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Objectively how good are the Maple Leafs’ prospects and how much does it matter?: Leaflets

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Photo credit:Steven Ellis
Jon Steitzer
7 months ago
It’s now mid-August and we’ve reached the point where players are reporting to camp in less than a month. We’re probably two weeks away from seeing pockets of players skating at the Maple Leafs facilities and regular reports on how everyone is in the best shape of their lives. Exciting stuff. The other thing about mid-August is that we are at the halfway point in the TLN Prospect Rankings and that seems like an opportunity to drop my opinion on the overall status of the Leafs prospect pool.

So and so is the Leafs (xx)th best prospect? What does that mean compared to the rest of the league?

I’m going to start off by saying that I really love doing our prospect rankings here. I think Nick Richard has done an excellent job of taking a lead on that coverage this season and want to thank him for his work there. I also enjoy looking at what other sites are doing in regard to prospect rankings as there are certainly varying opinions between what we have and Pension Plan Puppets has, as well as other sites like The Hockey News. While we’d probably assert ours is the best, there is always a ton of room for debate in the apples to oranges world of prospects.
Still, context is key and while we might see Ty Voit as the 11th best prospect in the Maple Leafs organization that warrants a lot of additional discussion on what that means in the grand scheme of things. And when you look at the Leafs best prospects (I’m purposely trying to avoid spoiling anything in the upcoming rankings) what does that mean compared to other organizations.
Understandably the Maple Leafs prospect pool is not what it was post-Matthews draft. William Nylander and Mitch Marner were sitting in the organization. Connor Brown and Kasperi Kapanen were obviously highly regarded promising pieces as well. Everything was about the future and future looked bright. The Leafs even did a great job of adding Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin to the mix in the next couple of years to keep the future looking promising.
Things changed when the future became the present and the players projected as stars were stars. Draft picks and young players were dealt and the focus became on finding late round gems and getting it right in the second and third rounds. Arguably the Leafs did a good job of stocking the cupboards with the picks they had left, but if you aren’t picking in the draft lottery your talent pool begins to be criticized, especially by the people who spend the majority of the year weighing on what the draft order should look like. A few years ago you could say that draft order doesn’t matter much after the draft, but with only three players in the NHL’s top 40 scoring last season being drafted after the third round, teams have begun getting it right a lot more frequently, and those three players (Hyman, Benn, and Pavelski) aren’t exactly recent picks either.
Understandably it is easy to be critical of the Leafs prospect pool based on draft position.
The Leafs do have some ways of making up ground. The Maple Leafs having the OHL in their backyard is an absolute advantage, albeit a small one. The Leafs established network of overseas scouts with strong track records when it comes to going off the board absolutely helps too. The biggest difference is the post scouting difference, and this is where the Leafs deep pockets have been utilized most effectively, and that is with player development. Toronto has the means to give more to players within their 0rganization than pretty much any organization. This is how Toronto has been closing the prospect gap and this is where potential head scratching draft picks begin to make more sense.
If Toronto is drafting based on who they believe they can turn into the best NHL player rather than who looks the best at that point in time, Toronto can very have one of the best prospect pools outside of teams that are presently going through their high lottery pick cycle.
So I guess comparatively the Leafs are still in the back half of the league when it comes to where their prospects fit in league wide comparisons. The Leafs don’t have bonafide top line, top pairing, starting goaltender talent, they have some probable top six, top four talent, some likely NHL calibre talent, and some intriguing swing for the fences talent.
You won’t find much Leafs representation on Top 100 Prospects lists (one Leaf made the lengthy honourable mentions of a recent Top 50 list) and as such the talent pool doesn’t look great. For the next few years if the Leafs are retaining their core group of players, the top end talent might not matter as much either. It’s certainly nice to have, but the real strength of the Leafs prospect pool comes from maintaining a steady flow of capable NHL players. At the moment it looks like the Leafs have that.

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