Hey folks, Alec’s traditionally done this in the past, but I’ll be taking over for this one as he’s been bogged down with work lately. With the way the Leafs have played over the past few years, we find ourselves looking forward to the future, hoping that there’s help on the horizon. Well let’s take a gander at what the Toronto Maple Leafs are cultivating down on the farm:
Let’s start in the QMJHL with arguably Toronto’s top junior prospect in Chris Didomenico of the Saint John Sea Dogs, whom I wrote about in detail here. Chris is described as a hard working, two-way player who brings offensive ability and plenty of tenacity to the table. Heck sometimes too much tenacity as evidenced by him pissing off an American player and receiving a stick in the face the other night. The young centerman was a surprise invite to Hockey Canada’s summer training camp for the world juniors and shocked even more people when he was announced to this year’s squad. Look at him now, skating alongisde John Tavares, scoring at a point-a-game rate, and playing a big-time role. I recently had the opportuntity to chat with North American Central Scouting chief scout Mark Seidel and here’s what he said about Chris: “He still has a ways to go to end up in the NHL but this kid has fought every step of the way so I don’t expect him to stop now”. Didomenico has indeed made the effort to improve his game each and every year, and with his improved skating and defensive play, there’s a legitimate chance he could be on Toronto’s top six one day.
’07/’08 Stats: 39 goals, 56 assists for 95 points in 70 GP
Current Stats: 11 goals, 23 assists for 34 points in 26 GP
Projected Stats: 30 goals, 62 assists for 92 points in 70 GP (Though he won’t reach 70 GP due to WJC)
Toronto’s 2008 4th round pick Mikhail Stefanovich is also coming quite nicely for the 29-8 Quebec Ramparts. Stefanovich was widely regarded as a huge steal by the Leafs as a player with 1st round talent who fell to the 4th round because of work ethic concerns. When he’s on, Mikhail is a monster. Standing at 6’2, 202 with good acceleration, soft hands and a sniper’s shot, he really brings the entire offensive package. This season, his head coach (none other than the legendary Patrick Roy) has encouraged Mikhail to work on improving the other facets of his game, and he’s responded well. Maybe Stefanovich has managed to sipon off some of the inner passion that burns inside Roy but whatever it is, it’s working. Mikihail erupted for a huge 4 goal performance a few nights ago. Not only is he getting PK time, but he’s proving to be one of the QMJHL’s most dynamic and dangerous offensive players this season.
’07/’08 Stats: 32 goals, 34 assists for 66 points in 62 GP
Current Stats: 18 goals, 15 assists for 33 points in 27 GP
Projected Stats: 41 goals, 34 assists for 75 points in 62 GP
Man is Dale Mitchell ever lucky. Over the summer he gets traded from the offensive powerhouse that is the Tavares-led Oshawa Generals to the up-and-coming Windsor Spitfires that includes the likes of 2010 potential #1 pick Taylor Hall, Canada’s PP quarterback Ryan Ellis, and power forward Greg Nemisz. In fact, that Spitfires currently sport a ridiculous 31-5-0-1 record and average an insane 4.35 goals/game. But Dale’s not sitting idly; he’s trying to pull his own weight too. Coming off a disappointing 07/08 campaign where he scored just 24 goals, Mitchell was showing signs of a big bounceback year by scoring 10 goals in 15 playoff games last year. This season, it looks like he’s regained some of that scoring touch. It’s going to be hard for the diminutive winger to earn a top six role at the NHL level, but he’s certainly got the grit, strength, and passion to successfully maintain employment as an energy player. You can read up more on Dale here.
’07/’08 Stats: 24 goals, 36 assists for 60 points in 63 GP
Current Stats: 18 goals, 20 assists for 38 points in 35GP
Projected Stats: 32 goals, 36 assists for 68 points in 63 GP
From the Leafs’ smallest to largest CHL prospect we go. Standing at 6’4 220 lbs, Joel Champagne’s got the size and physicality package that scouts love. He’s an accomplished defensive shutdown type player with a fantastic 62% faceoff winning percentage. The goal for Joel coming into his 3rd season in the QMJHL, was to begin to develop more of an offensive game by taking advantage of his frame to play around the net. He was recently traded by the Chicoutimi Sagueneens to the PEI Rocket and has responded by upping his play to another level. Since the trade, he’s recorded 6 points in 3 games played. He’s on pace to beat his previous career bests by a wide margin. Champagne is doing his best to pencil himself into the 3rd or 4th line shutdown center role for the Leafs down the road.
’07/’08 Stats: 18 goals, 22 assists for 40 points in 70 GP
Current Stats: 12 goals, 15 assists for 27 points in 31 GP
Projected Stats: 27 goals, 34 assists for 61 points in 70 GP
Over in the NCAA, there are a couple interesting names to look out for. Generally, I like to think of the point-a-game barrier if you want to see if someone’s got legitimate NHL potential. 6’2 212 lb winger Alex Berry has already matched his career best point total of 17 (done last season in 34 GP), but did it this year after 15 games. Viktor Stalberg out of the University of Vermont is also off to a career best start with 16 points in 16 GP, and is on pace to shatter his previous highs. Tyler Ruegsegger has been off to a disappointing start for the 2nd year in a row with just 12 points in 20 GP as he tries to get back to the level he was playing at during his freshman year. Goaltender Grant Rollheiser is off to a respectable start in his freshman year, going 4-3 with a 2.45 GAA and .884 SV%. Before being called away to play for Team USA at the world juniors, power forward prospect Jimmy Hayes record 8 points in 15 GP, but impressed coaches with his character and work ethic. Matt Frattin out of the University of North Dakota, has 13 points in 20 GP and is among the many forwards on pace to demolish their previous career highs. Winger Ben Winnett is playing a defensive energy role for the University of Michigan and has notched 6 points in 19 GP. Perhaps the most notable Leafs prospect from the college ranks is senior forward Chad Rau, who up until a few days ago was tied for the scoring lead in the nation with 27 points in 22 GP. Described as a dynamic goal scorer with gamebreaking ability, Rau was the consensus choice as voted by NCAA coaches, to be the most likely candidate to bring home the Hobey Baker trophy as the top player in the nation this season. I’ll be doing a more in depth piece on Chad Rau later on in the coming weeks.
Over in Europe, SEL defenseman Carl Gunnarsson is showing flashes of some offensive potential with 11 points through 34 GP and beating his previous high of 9 points 53 GP. 6’3 German defenseman Korbinian Holzer has 6 points in 25 DEL GP. 6’4 Slovak defenseman Juraj Mikus has 8 points in 35 GP after going scoreless all of last season. The top Leafs Euro prospect is Jerome Flaake, who has been very impressive at the world juniors displaying his physical game, speed, and offensive touch with 4 points in 5 GP. Playing in a men’s league in the DEL, he’s improved on his 1 point total from last season with 6 points through 28 GP. Look for him to make the move over to the CHL sometime next season to get more playing time.
As a whole, the Leafs farm system seems to be progressing nicely with most of their players moving forward statistically. They’ve got a few young forwards with impact potential in the NHL in Didomenico, Rau, Hayes and Stefanovich. However, the depth on the blueline and in goal is a legitimate concern. In addition, you’ve got to hand it to the Leafs scouting staff for uncovering many late round gems that have blossomed into legitimate NHL prospects, but the fact of the matter is Toronto lacks blue-chippers due to the loss of many high round picks over the years. Last year’s draft haul has yielded some great dividends for the Leafs with Hayes, Stefanovich and of course Schenn. Another such bounty in the phenomenal draft class that is 2009, including a possible lottery pick, would provide a huge boost to the organization’s stable of young players. The future is not quite now for Leaf fans, but if early signs are any indication, there are good times ahead.
Always a pleasure,