With all the former OHL big wigs in the Maple Leafs front office, it should come as no surprise to see how many OHL prospects they have.
1. Mitch Marner - London Knights
Pretty remarkable season for Marner. As captain, he led his team to an OHL Championship and Memorial Cup. His 44 postseason points were the most in 10 years (since Rob Schremp's 47 in 2006), and he was two points off the Memorial Cup record of 16 points. Needless to say, as the season went on, Marner (and his linemates) became an absolutely unstoppable force. No matter what teams threw at them, there was just no stopping them and you have to applaud that. Marner's vision, poise with the puck, and creativity often allow him to do as he wishes at the OHL level, carving up opposing defenses. As he continues to gain strength and as he continues to become a more explosive skater, Marner could be an unstoppable force at the next level too. The real question is...what now? Obviously the main goal is to have Marner up with the Leafs this coming season, perhaps to build chemistry with Auston Matthews and to kickstart the Leafs rebuild. Is he physically ready for that challenge? I guess we'll find out in training camp. But I'd be damn surprised to see Marner back in the OHL and I think he'll be good for a 40+ point campaign with the big club. At the very least, I'd be absolutely shocked if he wasn't given the 9 game trial.
2. Travis Dermott - Erie Otters
As a testament to his perceived value to his team, despite finishing tied for 9th in defenseman scoring, Dermott finished a close 2nd to Mikhail Sergachev in voting for the Max Kaminsky trophy. (defenseman of the year). Dermott has emerged as a terrific two-way defender who can do a little bit of everything. His smooth skating stride allows him to be a consistent contributor at both ends, whether it's demonstrating solid gap control in his own end, or leading/joining the rush offensively. Defensively, Dermott isn't the biggest, but he's a real battler. He makes you pay for scoring chances and I would definitely consider him a tough competitor to match up against. I've had a few Leafs' fans ask me this year, "how does Dermott differ from Matt Finn or Stuart Percy (two failed high Leaf picks)?" And it's a good question and a valid one. I see why the question would be asked. Dermott could be perceived as a similar type of defender who is very good in a lot of areas, but not elite. My response would be that Dermott is a better skater and the more physical player, which should project him as a better defender at the next level. As Dermott moves on to the pro ranks this year, I think the one thing he needs to do is keep things simple in the defensive end. He can be prone to the occasional turnover when he tries to push the envelope offensively (something we saw at the WJC's). I think he'll be an integral part of the Marlies defense and IMO should be a 25+ point player.
3. Jeremy Bracco - Kitchener Rangers
After transferring from Boston College, Bracco gave the Kitchener Rangers' lineup a great injection of skill. His ability to control the possession game and create time and space in the offensive end really helped Kitchener be a strong offensive team. His agility on the ice and edge work is excellent and it makes him extremely elusive. I read a lot of scouting reports that suggested his acceleration and overall top gear was excellent, but I think that's part of his game that could use some improvement, especially for a smaller player. And while his puckhandling ability is definitely an asset, I would like to see him more engaged away from the puck and a more willing combatant in traffic. I will say that these two areas were better in the playoffs and that he did visibly up his game. But let's see how that carries over to next year. Bracco would be eligible to play in the AHL next year (as he was drafted out of the USNDP), but without a contract, it seems most likely that he returns to Kitchener for another season. That's the right call IMO. The Rangers should have a strong team and a full season in the OHL would be great for his development. I'd expect him to be an 85+ point player next year.
4. Stephen Desrocher - Kingston Frontenacs
Desrocher definitely had the breakout season I expected from him. Starting with Oshawa and finishing with Kingston, Desrocher ended up finishing tied for 5th in defenseman scoring. At 6'4, Desrocher is a real intriguing talent. He's a complete offensive player. He can skate. He can make quick decisions with the puck. He makes a good first pass. He's got a cannon of a point shot. Defensively, he continues to improve. His awareness and willingness to engage physically has taken a step forward and he was a really key player for the Fronts this past season. Desrocher appears to be a late bloomer with a lot of potential. In a lot of ways, he reminds me of Colin Miller. Similar circumstances surrounding their OHL careers and similar skill sets. So what does Toronto do with Desrocher next year? They could sign him and play him in the AHL. They could have the Marlies sign him to an AHL/ECHL deal and test him at the pro ranks. But IMO, the best course of action would be to return him to the OHL for his overage season. Let him continue to build confidence in his abilities at both ends. I think he could be among the league leaders in scoring again from the blueline and may even be a candidate to hit the 17-18 goal mark.
5. J.J. Piccinich - London Knights
Another NCAA transfer (this time from Boston U), Piccinich was a solid secondary scoring option for the Knights this year. He has a nice offensive skill set. He hits gaps hard using some good acceleration and it makes him a very good quick strike scorer. Also has a nice release on his wrist shot, which again makes him a legit scoring option. Both of these things made Piccinich a threat on the powerplay, where he put up nearly half of his points and over half of his goals. The downside to that is, 5 on 5, he isn't nearly as effective of a player. While he's far from a perimeter player, Piccinich isn't yet an effective player in traffic. Improving his play away from the puck and becoming a more complete player is a necessity before he turns pro. That's why I imagine he'll be back in the OHL as an overager next year. Currently without a contract, that would appear to be the plan (even though he's eligible for the AHL). Back in London, depending on returnees, Piccinich could even be a first line player and a first unit powerplay guy. As such, he could put up some pretty big numbers. A 40 goal season would not surprise me.
6. Nikita Korostelev - Sarnia Sting
Korostelev's production declined from a year ago, but it's also important to note that Sarnia was not a high scoring team this year and balanced three lines. His 23 goals still put him top 5 in team goal scoring. That said, I don't really think Korostelev improved a ton as a player this year. I'm still waiting for him to impress me as much as he did as an OHL rookie two years ago. He flashed a power forward game in his 16 year old year, but has not demonstrated that same demeanour since. He still possesses a ton of potential as a goal scorer thanks to a wicked shot which he gets off in a hurry. But his skating still needs work and prevents him from being a consistent performer. And, of course, if he could ever figure out a way to incorporate that power game again, he'd be a force. He'll return to a Sarnia team which will need him to play a top 6 role and (likely) on the top powerplay unit. Will he finally figure it out? He is, after all, battling for a contract. I'm hoping he's highly motivated by that draft slight and emerges as a 35+ goal scorer.
7. Keaton Middleton - Saginaw Spirit
While some Leaf fans were hard on this selection, you need to understand that there is more to Middleton than stat watching. IMO, he has nearly the same potential as a guy like Logan Stanley, who went in the first round. But you'll have to be patient. Middleton didn't have a great year. No defenders on Saginaw really did. As a team, they struggled with making smart decisions with the puck and in preventing pucks from hitting the back of the twine. Middleton is a hulking defender who loves to play physical and could develop into a really tough guy to play against. His forward mobility is decent, but he does need to work on being more agile. And offensively, there's potential. He elects to play a simple game right now, but there's room for his confidence to grow because he does possess some skill with the puck. Next year, I do expect Saginaw to be better. Middleton will be at the fore front of their rebuild and will be a very important player for them over the next two years. Look for him to be better next year and I definitely think he's capable of a 25+ point season.
8. Nicolas Mattinen - London Knights
A very savvy selection by the Leafs in the later rounds. A talented prospect, Mattinen didn't play a ton this year because of the extreme depth in London. At this point, I don't think we really know what we have in Mattinen. What we do know is that he's got great size at 6'4, 220lbs. And at times this year, he flashed both an ability to lead the rush and play physical. But at other times, he looked a bit lost. As he plays more, he should at the very least develop into a quality OHL player. But what type of player that is remains a mystery. Could he be a Kyle Wood type of player? Their profiles are fairly similar (and Mattinen does need to work on his skating). At the very least, Mattinen should be a mainstay in the lineup next year (as a 3rd pairing defender). But if he shows progression, he might even have the opportunity to make the 2nd pairing (depending on what happens with trades and Olli Juolevi). I'm not even going to try to make a prediction outside of that. But I do like the pickup.