Not surprisingly the biggest driver when we are completing our prospect rankings is which players have the greatest upside. It’s nice to be NHL ready, but as free agency regularly teaches us, there isn’t a shortage of bottom six bubble players or depth defensemen, the payoff comes from having players that are going to come in and make a true impact.
That said, there isn’t any shortage of players who have overachieved once they got their chance in the NHL. I know the example of Mason Marchment will upset people, but he’s an example of NHL ready depth that came in and overachieved. To some extent you can look at a player like Pierre Engvall as a player who projected as depth that overachieved as well.
Plus when it comes to impatience, it’s nice being able to talk about who is NHL ready. We can be excited for Roni Hirvonen and Topi Niemela, but that doesn’t change that we don’t get to see them anytime soon. They’ve still got a couple of steps to get to the NHL.
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It’s in that spirit, that I’m ranking the top five most NHL ready prospects in the Leafs system today.

5. Curtis Douglas

There isn’t a whole lot that Curtis Douglas is going to add to his game that he doesn’t have already. As a player who projects to be a fourth liner, has built up a solid resume as an AHL 4th liner, he’s going to be ready to be called on when the Leafs need him, which probably won’t be immediately.
Douglas does seem like the type of player that is going to make a splash in training camp though, and I fully expect fans to fall in love with a giant forward willing to do all the things the Leafs are perceived to not do.

4. Nick Abruzzese

Abruzzese’s debut in the NHL last season was largely unfair. Playing in the AHL wasn’t really an option given his contract, so Abruzzese played down the stretch for the Leafs whether he was fully ready or not. This year he’ll get a chance to work on his pro game in the AHL for a while before making his return to the NHL.
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That said, Abruzzese is one of the better options for callups if some offense is needed and he has a skillset that warrants another look at the NHL level.

3. Pontus Holmberg

There are a lot of exciting things about Holmberg. He’s put a lot together in the past couple of seasons in Sweden and while he might need some adjustment time to the North American game, he probably has the second best upside of anyone on this list.
Holmberg seems like he could potentially be wasted in a fourth line role, so I wonder if the Leafs will wait for their opportunity to get him into the NHL.

2. Alex Steeves

While Holmberg might be more exciting, Steeves is probably the most likely of this group to make the Leafs out of training camp. The appeal of Steeves is that he seems the most capable of fitting in wherever the Leafs need him, and if they are in a position where Toronto can carry a 13th forward, Alex is a good fit for that. None of his skills are particularly high end, but he is serviceable and that definitely brings some value.
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Steeves being able to lineup at any forwards position and being responsible in all areas of the ice is a big part of what sells me on his shot at being a Leaf. If he can be a poor mans Kerfoot he’s achieved what the Leafs need him to be and then some.

1. Nick Robertson

Finally, there is Nick Robertson. Nick Robertson unquestionably has the highest upside of this group and the most offensive talent as well. He’s been given his shot in the NHL a few times, but never really in a situation tailored to what he needs. That is the challenge with Robertson. He’s going to need the right fit to be successful. A center who will feed him the puck, linemates who make up for his lack of responsibility, and hopefully someone helps him find some space on the ice so he’s not constantly being decimated on hits.
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Robertson as an entry level contract who could potentially provide the Leafs with 15-20 goals, 30+ points would be a dream as the affordable replacement of Ilya Mikheyev’s offense needs to occur for Toronto to not take a step back this year.
Nick is anything but a fully developed player, but the problem is that at an AHL level there isn’t a whole lot left to show. There are things that aren’t presently part of his game to work on, but that’s really not the player you want Robertson to be. Robertson is supposed to be a scorer, and the only way he’s going to get comfortable scoring at the NHL level is to get him playing against NHL defense and goaltenders every night.

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