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2019 Leafs Prospect Rankings – The Maybes: Jeremy Bracco

Jeremy Bracco

Position: RW

Physical: 5’9″, 181 pounds

2018 TLN Prospect Ranking: #5

Draft Information: 2nd round, 61st overall in 2015

Here’s the thing about Jeremy Bracco: no matter what you think of him, no matter how high or how low you are on his future in the NHL, there are at least three people on Twitter who vehemently disagree with your opinion.

Like, right now. You didn’t even need to Tweet it. Check your mentions. They’re there.

Bracco is, without a doubt, the most divisive young player in the entire Leafs system. No one else even comes close, frankly — a list which happens to include the former seventh-round pick who was converted to centre a few months ago and is now being pencilled in as the 4C of the future.

The consensus on Bracco is that there is no consensus. Ask any ten people what they think of the pint-sized playmaker and their responses will range from “Mitch Marner lite” to “cotton-soft bust”  to “future trade bait” along with everything else in between.

Are any of these accurate? Well, let’s find out.

Why is He In This Tier?

Before we move forward, let’s first kick things off with a fact: Jeremy Bracco nearly led the entire AHL in points last season with 79. He was also a sophomore, one who sat for almost the entirety of his team’s championship run the year prior and was only just being tasked with the responsibilities of an offensive focal point.

Nevertheless, the kid made history.

With two AHL seasons in the books — the first of which saw him log a mere 50 games — Bracco now sits with the most points, most assists, and highest points-per-game rate of any AHLer born in 1997, while his sterling output from 2018-19 earned him the 13th highest-scoring season in AHL history for a 21-year-old. If that weren’t enough already, Bracco also capped his year off with a second-place finish in assists, with 57.

You can’t ignore those accolades, no matter how hard you try to. They’re incredibly impressive.

So, when factoring in his age and the relative difficulty of his competition, Bracco is actually coming off one of the most successful seasons from a Leafs prospect in recent memory. This wasn’t your typical 150-point explosion from a guy in his final year of Junior, folks. Bracco put these numbers up against grown men. Adults, if you will. That’s a whole different ballgame.

The kind of second-year breakthrough Bracco just put forth would, in years past, have earned universal praise all summer long, fostering an unreasonable level of pre-season hype that the former second-rounder would inevitably be unable to fulfil.

Funnily enough, that’s not the case. In fact, the public discourse surrounding Bracco at the moment is arguably sourer than it was at this time last year. Why? There are a number of reasons, the most likely one having something to do with the fact that more people actually watched Bracco play with their own two eyes last season instead of simply referring to his stats on paper.

Pros/Cons of his Game

Are you an “eye test” fan? If so, chances are you’re not super high on Bracco.

The foundation of Bracco’s game is built upon a few varying attributes that are equally unique and questionable. The most notable of the bunch, of course, is his skating. God, is it ever weird. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone skate the way Bracco does. For better or for worse, his penchant for lateral movement is truly a one of a kind.

Whereas most players typically change direction by moving both feet towards the place they intend on going, Bracco splays his out at either side of his body while simultaneously opening up his hips in what can only be considered an attempt at hockey’s version of a crab walk.

This method, while unorthodox, certainly has its benefits.

Possessing such a firm grasp on lateral transition allows for Bracco to change direction on a dime, particularly while in close quarters. Through the use of subtle body movement, Bracco can create space to alter his shot path, passing lane, and positioning along the boards without losing sight of the puck or quelling the momentum of the play.

Few players are capable of doing this, which is important to note. Skills that are specific to one player alone should be nurtured, not snuffed out, and Bracco’s lateral skating fits that bill.

At the same time, though, everything comes at a cost. Bracco’s toll just happens to be his straight-away speed.

The absence of a true top-gear has become a problem for Bracco that even his most ardent supporters can no longer ignore. Against professional competition, Bracco finds himself on the losing end of one-on-one footraces far too often, a blemish that can otherwise be lethal to a player so reliant on pure skill.

The hunched over skating stance Bracco adopts is perfect for its intended purpose — that being lateral movement — but when it comes to getting from point A to point B, his centre of gravity is dipped so low that it stunts his legs from achieving the long, powerful strides conducive to fluid acceleration.

So, regarding his future in the NHL, this is perhaps the most glaring red flag.

As the game gets faster by the day, Bracco’s relative lack of speed simply does not compute. Sure, he’s been able to spin and dice his way around AHL opponents thus far. That’s without question. But if Bracco’s elusiveness fails to translate perfectly (and I mean PERFECTLY) to the level above, one of the primary attributes responsible for his success becomes effectively null and void.

What then?

Well, to be fair, there are other things which separate Bracco from the pack. His vision as a playmaker, for instance, is unmatched within the entire organization. In fact, he’s arguably the Leafs’ most gifted passer, harbouring an ability to not only find open lanes others can’t, but successfully hit his teammates through traffic, as well.

These gifts have turned Bracco into the AHL’s foremost power-play weapon. With Bracco setting up shop along the half-wall/lower-point, the Marlies opted to run their entire attack through him last season while emphasizing backdoor set-plays to which the New York-native pulled off gloriously.

Just look at the patience on display there. Look at the vision. It’s beautiful.

In one fluid motion, Bracco threads the puck through three different opposing sticks, landing it directly onto the blade of a waiting Chris Mueller who, if you’ll notice, was already in mid-shot due to the fact that he just expected Bracco to find him.

And find him he did. A good 15-20 times that season, in fact.

Above all else, It’s Bracco’s passing ability that will one day give him a shot at the NHL. Whether he builds enough aspects of his game around it to earn full-time duty remains to be seen. But for an organization in need of young, cheap skill to prolong their contention window, finding out what you have in a prospect like Bracco is a must for the Leafs.

Best/Worst-Case Scenario

Both the peak and the valley of Bracco’s potential are relatively defined.

Add another gear to his skating stride without sacrificing lateral ability, and MAYBE Bracco tops out as a middle-six NHLer who makes up for his sheltered even-strength minutes by absolutely torching opponents on the power play. On the other hand, if Bracco fails to improve his straight-away speed and chooses to banks on the already-defined attributes in his arsenal instead, his ceiling gets capped out as a man-advantage specialist within a league slowly filtering out singularly-focused archetypes.

Few teams possess the roster space to employ a player who is capable of doing only one particular thing. The Leafs are not one of those teams. For Bracco to reach hockey’s highest level, he needs to diversify.

Then again, with a coach like Mike Babcock, even that might not be enough.

Outlook

If Mike Babcock still coaches this team a year from now, Bracco’s fate may already be sealed.

For all of the skill and production littering Bracco’s resume, his game is, unfortunately, the exact type Babcock tends to turn his nose up at, cloaking his preconceived notions in parables on “compete level” and “pushing the play”.

Bracco actually does both of those things, funnily enough. His style just doesn’t reflect that. And considering how he’s not 6’5″, won’t kill penalties, and isn’t an expert on the draw, Bracco could easily find himself chalked up to an excess on the wing by Babcock and passed over for call-ups in favour of different (read: taller) archetypes like Pierre Engvall.

Needless to say, this year’s training camp will be an interesting one to follow.