The Toronto Maple Leafs have become good at amassing prospect depth. Very good; perhaps too good for their own good. Four Leafs draft picks have been singled out as players that the team could lose if they don’t sign them to contracts by certain cutoffs.
|Fabrice Herzog||22||2013||5||142||Zurich Lions||NLA||44||9||11||20||14||10||16.02|
|Stephen Desrocher||21||2015||6||155||Kingston Frontenacs||OHL||65||12||39||51||30||1||19.3|
Naturally, the idea of giving up players that the team committed assets to (in this case, four late-round draft picks over four drafts), is a little bit concerning. It seems like poor asset management when you think about it; like you’re throwing players away.
At the same time, though, there are a few other factors at play before one can go screaming for the hills.
First and foremost, when you’re a team that prides itself around amassing depth, even small contracts can be risky ones. Take a player like Korlostelev. Canucks Army’s Prospect Graduation Probabilities System (pGPS), which weights various factors and contributions in a players development career to see how likely he is to have a successful career, ranks him as the likeliest of these four prospects to graduate and play at least 200 NHL games.
That sounds great until you realize that his ranking is just 16.5% and that on a typical NHL team, his likely end destination is as a bottom six or even injury replacement player. For reference, the lowest odds that pGPS gave anybody in our Top 20 this summer that came out of the OHL was 23.9% for Jeremy Bracco, and that was with a career sample that was rooted more into his USHL career with just 58 OHL games to work with. Bracco has seen those odds climb with his Draft+2 season, but that’s what 83 points in 57 games will do for you at that level; Korostelev had some sweet highlights, but only stayed a little bit over a point per game.
That’s not terrible, but for a 6’1, 200-pound skill-based winger who is playing Major Junior at Age 20, you want something more. I was a huge Korostelev booster when they picked him, and if they were to find room for him somewhere in the organization I’d be happy with the decision, but as it stands, it’s hard to feel that it’s vital to keep him.
Keep in mind that he is the brightest light of these four; Desroscher sits at 6.3% (with best case scenario comparables being Greg De Vries and Dalton Prout), Toninato sits at 3% (with Matt Henricks and Chris Porter being best cases), and Herzog has no comparables who have come up with through his path. While he did have a really nice goal against Canada in the World Championships, his regular season consisted of him being doubled in goals and points by his teammate Patrick Thoresen, who’s NHL career peaked with blocking a shot with his groin.
While anything can happen with any of these guys, history sides against all of them in even the most neutral of situations.
2017/18 Toronto Marlies Projected Depth (Not Including UFAs)
|Left Wing||Centre||Right Wing||LH Defence||RH Defence|
|B. Leipsic||A. Brooks||S. Griffith||T. Dermott||J. Holl|
|K. Rychel||B. Smith||J. Bracco||A. Nielsen|
|A. Johnson||F. Gauthier||N. Soshnikov||C. Rosen|
|T. Moore||M. Aaltonen||D. Timashov||A. Borgman|
|T. Lindberg||T. Cameranesi||J. Piccinich||R. Valiev|
The Leafs organization isn’t the most neutral of situations, though; especially for a group that includes two wingers, a centre, and a left-handed defenceman. The team already has 37 players under contract for next year, and that’s with eight restricted free agents and at least one or two entry-level contracts to potential re-sign and with no efforts to replace any of the various UFAs scattered around the top two clubs. Not to mention, a look at the Marlies (since none of those four would be NHLers) has you wondering where any of them could find a spot.
Korostelev and Herzog would likely struggle to get in the lineup most nights or would have to head to the Orlando Solar Bears to play. That should rule out Herzog, who is already playing pro in Switzerland, immediately; he’s not jumping over here to play ECHL hockey. The only centre of this group (which doesn’t include Brett Findlay, who’s return wouldn’t shock me) that Toninanto stacks up with his former UMD teammate Tony Cameranesi, and even then, we’re talking about a comparison to a player who outperformed him in college and scored only 7 points in 31 AHL games this year. Desrochers would have a much easier route; the 21-year-old would be fighting with at least five other defencemen for a spot on his natural side; two of which are both younger and more established than him.
Sheehy says he will talk to the Leafs about Toninato again on July 3, adding the forward is not interested in an AHL deal.
“Dom’s a good player. Will teams be interested? Yes. There will be many teams interested in him,” said Sheehy. “The process right now is working with the Leafs. They hold his rights till Aug. 16. They have a lot of things that they’re trying to figure out.”
-Neil Sheehy (Toninato’s agent) to the Toronto Star, May 20
The point here isn’t to say that all four of these players are sure-things to never make it that the Leafs are the absolute pinnacle of prospect cultivation. But we’re looking at three players who will likely seek to find entry-level contracts somewhere else in the league, and one who will likely stay across the pond to play professional hockey at home, because those situations are better for them.
A few years ago, that would’ve sounded catastrophic; it would’ve sounded like the Leafs were so much of a mess to take a chance on. Today, though, it’s a different story; one where a “thanks, but no thanks” means that there just might be too much of a traffic jam of similarly aged, similarly styled players who are a little bit better. The opportunities are elsewhere not because of ill-preparedness, but due to the bottlenecking that comes with only having so many contracts and so many roster spots to give.
If they do sign none of the four, it’s possible that the Leafs regret letting go of these lottery tickets (Korostelev, Desrochers, and Herzog on June 1st, Toninato on August 16th). But it’s only because the team has put itself in a position where they’ll have as many or more chances as everyone else does to find more NHL talent through its pipeline for at least the next few years, and that’s encouraging to see.