After dealing away high picks for so many years, it finally looks like one of the NHL’s worst farm systems is beginning to turn the corner these last couple of years.
For the most part, the Leafs’ prospect talent level is very top heavy with a few bluechippers heading this list, followed by an intriguing combination of high potential boom or bust prospects in the lower ranks. The orgainzation’s biggest strengths are its depth at the centre position and generally high skill level among its forwards. The farm system’s weakness occurs on the blueline where there is little to look forward to beyond Schenn and Stralman, particularly if Vorobiev decides not to come over. The general lack of speed in the organization is also a cause a for concern.
#1 – D Luke Schenn, 18, Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
Drafted: 1st round, 5th overall in 2008
Strengths: Gamebreaker on the defensive end of the ice. Big andÂ very physical. Extremely poised and confident with the puck. Probably an NHL captain later down the road.
Weaknesses: There isn’t much to say. His offensive game is currently behind his defensive game, and will likely never be a top 10 offensive defenseman in the NHL, but it should develop in time.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: A franchise defenseman, capable of controlling the game defensively while also chipping in 40+ points offensively. Age 30+ Scott Stevens.
#2 – LWÂ Nikolai Kulemin, 22, Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL)
Drafted: 2nd round, 44th overall in 2006
Strengths: Fantastic wrist shot. Combination of speed, skill and physicality. Always very dangerous offensively, but also plays a solid all-around game.
Weaknesses: Lack of high-end creativity and hockey sense.Â May need good teammates to produce elite numbers at the NHL level.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: A borderline 1st line winger or very good 2nd liner, capable of scoring 30-35 goals, and dazzling fans with big hits and end-to-end rushes. Erik Cole.
#3 – G Justin Pogge, 22, Toronto Marlies (AHL)
Drafted: 3rd round, 90th overall in 2004
Strengths: Great size in net, plenty of confidence and poise. A wealth of experience in high pressure games at the junior and world junior level. One of the most decorated (awards) players in all of junior hockey.
Weaknesses: Can sometimes move around too much and end up out of position. Must avoid the odd soft goal.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: A bonafide, top 10 goaltender at the NHL level, who may make a few all-star experiences. Pre-Chicago Nikolai Khabibulin.
#4 – D Anton Stralman, 22, Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL)
Drafted: 7th round, 216th overall in 2005.
Strengths: Tons and tons of offensive potential. Excellent on-ice vision and passing ability. Can lead end-to-end rushes. Experience and success at high levels of hockey (WJC, SEL, WHC).
Weaknesses: His defensive game isn’t quite up to par. PlaysÂ decent positional game, but lacks the strength to handle opponents along the boardsÂ or in front of the net. Not very physical.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: Top pairing offensive defenseman capable of 50+ points, may make a few all-star appearances. Tomas Kaberle.
Stay tuned for #5 – 8 coming out within a few days!
Always a pleasure,