johnson
The Marlies are right under our noses, the World Juniors just happened, and there’s the small matter of actually watching the Leafs. It’s easy for a European prospect to get lost in the shuffle. While plenty of people know that Andreas Johnson is worth paying attention to, I still wonder if the full scope of how great he’s been is being appreciated.
Andreas Johnson adds a high-end, shoot-first winger to the Leafs system that seems to be primarily stocked with playmakers. Johnson is a player who knows how to use his speed and shows it off on a regular basis on the bigger ice surfaces in Europe.
The majority of the questions around Andreas Johnson seem to be the common ones for players who come over from leagues overseas. Will his game translate? And can he put up points in a league that doesn’t consider Spencer Abbott to be a star player?
While there aren’t any guarantees, the fact that a teen/early 20s player has had no trouble dominating makes me feel comfortable with the idea he won’t lose a step next year in the AHL, which is likely the plan for him. – Jon Steitzer
#3 – Kasperi Kapanen
While adding known-quantity prospects though trade is a great way to increase you odds of developing NHL players, you risk putting a heightened level of expectation on the player if the deal that lands them is substantial.
This is what Kasperi Kapanen started his season dealing with; not only being the son of former NHLer Sami Kapanen but the crown jewel of the Phil Kessel trade in July as well. Not just that, but as a right-handed, 5’11, scoring forward, many were hoping to see the 19-year-old quickly show why he’d become the next Phil.
But Rome wasn’t built in a day, and sometimes construction has its setbacks. Kapanen, who is playing his first year in North America, suffered an illness right as the Marlies season started, taking him out of Toronto’s opening weekend. A back injury in early November took him out of the lineup for a few weeks, but after coming back from that, his numbers improved; he picked up a goal and five assists in his next seven games.
Kapanen was approved to go to the World Juniors in late December, with the organization hoping that it would boost his confidence and stir up some internalized creativity. While he wasn’t the star for Finland, he did end up being the hero, scoring four points in his first six games before literally putting his stamp on the tournament in the Gold Medal Game.
Overall, Kapanen’s AHL production has been a little disappointing (10 points in 18 games), but he’s one of the league’s youngest players and not everybody can be William Nylander. Illness and injury were tough roadblocks for him and as the season progresses, he should improve. There are moments where you can see why he was a first-round draft pick and why the Leafs went after him; he has a terrifyingly good release and his straight line skating ability is very strong. It might take him a bit more time to develop than the others, but there’s no reason that Kapanen couldn’t play in an NHL top-six in a few years. – Jeff Veillette
#2 – Mitch Marner
I love William Nylander. He’s a blue-chip prospect through and through. But regardless of how great a skater, puck handler, and overall offensive dynamo Nylander is, I just see more raw talent in Marner. Again, Nylander is extremely talented – but Marner has a skill level that just comes off as more explosive and dynamic than what Nylander possesses. As much as Nylander shouts high upside, for my money, Marner screams it. Not only that, but I think he’s got a damn fine chance at reaching that upside. That’s why I still think Marner is the best prospect in the Leafs organization.
It’s worth mentioning too the numbers of Nylander and Marner. People are right to be as hung up as they are on Nylander’s exceptional AHL stat line this season – he’s got 34 points in 27 games as a 19-year-old playing in a men’s league. But for whatever reason, it seems to me like the performance of Marner this season is being overlooked. As insane as it was for Marner to put up 126 points in 63 games in the OHL last season (2.00 points per game), he’s finding a way to top those totals this year – he’s got 61 points in 28 games, good for a 2.17 point-per-game pace. Yeah, Marner is playing in the OHL, but let’s not lose sight of how exceptional and rare it is for anybody to put up the sort of numbers that Marner is. It’s highly subjective at this point who’s better between Marner and Nylander, but if I were a betting man, I’d say Marner has the brighter future ahead of him. – Shawn Reis
#1 – William Nylander
I’m not sure if it’s very surprising, but it’s always a big deal when there’s a change at the top of the rankings. In the preseason, we talked about how Mitch Marner might have just a touch more raw talent and a better two-way game and gave him a slight edge on William Nylander. Just a few months since then, we’ve seen Nylander compete at levels higher than I thought possible, and he’s forced our hand this time around.
Last time around, Marner was ranked #1 by four of our seven voters. This time, Nylander took eight of nine first-place votes.
What Nylander has accomplished in the AHL is incredible, leading the league in scoring for most of the year as a 19-year old in a league dominated by players in their mid-twenties. Had Nylander come up in the Canadian junior leagues he wouldn’t even be allowed to compete at the level he is today, a testament to how advanced a prospect he is. In 27 games so far this season, Nylander has amassed 14 goals and 34 points, tying him for third in AHL scoring. Remember, though, that Nylander left the Marlies in mid-December to represent Sweden at the World Juniors while leading the league in scoring. A month later, he’s only two points shy of the lead.
As Nylander is expected to return to the ice sooner than later from a concussion sustained at the WJCs, there’s only one thing standing in the way of him finishing atop the AHL scoring race, and that’s a call-up to the Maple Leafs. Nylander is NHL ready, and Toronto fans shouldn’t have to wait much longer before he’s piling up points at the Air Canada Centre.