Yesterday we kicked off the series with our Honourable Mentions, today we kick off the series “for reals” with the start of our Top 20.
#20 Jesper Lindgren
Lindgren is becoming the veteran of prospect lists. He’s finally made it over to North America, and found himself rotating in and out of the lineup as the Marlies experienced a depth of defensemen at times and fell victim to a run of injuries at other times.
Lindgren’s first year full year in North America probably identified him as someone far from the top of the defensive prospect queue, but didn’t really eliminate him from the conversation either. The fact that Lindgren has a right handed shot is going to keep him on the radar despite the fact that he’s turning 23 next month and is at the age when a lot of prospects get cut loose.
Lindgren is a strong skater and capable of making smart decisions with the puck. He’s comfortable carrying the puck out of the zone, but while he lacks the size some seek on the blue line, he is smart enough to be a low risk defender with or without the puck in his own zone.
#19 Kevin Gravel
Perhaps the weird part about ranking players before the summer is that there are a number of expiring contracts included in this list, and Kevin Gravel is the first one to make an appearance here. Gravel is 28 and an unrestricted free agent who has had issues staying healthy throughout the year. It’s hard to imagine he’s in the future of the Marlies or the Leafs, but perhaps deserves some consideration as depth if the NHL does resume or the playoffs are played.
Gravel was brought in to be a “play it safe” option for the Leafs blue line with a bit of size, standing at 6’4. If the Leafs aren’t comfortable with leaning on their young and more offensively driven defensemen, it’s possible that Gravel could be recalled for the playoffs. Most of his experience this season was playing for the Marlies when Keefe was still the bench boss, so that’s the stretch we’ll make here.
#18 Mikko Salomaki
Similarly to Gravel, it’s probably a safe bet to call the Mikko Salomaki era in Toronto over. His four points in eight games for the Marlies will be the 27 year old’s legacy in the city, as well as being the player that rid Toronto of Ben Harpur and any chance of him ever playing in a Leafs uniform. That’s not nothing.
Salomaki did have a number of years where the Predators tried him at the bottom of their roster, but after six years of him trying to stick in the NHL, it’s become clear he’s an AHLer and since he’s an unrestricted free agent once the season is declared over, Salomaki is probably moving on.
#17 Kristians Rubins
Back when we initially did our rankings, Rubins was on a Marlies contract, but we felt his performance was strong enough that we’d give him some consideration as a player within the organization to keep an eye on. Our decision was ultimately validated by Kyle Dubas as he signed him to an entry level contract shortly after.
Earl Schwartz has a full write up on Rubins here if you want to check it, but for those of you who don’t like clicking things, here are some of his key takeaways…
In case it is not clear how much confidence coaches have in Rubins, consider that both Joseph Duszak and Mac Hollowell split time between the ECHL and AHL this year, while Rubins played more games for the Marlies than any D besides Teemu Kivihalme. Rubins is actually younger than Duszak, and would have been drafted one year later.
It’s difficult to compare Rubins to Duszak or Justin Holl though, as the latter two had at least 3 years of NCAA hockey on their resume before turning pro. Rubins was already a pro in Latvia and Sweden before playing in the WHL, and even had international experience for Latvia. His trajectory is going to be different because of that, and honestly there are not many NHL players to compare him to considering his path.
Just knowing the tools Rubins has, and his ability to quickly earn the trust of his coaches, he is going to be an important Marlie for the next two years. He could be stuck behind Martin Marincin or Calle Rosen to start next season, but looking at Hollowell, Duszak, and Jesper Lindgren on the right side Rubins is the only lefty their age. He will have an opportunity to play big minutes with them, and eventually compete for a recall from the Leafs.
#16 Joseph Woll
It’s been a long time since the Leafs have had a legitimate goaltending prospect in the system. I mean, I guess Reimer turned out okay for a time, but he was never as highly touted as *checks notes* Justin Pogge. Damn. I guess having a goaltending prospect might not be all it’s cracked up to be.
That doesn’t change the fact that Woll seems very good. He’s done a couple of stints as Team USA’s World Junior goaltender to varying success, he had an impressive three year run as the starter at Boston College, and in year one with the Marlies he picked up 32 starts, but posted an underwhelming save percentage of .880. Not a deal breaker, especially considering that the 21 year old has plenty of time to develop into a suitable NHL goaltender. (*checks when Andersen’s contract is up*). I mean he’s got one more year.
Realistically, like most goaltenders Woll will be a bit of an organizational project, and a bit of patience can return some strong results. Not rushing Woll to the NHL but handing over as much responsibility as possible with the Marlies is the best course of action and it appears the Leafs are doing that. Perhaps in a couple of years we can have a serious conversation about what Woll will be.
The next batch of five players are up tomorrow before we move on to the Top 10.