Prospect Season In Review: Flaake, Holzer, Mitchell

Prospect Season In Review: Flaake, Holzer, Mitchell

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In the second installment of the Prospect Season In Review, we will take a look at a couple of Maple Leafs prospects who have proven a positive product of the John Ferguson Jr / Cliff Fletcher draft era.

Profiles in this segment include German DEL winger Jerome Flaake and defender Korbinian Holzer, as well as a prospect closer to home: Windsor Spitfires winger Dale Mitchell.

Jerome Flaake, LW, Hamburg Freezers (DEL)

Drafted: 5th round, 130th overall, 2008, Toronto Maple Leafs

Pick acquired via trade with Florida Panthers in exchange for Wade Belak in February 2008.

The Good: A tremendous skater known for superb puck-handling skills and sound two-way hockey sense, Flaake (pronounced Flaw-kah) was the top-rated German prospect at the 2008 draft, ranked 41st among Europeans by CSB. He dominated the German Junior League (Deutsche Nachwuchsliga), recording 32 goals and 32 assists in 36 games in 2006-07, and following with 33 goals and 41 assists in 32 games in 2007-08.  At 6’2″ and 188 pounds, he excels at throwing opposition players off their game with aggressive, physical play. On the international stage, Flaake was no less steller, recording 6 points in 5 games at the 2009 World Junior Championships.

The Bad: For all his talent, Flaake has yet to find the same success in the DEL (Deutsche Eishockey Liga) as he did at the Junior level, recording 25 points in 115 games with the Cologne Sharks of the DEL from 2007-08 through 2009-10. The biggest knock against him has been a lack of strength to compete at the higher levels. Although he was able to physically dominate in the lower tier, he was often over-matched in the DEL and must add some bulk in order to take the next step. His chippy style of play can at times become excessive (he was suspended for a hit from behind during his final season in the Nachwuchsliga); he must learn to pick his spots better to avoid taking bad penalties.

The Future: Despite his offensive struggles with Cologne, Flaake was recently given an expensive contract by Hamburg of the DEL and is likely to remain there for the next two seasons.  There was some talk prior to his signing of him crossing the pond to join the Prince George Cougars of the WHL, but Flaake noted in interviews that he felt playing in a professional league comprised of many ex-NHLers would be better for his overall development as a hockey player.  The biggest question surrounding Flaake is not whether his skillset will translate to the NHL, but rather into what role he will ultimately develop; some have drawn comparisons to Tuomo Ruutu, while others are more apt to suggest Jarkko Ruutu. With Flaake set to remain in Hamburg for the foreseeable future, the Leafs will have ample time to make that determination.

Korbinian Holzer, D, DEG Metro Stars (DEL)

Drafted: 4th round, 111th overall, 2006, Toronto Maple Leafs

Pick acquired via trade with Chicago at 2006 draft – Leafs dealt their 3rd round pick (Tony Lagerstrom) for two 4th round picks (James Reimer and Korbinian Holzer).

The Good: Regarded primarily as an excellent shutdown defender with a physical edge, Holzer (pronounced HOHL-zuhr) displayed an offensive side to his game last season, recording 22 points (6 G 16 A) in 52 games, good for second in team scoring among defenders. A reliable penalty-killer, Holzer is a physical force in front of his own net, and is willing to drop the gloves when necessary. He is smooth skater who makes a smart first pass, rarely taking unnecessary risks with the puck. Mature for his age, Holzer has displayed burgeoning leadership skills on the ice, and is quite willing to make time for the media away from the rink (for those of you who can read German, his interviews – and there are plenty of them – are excellent).

The Bad: Holzer has a tendency to let his temper get the best of him, and can be prone to taking penalties borne of frustration and retaliation (he has earned 251 PIM in 125 career games in the DEL). Although he possesses a good point shot — 3 of his 6 goals last season came on the powerplay — he does not use it often enough; he will need to work on developing confidence in his shot if he is to further develop the offensive side of his game. Despite standing tall at  6’3″, Holzer weighs in at around 190 lbs. He will need to add a fair bit of muscle if he is to withstand the physical rigors of the North American game.

The Future: The rapid development of Holzer’s offensive game this past season, coupled with a good showing in a shutdown role at the Olympics, has led many observers to describe him as a more truculent version of Carl Gunnarsson, while others have drawn comparisons to Willie Mitchell. It appears as though we will find out sooner rather than later: in interviews as recent as last week, Holzer was excitedly discussing the progress of his contract talks with the Maple Leafs, and openly expressing his desire to play in North America.  Pending the outcome of the negotiations, fans should expect to see him continue to hone his game with the Toronto Marlies as early as this upcoming season.

Dale Mitchell, RW, Windsor Spitfires (OHL)

Drafted: 3rd round, 74th overall, 2007, Toronto Maple Leafs

The Good: Coming off a Memorial Cup championship last season, Mitchell started the year with the Toronto Marlies, posting 2 goals and an assist in 9 games before being sent back to the OHL. Despite a nagging ankle injury that limited him to 32 games in the regular season, Mitchell was still able to record 16 goals and 27 assists. A stocky player at 5’9″ and 200 lbs, Mitchell’s game is built around a crash-and-bang style, creating offense off a relentless forecheck and a strong effort in the corners and in front of the net. Equally effective on both the powerplay and the penalty kill, Mitchell is a heart-and-soul type who gives it his all on every shift.

The Bad: Size concerns will follow Mitchell wherever he plays. Not the most agile of skaters due to his stocky build, Mitchell’s offensive game is derived primarily from winning battles in the corners and a willingness to absorb punishment in the slot and in front of the net. The question is, can he continue to be effective in that manner against the stronger, more-physical competition of the professional leagues? More of a shooter than a playmaker, Mitchell will need to develop better offensive-zone vision in order to be successful at the next level.

The Future: With his CHL eligibility expiring following the conclusion of the Memorial Cup tournament, Mitchell will look to earn a top-six role on the Toronto Marlies next season. Although he will continue to be dogged by size concerns, as all players with similar stature are, Mitchell has proven at every level that the size of a player’s heart matters more than his frame.  Should he able to carry forward the level of intensity that brought him success in Junior, there is an outside chance Mitchell could earn himself an NHL call-up at some point during the 2010-11 season. NHL-wise, he projects as an energy player with the ability to chip in offensively (think Stephane Veilleux or Pascal Dupuis), although a full-time role at the NHL level likely remains a couple years away.