Sunday, August 12, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Toronto Maple Leafs

It's time for the Toronto Maple Leafs (aka the OHL Leafs? Man they have a ton of OHL prospects). This one is a novel.

Greg McKegg - London Knights
McKegg is a tough prospect to peg. Truthfully, I've never really been a huge fan of his as a player. I've always found him to be one of those "quiet" offensive players. Who go long stretches of being relatively invisible, before looking impressive on a couple of nice rushes or plays in the offensive end. This year was nothing different for me. McKegg never really became a huge factor away from the puck in his OHL career. I didn't see a lot of development in his ability to function as a three zone player, or as a guy willing to do the dirty work in the corners. He definitely has good offensive instincts though, something you can't underestimate. I just feel like he'll need to upgrade his intensity in order to make a large impact in the AHL and NHL. The Leafs are very crowded at the AHL level going into next year. I just don't see how McKegg ends up seeing top 6 ice time with the Marlies. That means his rookie season could be a bit of trying one as he attempts to make his mark in the lineup. I don't think he's going to have a strong year, but that doesn't mean he should be written off as a prospect. Lots of players go through growing pains during their first professional season.

Stuart Percy - Mississauga Majors (aka Steelheads)
It was a tough year for Percy. At the beginning of the year, I felt like he was trying to do too much offensively, sacrificing his talents in the defensive end. He was prone to making bad passes and pinches. Just when he started to get things turned around, he suffered a concussion that kept him out of action until late in the season. When he came back, he was playing pretty tentatively (and understandably so). This should be a big bounce back year for Percy though. In his absence, guys like Dylan DeMelo and Trevor Carrick were allowed to flourish. This means that next year, the pressure should be off Percy to do it all and he can be allowed to just play his game and get comfortable. I look for him to become a more consistently physical player in his own end (something he's shown flashes of). I also look for him to be smarter with his passes and rushes, and mature as a powerplay quarterback. I think he's going to have a solid year, where a 40+ point season would be considered great. Of course, he'll also be wearing the "C" again for Missy next year. 

Jamie Devane - Plymouth Whalers
I liked what I saw from Devane this year. Offensively, there wasn't a ton of progression from 2010/2011. He remained a solid grunt in the offensive end who did the dirty work for his linemates (playing a lot of the year with Andy Bathgate and a bevy of other wingers). He creates space by going hard to the net and by working the cycle. But the other areas of his game really grew this year. He was better in his own end and really worked hard to become a solid two way player. This is something that will greatly benefit him moving forward, as he attempts to become a dependable checking line guy at the next level. He was also more disciplined, fighting less (only 6 times this year), and not getting goaded into taking reactionary/revenge type penalties. Sending him back to the OHL for his overage year was a good choice IMO. Moving on to the AHL, I feel comfortable saying he should find a spot in the Marlies line-up despite the log jam. He's rounded out his game and could be a valuable guy to have on the 4th line, where he won't hurt you in any way. I don't expect much out of him offensively, but if he can get a regular spot in the AHL this year and avoid the ECHL, that'd be a big step in the right direction. 

Sam Carrick - Brampton Battalion
Carrick had an absolutely fantastic season, by far his best in the league. Firstly, he looked a lot faster and this made him more effective at both ends of the ice. It made him more dangerous off the rush, as he was aggressive in trying to take the puck to the net. It also made him a more effective backchecker and penalty killer. Secondly, he looked stronger in winning battles for loose pucks and for working the cycle in the offensive end. He does a great job of wearing down opposing defenses. Thirdly, he was much more focused on playing the game, and less on running around trying to be a pest/starting fights. I mean, the physical aspect is still a big part of his game and he still gets under the skin of the opposition, but he's smarter about it. Carrick was, without a doubt, the heart and soul of the Battalion this year. It'll be interesting to see what the Leafs do with Carrick this coming season. They certainly have some options. Like Devane, they could send Carrick back to the OHL for his overage season. As mentioned, the Marlies have a lot of forwards to give ice time to, many of them higher rated prospects. If he's back in the OHL, I'd expect him to crack the 75 point barrier and help Brampton be competitive for the Eastern Conference. The Leafs could also allow him to fight it out for a spot in Toronto (AHL) and likely assign him to the ECHL, where he could play top 6 minutes at the pro level. I really don't know what to expect. 

Garret Sparks - Guelph Storm
Sparks had a solid year, emerging as the starter on an up and coming Guelph team. A lot of people expected Guelph to finish out of the playoffs, but they had a surprisingly good year and Sparks' effort was a stabilizing force. He's not a particularly flashy guy, but he makes saves look easy because he's big and he loves to challenge shooters. I was also always impressed by the way he handled his rebounds, and did a great job of swallowing up the puck. Towards the end of the year and into the playoffs, he was looking a bit tired, but that was to be expected given the increased work load he experienced this year. This coming season, I think Guelph could be a very strong team and I expect Sparks to be right in the thick of that. I definitely think he could be among the top 5 goaltenders in the league (from a statistical viewpoint). The fact that the U.S. invited him to their summer WJC camp is also telling of the improvements he made in 2011/2012. 

David Broll - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
It was not a good year for Broll, or for the Greyhounds. He finished the year with only 8 goals, the lowest total of his OHL career thus far (he scored 9 as a 16 year old with Erie). When I saw him play this year, it looked like he had become strictly a crash and bang winger. A guy who could supply some energy by throwing his body around, but not a whole lot else. In 2010/2011, he showed glimpses of having potential as a power forward with the hands and skill to carry the puck to the net, but that part of his game wasn't really explored this year from what I saw. Going into next year, he'll be counted on yet again to supply secondary scoring for the Hounds. Hopefully this year he's actually able to do it and the Hounds can get back on the winning track. Even if his progression thus far has been disappointing, I can't see him struggling to score as much as he did this year. A 20 goal, 50 point season seems like a real reasonable prediction.

Joshua Leivo - Sudbury Wolves
What a great season for Leivo, but in all honesty, it was expected after the way he finished out 2010/2011. He kind of just picked up where he left off, and then continued that pace for an entire season. He's become a very difficult player to handle when driving to the net, which he's very aggressive in doing. His puck protection ability is fantastic. He also clearly worked on his shot, which was harder and more accurate, demonstrating an ability to use it off the wing or in the slot. He also emerged as one of the best two-way forwards in the league. He uses his size very effectively on the backcheck, and is also smart in anticipating and breaking up passing plays. Going into next season, I look for him to continue to improve. Hopefully he's worked a bit on his skating to give himself a real solid extra gear to make him that much more difficult to contain off the rush. I'm also hoping his physical game continues to evolve, as he molds himself into more of a power forward. I'm not to sure what to expect of Sudbury this year though. More than likely, they should be around the same level as they were this past year, but with an iffy goaltending situation and the losses of Sgarbossa, Kuchin, and McFadden, you never know how the team will react. There's no question that Leivo will have to be the team's go to forward this year though, something that will be great for his development.

Andrew Crescenzi - Kitchener Rangers 
Crescenzi had a solid year. Any year in which you can double your offensive production is a good one. He was very difficult for opposing defenses to contain in the cycle and along the boards. This is where he did most of his damage, by winning battles and then either finding teammates with a pass or going hard to the net. It's clear that he knows his role out there and he plays to his strengths. He's still not someone who's going to create a lot of offense off the rush because his skating and puck carrying ability is only average. But if you want to play a tiring, puck protection game in the offensive end, he's your man. Crescenzi is also a strong and committed two way player who improved his faceoff ability this year. I don't think he has much upside at the next level, but he could certainly develop into a solid 4th line center. Rumour has it that the Leafs have informed the Rangers that Crescenzi will be playing pro this year in either the AHL or ECHL. With the Marlies logjam at forward, I'd harbor to say that Crescenzi probably starts the year in the ECHL. But I suppose there's an outside shot he's given the 4th line center job to flank the likes of Jamie Devane and maybe Kenny Ryan. If he's in the AHL, like Devane, I wouldn't have high expectations offensively. Just being in the lineup everyday would be a victory.

Matt Finn - Guelph Storm
No question the Leafs stole Finn in the 2nd round. He's a solid two-way defenseman with a lot of great qualities. He came into Storm camp this past year in great shape and it really helped his game. This coming year, I'd expect that same level of dedication and hopefully it causes some improvements in his skating ability. In 2012/2013, the Storm should be incredibly solid. Finn will continue to be an an anchor on defense, playing in all situations and seeing a ton of ice time. I'd expect him to have a very solid year. A 50 point season, with an improved +/- would be ideal. I'm also hoping he continues to take his physical game to the next level and becomes a much more difficult defender to match up against. I'd expect him to be one of the league's best defenseman next year.

Connor Brown - Erie Otters
Well, he can't be a -72 two years in a row can he? In all seriousness, the Otters should be much better this coming season. I actually think they can challenge for a playoff spot. For Brown, it will be all about standing out a bit more. He's cut from a similar cloth as Greg McKegg, in the sense that his play away from the puck can leave some to be desired. He's another one of those quiet offensive guys you don't really notice until he scores a goal. His hockey sense is clearly great, but the rest of his game needs to come together. I'm hoping that he's spent the offseason hitting the gym hard to become more of a take the bull by the horns kind of guy. I'd like to see him be more effective and more aggressive in taking the puck to the net, and in creating his own scoring chances. I'd also like to see greater commitment in all three zones, especially along the boards. Playing with terrific playmakers like Connor McDavid and Dane Fox for a whole season, will only help his offensive numbers. I wouldn't be at all surprised if he hits the 70 point mark this year.

Ryan Rupert - London Knights 
Love this kid. Yeah he's small, but he's got a huge heart. He plays the game as hard as anyone in the OHL. He truly was one of the unsung heroes during London's OHL Championship run, where his hard work on the forecheck made life very difficult for the opposition. He's already a terrific two-way player, and he makes those around him better with his vision and playmaking ability. This coming season, London's center position is a bit up in the air. They've got the likes of Max Domi, Chris Tierney, and Rupert. All three will see lots of ice time in many different situations, but two of them will have to take the bull by the horns and become standout offensive players. I think Ryan is going to have a great year and end up being one of London's go to offensive guys. A 70 point season would be a terrific (and perfectly possible) achievement. However, I would like to see him cut down on his penalty numbers a bit. He plays on the edge, and he's got to keep his emotions in check.

*of note, the Leafs elected not to sign Erie winger Sondre Olden, allowing him to become a free agent.

*also of note, Leafs first round pick Tyler Biggs has left college and will play in the AHL this year, or in Oshawa. It would appear that decision will not be made until after training camp, where the Leafs will be given the opportunity to evaluate him. If he goes back to Oshawa, it'd be a huge boost to the Generals who are losing a lot of talent. I'd expect him to step into the league and be around a point per game player, as he'd certainly get the ice time to produce offensively.

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