Jeremy Bracco hasn’t been suiting up for the Toronto Marlies all-that-often in his first professional season.
In fact, he’s been scratched for 11 of the team’s 19 games.
“I knew coming in (that) we had a real good team, (with) a lot of guys, and it wouldn’t be easy to stay in the lineup,” said Bracco after the team’s practice on Friday afternoon. “So, anything you can pick up (from the press box), whether it’s practice day, game days, off days, anything you can learn and be better at is big for sure.”
Since being drafted by the Leafs in the second round of the 2015 draft, Bracco has evolved into a well-known prospect across the hockey world. On the surface, seeing Bracco as a consistent scratch can be viewed as alarming, or rather, confusing, to a casual observer.
Bracco’s 2016-2017 campaign put him on the national stage twice. First, in January, Bracco captured a gold medal with Team USA at the World Juniors. A couple months later, Bracco helped the Windsor Spitfires hoist the Memorial Cup, scoring two goals per game through the four-game tournament.
“He can really make plays,” said Leafs’ head coach Mike Babcock. “I like to see him when he’s got the puck and he’s cruising around the offensive zone. He sees the ice, he thinks real well. He’s gonna have to get stronger for sure. We have a lot of talented guys up front in Toronto — it’s going to be tough for everybody.” H/T Sportsnet.
Yet, Bracco has only suited up for eight of the Marlies games, tallying a mere two assists.
But with plethora of forwards ahead of Bracco, there simply isn’t a spot, at least yet, to hand off to Bracco. The thing is, the Marlies/Leafs don’t need Bracco to quickly morph into a key contributor. With the team rolling four solid lines, getting Bracco accustomed to the pro game, and let him earn his minutes the hard way–takes priority.
Bracco’s undergoing quite the adjustment as the AHL game is a far-cry from Junior hockey, on and off the ice.
“You can’t go through your legs (in the AHL),” said Bracco. “(If you) turn it over, you’re sitting for the next eight minutes and in Junior, I (could) do that and could would be like ‘really?’, then you go back out and try it again.”
A big part of transitioning from the CHL to the AHL, especially for Bracco who’s listed at a generous 5’11, 171lb frame via the Marlies website, is bulking up. And in terms of that, there’s plenty of progression in Bracco’s development, according to Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe.
“He’s a guy that’s transitioning well,” said Keefe. “We haven’t given him a whole lot of opportunity here in terms of games, we’ve put a lot on his plate off the ice, and he’s handled that extremely well.”
Bracco has accepted the challenges and there’s no doubt he’s bought-in to the Marlies plan.
“It’s been a lot of fun to see myself evolve through (off-ice training) and to have a team like this kinda pushing for you on your side, (it) means a lot.”
And while Bracco has only competed in less than half of the team’s games– the competition amongst the group of young Marlies’ forwards, is constantly ongoing.
“It’s a competition every day,” said Keefe. “For spots, and ice time and even in practice, and that competition is very healthy.”
For Bracco, the leap from CHL hockey to pro hockey means saying so long to billet families and home-cooked meals, and say hello to living on your own, and the world of independence.
“You live by yourself, you learn to adjust, you need to make dinner for yourself,” said Bracco. “Not everybody is around your age on the team, so there’s only a certain amount of guys for dinner, some have families and stuff, so it’s a little bit different that way.”
(SEE ALSO: Our profile on Bracco from the summer)
While many young adults are alike Bracco in making the transition of living on your own, –it can be easy to make a mistake, or two. And in a hockey-crazed market like Toronto, those few slip-ups could define your perception for years to come. Luckily for Bracco, veteran forward Rich Clune has quickly evolved into a mentor of Bracco’s through the start of his professional career.
“(Clune) is only 10 years older than me, but it’s kinda like a father figure in a way that–he just tries to make sure I don’t do anything stupid in (my) first year.”
And if any player can steer away a young player from making mistakes early on in their career, it’s Clune.
“Obviously people know his stories that he’s spoken about, the things he’s battled through and the things he’s persevered (through),” said Bracco. “So for me, to learn from a guy like that is second to none.”
Leading scorers of recent Memorial Cup Winners
2017: Jeremy Bracco (WSR/TOR)
2016: Mitch Marner (LDN/TOR)
2015: Tobias Lindberg (OSH/TOR)
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) May 30, 2017
The more advice and guidance a young player can get early on, the better.
“It’s just (about) talking to him, being honest about where we feel he’s at, and what we feel he needs,” said Keefe. “(We are) trying to make players understand the big picture.”
And once the training wheels are off Bracco, the Marlies could get ahold of yet another young superstar, knocking on the Leafs door for a spot, just like the rest of them.
“We think he’s made great progress, so we’re really happy with that and excited for what’s to come.”