TLN Top 20 Prospects 2016: The Final List

T20FINAL

Another year of the TLN top twenty prospects series has clued up, and there’s little doubt this has been our best one yet. The addition of Auston Matthews to an already top-tier farm system vaulted the Leafs to the very peak of the league rankings according to ESPN, and no other organization is really in the conversation at this point.

Toronto has accumulated a notable trio of elite prospects to go along with some major depth throughout the rest of the list we put together. Now it’ll be interesting to see which players rise and fall when we hit our mid-term rankings around Christmas, or if any names from our honourable mentions surface to crack the main group.

Here’s the final list with the links to each profile all in one place:

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

#20 – GARRET SPARKS

When you look past the occasional cringeworthy games, Sparks shows promise. You can see what could be there. And, as a prospect that’s still being developed, I think the belief in what could be is almost as important as what is. – Katy Tearle

#19 – KASIMIR KASKISUO

Kaskisuo’s future next season is somewhat uncertain, with him possibly being a prominent player for the Marlies next year, while also possibly being a complete non-factor for them. In any event, given his age and given the Leafs liked him enough to sign him, you’d have to think he’ll make things interesting. – Shawn Reis

#18 – ADAM BROOKS

While everybody pointed to Brooks being 20 years old when he was drafted, it’s worth noting that he has a May birthdate and actually just played his Age 19 year. And boy did he ever; he led the WHL in points with 120, scoring more this year than he did in the entire three years prior. His NHLe of 36.9 is the third-highest Age 19 total of any player in the system; only Connor Brown’s final year in Erie and William Nylander’s 2015/16 AHL season involved better league-equivalenced production. – Jeff Veillette

#17 – YEGOR KORSHKOV

While some remain surprised that the Leafs picked the 20-year-old so high, it’s very clear that this is a player that has some upside to him, has the frame to harness it, and is going to spend two key years developing in the second best league in the world. There’s a value to playing against the best players you can, and this is the best situation possible for that right now. – Jeff Veillette

#16 – TOBIAS LINDBERG

Tobias Lindberg’s best quality may, in fact, be one that’s hardest to achieve: familiarity. As hockey more and more becomes a game of specialists, Lindberg might very much become a role player with the Leafs in the near future. 

In the classic case of “Mystery Box vs. proven commodity”, Lindberg’s small yet very real NHL sample size probably holds some meaning to the Leafs coaching spot as a reason to get him in the Leafs uniform for at least part of 2016-17. – Adam Laskaris

#15 – ANDREW NIELSEN

Nielsen was perhaps initially underrated and seen as a “team toughness” pick among a 2015 Leafs draft class that otherwise leaned toward small skill guys. His pedestrian production and a boatload of penalty minutes in his draft-eligible season raised some questions about whether he might be a Nonis-type pick. But in hindsight, it’s clear he had plenty of room to grow and was hindered by a weak club, and that’s likely what Hunter recognized when he selected him in the third round. This past season, Nielsen proved it by blowing the doors off production-wise, finishing third among defencemen in points in the entire WHL. – Ryan Fancey

#14 – CARL GRUNDSTROM

Grundstrom is known as a complete player (considering his age), a two-way winger who can pour on the shots and drive the net hard. He’s spent the entirety of his career to date in Sweden, so our exposure to him here on this side of the pond is obviously limited. But he has suited up in international tourneys at essentially every junior level, including the U20 World Juniors as a draft-eligible. Scouts are somewhat split on his skating ability and the sandpaper portion of his game, but generally agree he plays a high energy style on both sides of the puck. – Ryan Fancey

#13 – ZACH HYMAN

Hyman plays a solid game. His stats are decent, he moves the puck well, he’s willing to go hard into the corners. For all intents and purposes, Hyman is willing to do anything it takes, and be anything a coach needs from him. And when you have an up and coming team of Nylanders, Soshnikovs, Matthewses, and Marners… sometimes a steadying presence like Zach Hyman is exactly what’s needed. – Katy Tearle

#12 – BRENDAN LEIPSIC

Leipsic is one of a plethora of under-6’0″ wingers that the Leafs have ownership of. It’s not hard to lower your expectations of him when there isn’t that much pressure for him to succeed. Not everyone can get an NHL job and so if it’s one of the other small wingers instead of Leipsic, no one will be upset.

But it’s important to pay attention to Leipsic, as he brings a lot of tools to the game that maybe the others do not. I sincerely believe that, if given an opportunity, he’ll have a successful first NHL season next year. – Ryan Hobart

#11 – JEREMY BRACCO

Bracco was really productive last season but definitely needs to improve on those totals for me to really feel optimistic about his future. He also needs to improve his skating and ability to put pucks on net. If he can do those things, he likely finishes a lot higher in our mid-season rankings. – Shawn Reis

#10 – NIKITA SOSHNIKOV

Soshnikov had a good rookie season in the AHL, and I expect his point totals to increase next season. I do not believe that he will be able to make the Leafs out of camp this year, though. Another year of AHL hockey, while combined with a few call-ups here and there, will be the best option for him. His consistent work effort is a strong point in his game, and I’m sure the Leafs would like to see improvements in both Soshnikov’s point totals and his on-ice finishing ability. – Jess Pincente

#9 – TRAVIS DERMOTT

When Dermott put up a solid 45 points in 61 games for Erie in his draft year, the concern for a lot of people was that his numbers were inflated from having played on a high-flying Otters team led by Connor McDavid. After improving his pace and putting up 43 points in 51 games this season, it looks like Dermott is a perfectly good player in his own right. – Shawn Reis

#8 – DMYTRO TIMASHOV

Timashov is exactly the type of guy you take a chance on with your later round picks and it’ll likely play big dividends if he pans out. He’s explosively fast like he’s got rocket skates, and he’s creative with the puck. Both skills are great for creating space for other players around him. Speed is the biggest part of his game which bodes well for the new NHL that is built upon it.  – Dom Luszczyszyn

#7 – ANDREAS JOHNSON

Johnson is a very exciting prospect who has often been looked over by the media. In case you have not been paying close attention to the SHL, Johnson has been an offensive force to be reckoned with for Frölunda HC over the past two seasons, dominating in front of the net and lighting up the league. Johnson is ready to make the transition to North America and potentially has a shot of making the Leafs out of training camp next season. – Jess Pincente

#6 – CONNOR BROWN

Ultimately, he is still an impressive talent. He not only has offensive skills, he is also very capable in the defensive aspect of the game. Not necessarily a checking-line-forward type of defense, but more of a protect-the-puck type of defense. I see him having a significantly positive effect in possession stats, since puck control and speed are key assets for him. His scoring ability will be a complement to his hard working attitude, and overall intelligence. – Ryan Hobart

#5 – KASPERI KAPANEN

Kapanen bursted on to the scene as a pretty highly touted prospect. He was taken 22nd overall by the Penguins in 2014 in what looked like a bit of a steal as he was rated higher than that by a number of scouting organizations. Perhaps the teams that passed on him knew something the rest of us didn’t as Kapanen’s progression has been a bit slow since he was drafted. He’s gotten better with every passing year, but not as quick as you’d have hoped from a guy with his draft pedigree. – Dom Luszczyszyn

#4 – NIKITA ZAITSEV

I’m usually of the belief that there’s no such thing as a late bloomer, rather just players that aren’t given opportunities to succeed. Zaitsev might be an exception to the rule; he’s improved to both the eyes and the stat sheet on a year-by-year basis at just about every level he’s played in.

Last year, Zaitsev put up 1.61 all-situations points per 60 minutes from the point, good for 5th among KHL defencemen and over twice the next-best rate for an Under-25 defenceman. Adjusted, you find a solid scoring rate for a 2nd-paring defenceman in the NHL and a still passable one for a top pairing player. – Jeff Veillette

#3 – WILLIAM NYLANDER

By traditional stats, Nylander has dominated the SHL and AHL, averaging 0.82 P/GP in the SHL and over 1 P/GP in the AHL. He also had a strong outing in the NHL with 13 points in 22 games. There’s no question he’s an offensive threat, with a dangerous shot and elite vision. I have no doubts that he’ll be a very producive NHL player, possibly verging on elite. – Ryan Hobart

#2 – MITCH MARNER

He doesn’t necessarily “look” the part of the majority of junior hockey players who succeed, but there’s a beautiful art form in his playing style. There’s the highlight reel plays, sure, and the point totals and the awards. But coming with all that is a player that’s earned the label “too good for junior hockey” – and with good reason: he’s really got nothing left to prove in the OHL. – Adam Laskaris

#1 – AUSTON MATTHEWS

It might seem like we’re over-hyping Matthews, but he isn’t just a top ten or top five pick, he’s a first overall selection. That’s so rare for the Leafs and their fans – the first time in my life – that it isn’t easy to step away from the usual cautious optimism we put on prospects. All signs point to this guy being a franchise center and a star in the league, so feel free get expectations in line with that. – Ryan Fancey


As I mentioned at the top, this has easily been the best Leafs prospects class we’ve ranked in this site’s existence. Some of these players will move on to graduate from these rankings become full time NHLers next month, with Matthews and Nylander locks to do so, and others like Marner right on the cusp. The mid-term rankings will be especially interesting this time around considering that with such a stacked group, there’s potential for major movement with even the slightest rise or slip.