Monday, July 5, 2010

Top 10 Fantasy Prospects: Toronto Maple Leafs

The second entry in my Around the League in 30 Days series lands in Toronto with a rebuilding team in one of the league's top markets.

Normally my "favourite darkhorses" would be kept separate from the top 10, but the Leafs' lack of depth in terms of fantasy potential meant I had to include my favourites within the top 10 and choose others to profile separately.

Darkhorse #1: Juraj Mikus, D
Mikus has been a favourite of mine within the Leafs' prospect pool since he was drafted. He is a massive blueliner (6'4", 201 lbs.) with some solid two-way upside.

Mikus spent two seasons in Slovakia's men's league playing for HK Dukla Trencin, where he played well but didn't post great numbers. He played in the '08-'09 World Juniors for Slovakia and was, far and away (in my opinion), their best defenceman.

Mikus made the move to Toronto last off-season so he could make his North American debut with the Marlies. This debut was a huge success as Mikus led the team's defence in scoring with 23 points in 68 games.Juraj will likely play at least two more seasons with the Marlies, and should be a dominant AHL player as soon as this season.

Darkhorse #2: Jesse Blacker, D
A second round pick in the 2009 draft, Blacker is another solid two-way defenceman - this time a little smaller (6'1", 190 lbs.) with a right-hand shot.

Buried as a bottom-pairing defenceman with Windsor during his draft year, Blacker was able to score 21 points. After coming back to Windsor for the '09-'10 season and being just as, if not more, buried, Blacker was traded to Owen Sound where he was able to show his stuff with 30 points and 62 PIMs in 48 games.

Last season saw Blacker debut with the Marlies for a few games, but '10-'11 will see him back in Owen Sound where he should be one of the league's top defencemen.

Darkhorse #3: Matt Frattin, RW
Being a 4th round pick normally doesn't allow for a prospect to have much stock to fade; however, Frattin's been one to test this idea.

The 5'11", 185 lb. right-handed winger was an awesome talent drafted out of the AJHL, where he led his team in scoring as a 17/18 year old and finished second overall in league scoring after netting 49 goals and 83 points in 58 games. Frattin made the move to the University of North Dakota's successful program and had a solid pair of seasons, but was arrested during the '09-'10 offseason for a DUI. Frattin ended up getting reinstated, finishing the season with 19 points in 24 games.

With Frattin entering his senior year with UND, I would not be surprised to see him improve upon his points-per-game numbers like in past seasons (previous numbers: .349, .595, .792) and go over a point-per-game. With a strong team around him, Frattin should be a key contributor to UND's offense and could very well end up as a contender for Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA's top player.

#10. Kenny Ryan, RW
Ryan, a 6'0" winger who checks in at 205 lbs., is a pretty safe bet to make the NHL in some degree and has a decent amount of offensive upside: the problem is he hasn't been able to showcase it yet.

Kenny came up through the U.S. National Training and Development Program where he finished 4th in team scoring on the U18 team after tallying 49 points in 62 games during his draft year.

After being drafted, Ryan was supposed to go the college route, attending Boston College, but he opted to move to Windsor to play for the OHL's Spitfires. He ended up in a depth role with the deep team, but ended up with 35 points in 52 games - not an impressive number, but given the circumstances it's not that bad.

With the likes of Taylor Hall and Adam Henrique moving on from Windsor, Ryan will be back in a much bigger role. He deserves watching as he could very well be one of the Spitfires' top weapons, which would automatically push him into the mix within the OHL scoring race.

#9. Sondre Olden, RW
I won't talk much about Olden here: instead, check out my analysis of him here.

I will, however, add my perspective from a fantasy standpoint. Olden has top-line NHL potential, much like Kopitar when he was drafted. Kopitar, though, was playing in the Swedish Elitserien against men so he earned himself a first-round selection; Olden, on the other hand, worked his way from U18 hockey to U20 hockey and did quite well - just not well enough to go higher than the third round. There will be more post-draft obstacles in Olden's way than there was Kopitar, so the certainty of him becoming a full-time NHLer are nowhere near as high, but Olden's upside alone puts him into this top 10.

#8. Brad Ross, LW
I'll be 100% honest: I am not a Leafs fan in the slightest even though I'm living in Toronto; however, Burke did an awesome job at this year's draft given what he had to work with, mostly to deal with getting Ross by trading away Jimmy Hayes (he's overrated, in my opinion).

Ross didn't exactly turn too many heads in his rookie season, garnering 26 points and 119 PIM on a weak Portland team: the '09-'10 season, on the other hand, boosted Ross's stock into a potential late-first round pick. Portland was a much-improved squad this year thanks to the youth movement provided by Ross along with 2010 #4 and #5 overall picks, Ryan Johansen and Nino Niederreiter. Ross went almost a point per game with 27 goals and 68 points in 71 games, but, more impressively, Ross led the WHL in penalty minutes with 203.

Ross is expected back in Portland yet again to play for what should be an even stronger team. All three of the players mentioned could and should approach the 100 point mark, with Ross possibly pushing 35+ goals but with slightly fewer PIMs as he'll be playing a more integral role.

I would love to see Ross make Team Canada's World Junior team in a role similar to that played by Stefan Della Rovere the past two tournaments. I would personally say that Ross is a smarter player with more offensive tools than Della Rovere, and with the Canadians playing on American ice it wouldn't be a bad idea to bring his aggressive, physical play along in an attempt to reclaim the gold.

Ross isn't a big forward, currently listed on the NHL site as 6'0" and 175 lbs., but I have no reason to believe that he won't be at least 6'1" and 190 lbs. before getting a crack at NHL ice-time. He's proven he can play with the skilled guys, so that makes him a versatile candidate to play anywhere in a team's top-9. Seeing how little star-players are protected these days, Ross should be a very valuable piece for the Leafs moving forward. Don't expect Ross to stay this low on future rankings, as he's one of the few from the 2010 draft class with huge multi-category potential.

#7. Korbinian Holzer, D
This kid is so under the radar, it's not funny: Leafs fans should be excited about him even though they won't see him for a little while.

The big blueliner checks in at 6'3", 205 lbs. and has a big right-handed shot from the point. Holzer debuted in Germany's second-tier men's league at 17 and played two seasons there before getting called up to the DEL with the DEG Metro Stars. Holzer was solid, but unspectacular, with the team until this year, when he broke out as second in team defencemen scoring with 6 goals and 16 assists in 52 games along with 96 PIMs (good for 4th on the team).

Korbinian has been a staple for Germany's international teams throughout his growth as a player: he's played for them once in the U17s, twice in the U18s and twice in the U20s. This year, he managed to crack the German Olympic team, where he got into 4 games, and played for their World Championship team, where he stepped up as one of their best defencemen.

Holzer's making the move to Toronto to suit up with the Marlies this year, and he probably needs a full two years there before making a bid for a spot with the Leafs. He does have the most potential of anyone on this list though, so keep a close eye on his AHL rookie season.

#6. Gregg McKegg, C
Another awesome pick by Burke in this year's third round, McKegg is a pick with awesome upside. Gregg is currently 6'0", 190lbs. but should be about 6'1", 200 lbs. when he makes the NHL.

A former #2 overall pick in the '08 OHL draft, McKegg's junior career was a disappointment until this past fall in which he finished third on his team in points with 85 in 67 games and played in the OHL All-Star Game. After the OHL season finished for McKegg's Otters, he suited up for Team Canada's U18 team. On a team full of let-downs, McKegg was one of the few bright spots: he was second in team scoring with 7 points in 6 games and he finished the tournament as the leader in face-off win percentage at almost 71%.

Considering his pedigree, his offensive skills and his solid two-way game, McKegg could easily sneak onto Canada's World Junior team - though it would be a challenge with so much competition. Look for McKegg to approach, and quite possibly break, the 100-point barrier in the OHL next season.

#5. Mikhail Stefanovich, LW
Stefanovich, a 6'3", 201 lb. right-handed winger from Belarus, spent three seasons in the QMJHL playing for the Quebec Remparts. In his rookie season, Mikhail led the Q in goals by a rookie with 32. The following year, Stefanovich blew away his previous season netting 49 goals. Overall, in 171 career games with Quebec Mikhail scored 106 goals to go with 104 assists.

Stefanovich has been a solid contributor for Belarus on the international stage as well, representing them twice at the U18s, thrice at the World Juniors and twice at the World Championships. At this year's World Championships, he scored 2 goals in 6 games to finish tied for 5th in team scoring.

Stefanovich is set to make his pro debut with the Marlies and should get a lot of time on the powerplay as that's his bread-and-butter. It's hard to say how his game will translate to the pro leagues, as he's not overly physical, but he has top-line potential as a scoring winger.

#4. Ben Scrivens, G
Scrivens, a free agent signing out of Cornell University, is a goalie with decent size at 6'2", 181 lbs. who has an unknown amount of pro potential. His pedigree, however, shows plenty of upside if he does make it.

I don't think a goalie can get much more consistent than Scrivens was with Cornell. After playing a back-up role in his freshman season posting a 2.30 GAA and 0.911 SV%, Scrivens was named starter. The three seasons Ben played as starter, he managed to massively improve his numbers while being the team's workhorse. He lowered his goals-against average to a near-miniscule amount (2.02, 1.81, 1.87) and somehow improved upon his save percertage (0.930, 0.931, 0.934). His most recent effort won Cornell the ECAC Championship while being named ECAC Goaltender of the Year and a Hobey Baker Finalist in the process.

I would expect Scrivens to be the Marlies' back-up goalie this season, but management may decide to get him some big-time minutes playing in the ECHL.

#3. Jerry D'Amigo, LW/RW
Jerry D'Amigo is far and away the biggest question mark on Toronto's prospect chart: the question isn't if he'll be an NHLer, rather what role will he play?

Most people peg D'Amigo's upside as a second/third-line tweener who chips in a modest number points. I can't help but agree at first glance, but there might be more hidden under the surface.

The 5'11", 196 lb. winger from the U.S. National Training and Development Program just seems to put up points at every level. With the American team at the '07-'08 U17 tournament, D'Amigo won a silver medal and finished third on the team in scoring with 5 points in 6 games.
The following season, D'Amigo went over a point-per-game after netting 56 points in 53 games with the US NTDP's U18 team - a number only behind Jeremy Morin. D'Amigo went on to dominate that season's U18 tournament for the American gold medal team, leading the US in scoring and finishing tied for third overall in points.

The '09-'10 season allowed D'Amigo to jump out of the shadow and establish his legitimacy outside of the NTDP. Jerry formed good chemistry with Chase Polacek and CHI prospect Brandon Pirri at Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute (RPI), where he ended up getting 34 points in 35 games and winning the title of ECAC Rookie of the Year. His real shining moment, however, was the World Junior Championship when he scored 6 goals and 6 assists in 7 games for the American team, finishing second on the team in points and winning the gold medal in the process.

D'Amigo just has "it": he forms good chemistry with his linemates, he puts up points, and - when it comes down to it, the most important fact - he wins. Toronto will be hard-pressed to keep him from climbing their depth charts as "just a tweener" if he keeps progressing like he has the past few years.

#2. Jussi Rynnas, G
Another free agent goalie signing, Rynnas is a massive goalie out of Assat's system in Finland and was a relative unknown coming into this season.

Rynnas started the season with Assat's SM-Liiga team where he was slated as their back-up, but stole the starting job from Eero Kilpelainen. Assat was horrible this year, finishing second-last in the league's standings, but Rynnas was able to post a 2.50 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage: a number that was good enough to earn him the title of league's best (he finished second, but first place did not play enough games to qualify).

You can get a good sense of Rynnas's potential when comparing his numbers against Kilpelainen's: the 6'4", 205 lb. goalie's goals-against average was 0.53 lower than Eero's, and his save percentage was .019 better.

Rynnas will likely be the Marlies' 1A goalie this year, and look for him to post more good numbers in giving Toronto fans hope for years of solid goaltending.

#1. Nazem Kadri, C
Without a doubt the cream of Toronto's crop, Nazem Kadri has all of the potential to thrive in his hometown market. Currently listed at 6'0" and 185 lbs., Kadri should put on some weight and end up around the 200 lb. mark, which, paired with his speed and intensity, should make him a force.

Kadri has been awesome as far ago as his OHL sophomore season where he had 65 points in 68 games in the regular season and helped lead Kitchener to the OHL Championship with 26 points in 20 playoff games. I can't pull up any real proof, but Kadri also had a very good Memorial Cup with Kitchener.

During the '08-'09 offseason, Kadri was sent to London as part of the "future considerations" given to Kitchener in acquiring Steve Mason. The following season, his draft year, was even better from an individual standpoint, garnering 78 points in 56 games to go along with 21 in 14 playoff games.

'09-'10 is where Kadri really showed that he is a big-time NHL prospect, taking things to a whole new level. He impressed Leafs brass enough to stick around out of camp and make his NHL debut, but was sent back to London to dominate the league - which he did quite swimmingly! Kadri approached the 2 points-per-game mark racking up 93 in 56 games, and led his team in scoring by 26 with 11 games in-hand. Possibly the best part of his season was the added physical element in which he accumulated 105 PIM, a number which ranked him 40th overall in the league. Kadri's playoff performance was even stronger than in past years with 27 points in 12 games, putting him in 4th overall in playoff scoring and 1st in points-per-game. In addition to all of his league-based success, Kadri made his international debut for Team Canada at the World Juniors and ended up with 8 points in 6 games.

Toronto still needs a #1 center having not signed or traded for one: in my personal opinion, Kadri should find a way to sneak into their top 6 along with ample powerplay minutes, but Burke and Wilson may ease him into the role by starting with the Marlies.

Thanks for reading, next up: Florida!

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