The FanPost

The FanPost

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Great to see such an active group of readers. Here are a couple of FanPosts for your Friday afternoon reading enjoyment with today’s theme being youth, youth and more youth. Paul LeMay (B. Leaf) takes an in-depth look at the team’s organizational prospect depth while Chuck Johnson compares Nazem Kadri’s chances of making the NHL as a 2nd year player with those of previous high draft picks.

Projecting the Leafs’ Prospects into Burke’s Five-Year Plan to Contend

By: Paul LeMay

The Leafs prospect depth chart took a hit when Brian Burke acquired Chris Versteeg. It may take another hit if Billy Sweatt is not signed by August 15th. Chances are that Sweatt and the Leafs will find common ground before he becomes a free agent. The loss of Victor Stalberg, Chris Didomenico, and Phillipe Paradis subtracts three very legitimate prospects from the system. Also leaving the system was Jimmy Hayes, another legit prospect in the deal to get into the second round of the draft. Comparatively speaking most other clubs added a first rounder to their prospect farm, while the Leafs did not. After considering that, one might think the cupboard is bare. While it is not as strong as it was it is still in reasonably good shape.

If things go well for many of the Leafs top prospects, they should graduate after this season. Tyler Bozak, Jonas Gustavsson, Carl Gunnarsson, Christian Hanson, and even Nazem Kadri could all graduate if they play a significant amount of games in this up and coming season. At that time our prospect depth will take a hit but development will have done its part to produce NHLers. As this season plays out it will be most interesting to see just how good some of these prospects are.

Prospects like Sweatt, Keith Aulie, James Reimer, Jerry D’Amigo, Jesse Blacker and Brad Ross are likely to develop outside the NHL this coming year.

Here is a list of the Leafs top ten prospects as it stands today:

1) Nazem Kadri

2) Jonas Gustavsson

3) Carl Gunnarsson

4) Tyler Bozak

5) James Reimer

6) Jerry D’Amigo

7) Keith Aulie

8 ) Billy Sweatt

9) Brad Ross

10) Christian Hanson

Honourable mention goes to Jesse Blacker, Luca Caputi, Korbinian Holzer, Marcel Mueller and Juraj Mikus

Amongst all Leaf players Nazem Kadri has perhaps the biggest impact on whether we will be cup contenders by the time Brian Burke’s five year plan comes to completion. He has the drive, skill, and durability to be a key offensive weapon. Kadri has played a lot of hockey in the last three years including a memorial cup, and a WJC silver. There are a few key things that have stood out about Kadri in those three years. One is that he has often been the best player on the ice in many of those games. Secondly we see a player who has drive and determination and loves to win. Thirdly we see a player with deathly sick hands. If Kadri can gain muscle and strength to go along with those hands we could have a special player. With no disrespect to other players taken in his draft, I expect he and Matt Duchene will emerge as the cream of the crop. It is not the intention here to heap high expectations and pressure on the kid but rather speak to his potential based on his preparation for the NHL. Burke has already stated Kadri will play second line centre for 20 games to start the year. One definition of success is when opportunity meets preparation.   http://www.faceoff.com/hockey/teams/toronto-maple-leafs/Burke+takes+break+from+Leafs+rebuild/3261558/story.html

Jonas Gustavsson is ranked second because of what he has shown in Sweeden and in small doses last year in blue and white. An argument could be made that Tyler Bozak or Carl Gunnarsson should be ranked second on our depth chart. Gustavsson is here because the Leafs have suffered through terrible goaltending since the lock out. Ever since Ed Belfour posted a .918 save percentage in 2003-04 the Leafs have not been able to find even a decent middle of the pack goaltender. In fact they have been bottom of the league, suffering through the horrendous net minding of Belfour (.892 save % in 05-06) Andrew Raycroft (.894 and .876 from 06-08), and Vesa Toskala  (.904, .891, .880 from 07-10) since the lock out. While Gustavsson is no guarantee he certainly has shown signs of being able to handle the job. With Giguere there for at least this year he should get 35-45 games depending on performance. If hockey wasn’t called hockey it would be called goaltending because the position is key. It would be a huge step forward for this club if Gustavsson could improve his save percentage to the .910 mark from his .902 mark of last year. He showed tremendous improvement over his final ten games last year going 7-2-1 and posting a .915 save percentage.

Carl Gunnarsson’s game cannot really be summed up through stats other than his plus 8 in 43 games played, highest on his team. What that stat doesn’t tell you is that he played in all situations against other teams best players sometimes. The stats do not tell you how he missed 22 games due to an elbow injury and came back in and never missed a beat. Again it is hard to explain through stats but all I know is that when this guy was on the ice I breathed easier as a Leaf fan. When the puck came in his corner he usually came out with it. When he was up against soft players he punished them physically, when he was up against brawn he smoothly used finesse. At season’s end he seemed to show a glimmer of offense in his game as a foreshadowing of this to come. If you forget that this guy was drafted in the seventh round and base your predictions on what he did last year as a rookie defenseman in the NHL the projection is indeed a top four guy and maybe even top pairing. If Schenn plays with Phaneuf as top pair this year I expect Gunnarsson will partner Beauchemin as second pair.

Tyler Bozak is ranked fourth on this chart because of durability issues. If he proves he can be durable and even physical he could be ranked at least second by season’s end. Bozak and Kadri up the middle may look a little weak right now but give it a couple years and it may make for a pretty solid pair in the middle. By then both could be a finely tuned 6’-1”, 200-210 lbs. Hopefully Bozak is able to put together an injury free season. If he does expect some decent numbers from him playing between an improving Nic Kulemin and Phil Kessel who will have 40 goals in his sights. 20 goals from Bozak is not an unreasonable expectation as he posted 8 in 37 games.

The depth chart takes a step down after Bozak. I have James Reimer ranked fifth on this chart due to his career save percentage. What is not to like about this 22 year old, 6’-2”, 208 lbs athlete. He needs to play a full season of AHL hockey, but if he picks up at the level he has shown over the last couple of years of pro hockey he will make it awfully hard for the Leafs to turn him away. Last season in 26 games he posted a .925 save percentage and a 14-8-2 record on a poor club with the Marlies. Hopefully he gets in at least 50 games this campaign. This coming season will show us a lot about whether Reimer will be of help to the Leafs in years to come. ETA is likely 2011-2013, but could play this year if injuries are a factor.

Jerry D’Amigo LW (19 yrs old; Drafted 6/158 2009; Playing NCAA RPI and USNDT): OK this is an interesting prospect to say the least. How on earth did he slip to the 158th selection? I have always thought that Red Line Report has offered one of the better scouting insights out there. They had D’Amigo on their underrated chart going into last year’s draft. They felt he would go around 34th overall and ISS had him going at 44th in a deep year. Well the GMs apparently didn’t agree. The way this guy has played no one would have looked bad taking this guy in the late first round. He has beefed up to 6’-0” and 210 lbs. He has scored well as an 18 year old in the NCAA with 10 goals and 25 assists in 35 games winning rookie of the year. His NCAA numbers far outshine Jordan Schroeder who was picked 22nd overall in 2008, and is a 7.5C ranked prospect on hockeysfuture.com. Perhaps the best measure of his game is when he is playing against the best players in the world around his age. We saw what he could do in the WJC winning a gold while leading the US offence with 6 goals and 6 assists (4 assists were primary) +7 in 7 games. His goals were huge. Was this a flash in the pan? No he did the same thing in the under 18 tourney 1 year ago (when US won gold) with 4 goals and 9 assists in 7 games. Now of interest he will still be eligible to play for the US next year in Buffalo at the U20 WJC. He has a lot of confidence and scores big goals. Like Kadri he has a good set of hands and a winner’s pedigree. D’Amigo’s ETA is likely 2012-13 after another year of NCAA and then a year in the AHL, but he is definitely a legit top six prospect.

Kieth Aulie is a hulking 6’6 225 lbs, defenceman who is likely to play at least one more full season in the AHL. He may get a look if injuries are a factor. Like Reimer this year will be a major indicator of what kind of help if any that he will one day provide for the parent club. He is 21 years old so he could see another year or two in the minors. The soil that he will be planted in with the Marlies this year is good in that he should have good goaltending behind him and capable defenders beside him in the form of Juraj Mikus, Korbinian Holzer, and Simon Gysbers.

Billy Sweatt is largely an unknown to me and many Leaf fans. Everything I read about this guy sounds great. The usual comments include blazing speed, good hands, and great awareness on the ice. I hope that based on that he signs with us. Since he is 21 he could step in right away, but likely would require at least one year in the AHL to build up his stamina for the 90 plus games at the NHL level. While the Leafs gave up a lot in the trade to acquire him, he may justify it. I must admit that I think the Leafs will regret this deal in three years time…just sayin.

Brad Ross is ranked ninth based partly on the need within the organization for bottom six guys with sandpaper. While Ross is a couple of years away at best, he does give us an ingredient that is vital if we are to contend at the end of Burkes five year plan. Of course Ross will need to develop.

Probably Christian Hanson is ranked too low on this chart. I personally really like what he brings to the Leafs. If he could prove to be like Chad Kilger at 30, when he is 25, that would be great for this team. Hanson does all the little things right. He finishes his checks, gets the puck out effectively along the boards, he springs team mates with effective short passes, he skates extremely well for a big man, and he has a heavy shot. What he needs to get better is to find ways to get his shot off quicker.  Playing with better line mates would also help his game, last year he was stuck with weak line mates. I think Hanson will drastically improve his pro game this coming season. He should get significant minutes playing in the bottom six on this team. If he plays on the third line with Grabovski he could put up more points than expected. I think Hanson, Grabovski, and Sjostrum or Armstrong would make a good third line. Hanson played well on the wing and at centre, but I think his size is needed more on the wing than at centre. Don’t expect huge stats from Christian but expect effectiveness. If he has the kind of year hoped for he will climb rankings to the fifth spot just prior to graduating.

Collectively the Leafs have one of their best groups of prospects in memory. Looking at their team as a whole they have a very decent contingent of players under the age of 25. That group includes established players like Dion Phaneuf 25, Phil Kessel 22, Luke Schenn 20, Kris Versteeg 24, and Nicolai Kulemin 24. When you add in the prospects noted above you have the makings of a very young team at present. Brian Burke is a year and a half into his plan to make the Leafs contenders for the cup in his five year contract. A lot does depend on how the prospects develop over the next couple of years, some will get injured, some will fade, others will emerge, and some will exceed expectation. Of course there will be trades and player movement that alters things in the next couple of years as well. If we were to project the basic building blocks for this team as it is now and what it might look like in three more years you would have this:

Centre: Kadri 22, Bozak 27, Grabovski 29, Irwin 26, McKegg 21

LW: Versteeg 27, D’Amigo 22, Kulemin 27, Sweatt 24, Ross 21, Caputi 24, Brown 28

RW: Kessel 25, Hanson 27, Sjostrum 30, Orr 31, Stephanovich 23, Marcel Mueller 25

Defence: Phaneuf 28, Schenn 23, Gunnarsson 26, Aulie 24, Komisarek 31, Mikus 24, Blacker 22, Holzer 25, Beauchemin 33

GK: Gustavsson 28, Reimer 25, Rynnas 26, Scrivens 26

Other considerations that need to be weighed are the returns on Kaberle and the use of our cap space. One has to think that a player will come back in the Kaberle deal that has an impact on this team in three years if not before (wouldn’t Wayne Simmonds or Mattias Tedenby look good on this team in three years time…). In addition the Leafs are positioned to strike at a big time free agent should the time come that one is available and to their liking (maybe Semin in July 2011???… nice addition to LW).

Is it enough to fight for the cup? With so many players in their prime it could happen. Only time will tell, but it is interesting to see where we stand in relation to Burkes long range plan. Surprisingly it could be argued that this team might contend before three years, and could do so as is for perhaps several years after since this team still looks young in three years time. There appears to be good speed, good hands, and enough size although a little more grit up front wouldn’t hurt. The goaltending should sort itself out with four big athletic guys fighting for the top spot under Francois Allaire’s guidance. To be contenders in three years we need to get to the playoffs before then and make some noise. It would be great to get there this year but we might be just a little too young and inexperienced yet. The next two years after, the playoffs are a must and the team must make some noise in at least one of those years, then in three years time they might be legit contenders.

The Kadri Conundrum

By: Chuck Johnson

Hello, fellow hotstovers!  I’ve enjoyed reading many of the posts on here and thought I would also toss in a little food for thought.  During the last little while, there has been a lot of speculation as to whether Nazem Kadri will make the team out of camp, or if he will need a year of seasoning in the AHL.  I thought for a good comparison, we would take a look at the top 10 picks of the drafts from 2006 and 2007 to see how many of them made the jump to the NHL by their second year after being drafted… but after doing just 2006, I’ve come to realize that is going to get really long, so here is just 2006’s!

2006 Draft: Vancouver

1) Erik Johnson (D):
In Johnson’s first year after being drafted, he played NCAA for the Minnesota Gophers.  His second season after the draft he was already suiting up for the St. Louis blues for 69 games.

2) Jordan Staal (C):
Never mind waiting for his second season to play, Jordan jumped right into the Penguins line up and played 81 games and notched 29 goals!  He finished with 42 points on the year.

3)  Jonathan Toews (C):
After being drafted, Toews went to play in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association for the Fighting Sioux, as he did the year before. The next year he moved up to the Hawks roster and posted 54 points in 64 games.

4)  Nicklas Backstrom (C):
Backstrom went back for another year in the Swedish Elite League before breaking into the league with the Capitals. There he hooked up with his new buddy Ovechkin and racked up a big 69 points in his rookie campaign.

5)  Phil Kessel (RW):
Anybody heard of this guy? The first season after being drafted, Phil jumped into the Bruins lineup for 70 of his 72 games played that year.  He posted 29 points as a rookie and his point totals have steadily risen each year… except this one.  (Sorry guys, couldn’t help myself)

Woah!  That is a pretty strong top five! Already two of them wearing cup rings and looks like there could be a third coming… and I’m not talking about Backstrom.  Okay, I admit it… I’m a bit of a homer.  Moving on…

6)  Derick Brassard (C):

Brassard went back to the QMJHL to play for Drummondville after barely being drafted out of what appears to be a very strong top 5. During his training camp, Derick separated his shoulder and missed almost the whole season. He only appeared in a total of 26 games including playoffs for the . From there he moved onto play for the Syracuse Crunch for 42 games and was called up to Columbus for 17 games where he notched one goal and one assist.

7) Kyle Okposo (RW):

After being drafted, Okposo went to play 33 games for the University of Minnesota. The following season, Kyle got a little taste of three different leagues. He started off the year with the University of Minnesota, but after 18 games made his way up to the AHL.  There he suited up for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers for 35 games and managed to get into nine with the New York Islanders. During those nine games with the Isles, he was good for 2 goals and 3 assists. Since then, Okposo has stuck with the Islanders, though he did help out for part of a Bridgeport playoff run after the Isles had been sent to the golf course.

8 ) Peter Mueller (C):
The season following Mueller’s draft, he had himself a solid year with the Everett Silvertips.  Peter had a successful season having scored 78 points in 51 games.  No AHL seasoning was required of Peter as he made the transition to the NHL next season.  He played in 81 games for the Phoenix Coyotes and had an impressive 22 goals and 32 assists!

9) James Sheppard (C):
Sheppard spent his first season after being drafted back in the QMJHL. He posted big numbers with 96 points in 56 games, though it is not unusual for top prospects to light it up in the Q. Sheppard was deemed ready to make the jumped to the NHL and suited up for the Wild the following season.  Though unable to put up big points since making the jump, Sheppard is still up with the Wild.

10) Michael Frolik (C):

Ah-ha!  The last player is of the ten is the only guy who didn’t get a taste of NHL action until after his second year!  Frolik spent two years in the QMJHL playing for Rimouski.  He played 97 games and had 138 points over the course of the two years.  The following season, being his third year, he joined the Florida Panthers.

This all could have easily been explained by showing stats of a couple years for each player… But regardless of that fact, you get the picture.  Of the top ten draftees from 2006, only three of the players didn’t stick for the season with the big club in their second year. Though a case could be made that Brassard’s development was held back by injury, seven out of ten is still a good ratio.

Seven of the ten players selected were centers, with 5 of the 7 playing the season with the big club in the second year.  Maybe that is a good sign for Nazem as the crafty centers tend to develop a little quicker than the rugged winger.

With high picks carrying a nice cap hit. Younger players are being inserted into the lineups earlier than ever.  Kadri has all the skill to make this team out of camp, if he puts in the effort like he did last year, I can’t see him being sent back down.  This would be an excellent season for him to get the exposure he needs before the Leafs gets serious trying to contend.

A big thanks and job well done to Paul and Chuck for taking the time to put these pieces together. Want to send in your own piece? Do you have a question you’d like to have answered by myself in a future Mailbag piece?

Send ‘em both in to [email protected]

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