Saturday, August 11, 2018

31 Teams in 31 Days - Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto is next and they obviously have been looking at the OHL quite extensively in recent years.

1. Rasmus Sandin - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Solid rookie season for Sandin in the OHL that saw him jump right into a top 4 role with a competitive Greyhounds team. This, in turn, led to his selection in the first round by Toronto. Sandin does everything well. His ability to start the breakout, specifically his exit pass, is among the best and most consistent of any defender in the OHL. He just rarely makes mistakes with the puck in the defensive end. His play with the puck outside the defensive zone really gained confidence as the season went on, especially in terms of him extending rushes or jumping up into the play. His shot from the point is an asset and he could certainly develop into a capable powerplay QB. Defensively, I like his compete level. Doesn't back down from battles and has very good positioning in the defensive end. Shields off really well along the wall and is great at holding off forecheckers. He's going to need to get stronger to be a bit more effective, which was evident in the playoffs where I thought he struggled a bit. And I think he could stand to make his skating stride a little more explosive. But Sandin was an excellent pick and has the makings of a top 4 NHL defender. Next year, it remains to be seen where he will play. He could return to Sault Ste. Marie where I would expect he would be close to a point per game. He could return to Rogle of the SHL (because they had loaned him to the OHL). Or he could turn pro. We'll probably know more as Leafs' training camp progresses, but I obviously selfishly hope he returns to the Soo.

2. Sean Durzi - Owen Sound Attack
2nd rounder and draft re-entry this year, Durzi was one of the top offensive blueliners available. Was a bit surprised he went undrafted in 2017 after having a terrific second half of the season. But came back even stronger, finishing 2nd to Evan Bouchard in points per game among blueliners and would have likely pushed for the Max Kaminsky (OHL defender of the year) had he not injured his ankle, which kept him out of action for a large chunk of the 2nd half. His bread and butter is his ability to quarterback the powerplay. Has terrific vision on the point and makes excellent decisions back there. Also has excellent mobility, which he uses to walk the line, keep pucks in, or open up passing/shooting lanes. Durzi is also effective as a puck rusher, again where his mobility helps him. Defensively, he's a stick on puck defender who tries to use his mobility to stay ahead of attackers. It was really only his second full year at defense in the OHL, after shuttling back and forth between forward and defense as a rookie. This is the area that will need to improve the most at the next level. He's not blessed with elite size, so he's going to have to be harder on puck carriers and get stronger to be more effective along the wall. As a '98, Durzi is likely to turn pro next year even if the Leafs haven't signed him yet AND they've got quite the logjam on the blueline with the Marlies. But if they feel like they don't have room for him and want him to improve defensively first, they could send him back for his OA year with Owen Sound where he would no doubt be among the better defenders in the OHL.

3. Semyon Der-Arguchintsev - Peterborough Petes
Der-Arguchintsev was definitely a much debated and talked about prospect heading into this year's draft. Opinions were polarized about the talented offensive forward, but pretty much universally everyone agrees that his potential is very high. SDA was one of the youngest players available this year and is extremely physically immature. The consistency issues could definitely be related to this. As a playmaker, Der-Arguchintsev's puck skill is terrific and really helps to prolong possession in the offensive end and create scoring chances. He's definitely "slick" and will make plays that catch your attention. The rest of his game is a work in progress. His skating needs to get better. His play without the puck needs to get better. He needs to become more confident in using his shot. His play in all three zones needs to improve. He needs to improve his faceoffs if he wants to stay down the middle. But on skill alone, he's intriguing and it will be fun to watch him develop over the next two years. He'll return to Peterborough and be an offensive leader for the Petes. I'm not expecting them to be terrific this year, but if he can reach the point per game mark in his draft +1, while improving his consistency, that would be a encouraging.

4. Eemeli Rasanen - Kingston Frontenacs
Kind of a status quo year for Rasanen developmentally. Offensively, his game remains a work in progress. Flashes an ability to be able to lead the rush and shows some good puck skill. But confidence and decision making are still areas of weakness. I feel like he was able to cut down on the turnovers in the defensive end, which is definitely a positive. Defensively, his mobility is still questionable and can lead to him being beaten off the rush. But his size and reach are major assets and he does show willingness to engage and battle, using his size to his advantage in traffic. But pretty much everything I said last year, remains the same. Next year, it's already been stated that Rasanen will be heading to the KHL to play with Jokerit. It will be interesting to see how does with a little more time and space on the big ice. Definitely still a project, and one that the Leafs will have to be patient with.

5. Mac Hollowell - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Absolutely love this undersized defender and was elated to see him selected relatively early by the Leafs. At 5'9, there will be concerns over whether he can defend at the NHL level, but his mobility is excellent and he competes as hard as anyone on the ice. Plays in all situations. Blocks shots. Battles in the corners. Leads the rush. Smart with the puck. Hollowell is just a very complete defender. The offensive numbers last year were very impressive, especially considering his lack of powerplay time because of how deep the Hounds were. In fact, his 32 points 5 on 5, were 4th best in the OHL among defenders last year (behind Bouchard, Hague, and Joey Keane). I look at a guy like Jared Spurgeon in Minnesota and wonder, why couldn't Hollowell become that type of player in the NHL? While he is eligible to turn pro next year, due to Toronto's defensive depth at the pro level, I would expect him back in the OHL as an overager. There he can take hold of SSM's first powerplay unit and continue to get stronger and improve in his own end. I would expect him to be right up over the point per game mark and to be in contention for the Overager of the Year and Defender of the Year awards.

6. Fedor Gordeev - Flint Firebirds
Going to throw a stat at you. Gordeev was on the ice for 89 goals against 5 on 5 last year, which was the highest among any defender in the OHL last year. Not something to be proud of. Yet, whenever I watch Gordeev play, I come away relatively impressed and can't help but believe that he could make an NHL defender. He didn't get much help in Flint last year. And his decision making with the puck and reads in all three zones could improve. But there are a lot of impressive things about him. He's 6'6, but skates very well. His mobility is extremely impressive. 2nd half of the year, we saw him really explore his offensive game, taking chances by extending his rushes deep in the offensive zone and using his size to protect the puck cutting through the neutral zone. And while the stats don't really back it up, he was starting to look like an excellent play creator. Defensively, he's extremely aggressive. He makes his presence felt on the ice. This is what you want to see from your behemoth defender. As Flint improves (very likely) next year, it will be very interesting to see how Gordeev performs. Honestly wouldn't be surprised at all if we saw a massive spike in production from him, even into the 40+ point range. This is a big kid with a lot of potential. I'm betting on him being able to do enough to earn a contract and really put himself on the map as a serious NHL prospect.

7. Ryan McGregor - Sarnia Sting
Probably not the season many Leaf fans were hoping from McGregor production wise. Only modest improvements from him statistically as he found himself pushed down Sarnia's depth chart as the team's 3rd/4th line center. He's one of their more reliable penalty killers and brings a lot of energy as a forechecker. Really like how McGregor plays in the neutral zone, getting his stick in passing lanes and pressing incoming attackers. He forces a lot of turnovers. As an offensive player, I think it remains to be seen what he's truly capable of. I think he has potential as a two-way playmaking center and he's going to get a shot to move up the line-up in Sarnia this coming season. He's likely the team's 2nd line center and will have some quality linemates. In order to earn a contract from the Leafs, he probably needs to be a point per game player, which isn't impossible but improbable. 

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