Down on the Farm

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    The big club’s off until a Friday night date with the struggling Hurricanes, so let’s take this opportunity to review the progress of several Maple Leafs‘ prospects across various levels and highlight upon the season’s surprises and disappointments thus far. The verdict: fairly encouraging results early on across the board.

    NCAA

    - Tyler Ruegsegger is off to a strong start with 4 goals and 8 points through 8 games played for the University of Denver. The senior will have to come through with a big year in order to justify a possible contract from the Maple Leafs next summer. Offensively gifted, Tyler makes a killing on the power play, leading the entire WCHA with 12 PPG last season.

    - Jimmy Hayes has 3 points in 4 games played and is making steady progress but is still quite a ways off from making an impact in the NHL. His younger brother Kevin Hayes recently made Central Scouting’s “2010 Draft Watch” list, and could be an intriguing name to watch for in the later rounds.

    - Jerry D’Amigo is beginning to assert himself as one of the preliminary candidates for Leafs‘ “breakout” prospect for the ’09-’10 season. Last year, we witnessed Stefanovich take a big step forward with a killer campaign in the QMJHL, and now it appears D’Amigo is grabbing some of that spotlight. The 2009 sixth round selection is off to a stellar freshman campaign for RPI with 6 points in 8 games, and has come up with some big plays at key situations for the team. Jerry is a bit on the small side, but is described as a speedy player with strong offensive ability and character.

    OHL

    - Nazem Kadri is not exactly dominating the Ontario Hockey League to the extent that many fans were hoping for, but is beginning to show signs of taking his game to the next level. For whatever reason, Kadri is playing with more of an edge to his game, as evidenced by a couple nights ago when he drew an instigator penalty, fighting major, and 10 minute misconduct to go along with his impressive 3 point night. World Junior selections are just around the corner, so now would be a nice time for the kid to go on a mini tear offensively.

    - Kenny Ryan seems to have made a seamless transition to the OHL, but some of that can likely be attributed to the ridiculous amount of skill he gets to play with in Windsor. Ryan has posted a goal and 5 assists through his first 6 games played, but is displaying a lot of promise as a budding power forward with strong play along the boards and the willingness to crash the net.

    - Jesse Blacker is slowly getting more comfortable with a larger role and increased ice-time after the blockbuster trade that sent him from Windsor to Owen Sound a few weeks ago. After just 3 points through the first 9 games with the Spits, Blacker has recorded 5 points through 7 games for the Attack. At the time of the draft, scouts believed that if developed the right way, Jesse could hone his hard, accurate point shot to become a two-way threat at the NHL level.

    - As for Barron Smith and Jamie Devane, there really isn’t much to talk about other than their sheer size. Both are very raw in many aspects of the game, and have combined for a grand total of 4 points through 20 games. Devane was the Leafs‘ 3rd round pick in 2009, but is regarded moreso for his fighting ability than his offensive prowess, and that’ll likely be his ticket to a steady paycheck at the NHL level if he can mature enough to not become a liability on the ice.

    QMJHL

    - Joel Champagne continues to make good progress and has managed to carry over his late season offensive success from last year after being traded to PEI. As a Rocket, Champagne has started off with 15 points in 18 games, impressive numbers for a hulking 6’4 forward who was deemed a long-term project at the time of the 2008 Draft. Any scoring is considered a bonus from Joel, who was drafted as a defensive faceoff specialist. He boasts a fantastic 60.4% win rate in the faceoff circle and should be an intriguing candidate to fill the 3rd or 4th line role in a few years time.

    - Mikhail Stefanovich is not exactly putting up the same mind boggling numbers as he did last season, but is beginning to heat up now with 5 goals and 10 points through 9 games played. Stefanovich is currently attending the Olympic selection camp for team Belarus, so it would certainly be a exciting to see him lace ‘em up in Vancouver. Young kid with a dynamic scoring touch, what’s not to like? But he’s going to have to learn to “bring it” every shift, every night if he wants to make it as a pro.

    AHL

    - Viktor Stalberg wants to play in the NHL. Upon being sent down to the Marlies, the Swedish Rocket has responded with 5 points in 2 games, including a dominating 4 point performance the other night. Simply put, he is too good for this level, creating scoring chances with his strength and speed every time he touches the puck, much like he did during the preseason. Shouldn’t be too long until he’s back up with the big club.

    - Tyler Bozak on the other hand has had a tough go so far in the AHL. 4 points in 8 games played and a -4 rating isn’t the kind of production you’d expect from a seasoned college veteran touted as a complete player ready for the NHL. Tyler’s certainly got all the skills to succeed at the highest level, but like many of the Leafs‘ prospects, needs to get a few bounces to go in here and there in order to gain some confidence and assert himself more strongly in the play.

    - Christian Hanson is another player who Leaf fans should expect to see back at the ACC in the near future. He was initially sent down to work on developing his game as a power forward, that is learning to be more of an imposing presence in front of the net, and battling it out in high traffic areas for those garbage goals. He seems to have responded well to that so far with 10 points in 10 games played.

    - Forward Ryan Hamilton is off  to a good start with 7 points through the first 10 games played. Hamilton was one of Burke’s first acquisitions as Toronto GM in exchange for winger Robbie Earl. The 24 year old Hamilton is a rugged, physical player with a strong frame, and plays the kind of game suited to Burkie’s bottom six plumbers. Think a tougher John Mitchell type. I think he could come out of nowhere and surprise by winning an NHL job as early as next season.

    - Last but not least, Juraj Mikus is a name I didn’t expect to mention a whole lot this season, but it appears we might be in a for a pleasant surprise with this kid. He didn’t look too overwhelmed during the preseason, making good use of his frame and long reach to compensate at times for poor positioning, and displayed decent poise with the puck. Originally drafted in the 5th round of the 2007 Draft as a very raw long-term and high upside project by John Ferguson Jr., the tall lanky Slovak defender is showing signs of breaking out as a potential steal. Thus far with the Marlies, Mikus displays intriguing promise in the puckhandling, passing, and point shot departments, translating to an impressive 5 points through 8 games for the 20 year old.

    Off Topic Notes:

    #1 – Our boy Gus Katsaros was bumped today in light of the OHL commish handing down the suspension ruling, but be sure to tune in tomorrow on Hockeycentral to support our own.

    #2 – I’ve got a pair of purples to the Leafs-Sabres division matchup on November 30th I’m looking to sell at cost because I’m unable to attend the game. Drop me an email if you’re interested.

    [email protected]

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