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Toronto Maple Leafs Prospect updates from bluechipprospects.com

The CHL Rankings are out, and Matt Finn’s Guelph Storm are ranked 2nd in the country with Connor Brown’s Erie Otters one behind in 3rd.  While character does not necessarily equate to hockey-playing ability, it’s nice to see a couple of Leafs draft picks captaining some of the most successful teams in the world’s best developmental league.

And that’s a wrap on the 2014 World Junior Championships.  I’m sure most of you reading this were hoping for a better result for the Canadian Juniors but, alas, it was not to be.  A lack of scoring, some lacklustre goaltending at times, and not enough speed to breakdown trap teams like the Finns were the downfall for Canada, who once again  find themselves off the podium.  Here’s hoping for a better result on NHL-sized ice next year.

This past Thursday, I had the chance to take in the Colts – Ice Dogs game and got to see Carter Verhaeghe live for the first time since the rookie tournament.  Of the players taken in the 2013 draft by the Leafs, Verhaeghe has probably turned the most heads in the early stages of this season. Here are a few of my thoughts on his game.

It’s playoff time in the CHL.

To the surprise of nobody who follows me on Twitter or reads this column with any regularity, Morgan Rielly and the Moose Jaw Warriors are on the outside looking in.  If I were a lesser man, I’d gloat about how I predicted this outcome when Moose Jaw was sitting 5th in the WHL’s Eastern Conference and I’d definitely rub it in the face of all the people who called me an idiot or worse — if I were a lesser man.

What this means for Rielly is that he’ll be joining the Marlies on Wednesday and that he’ll be able to take a bit of time to adjust to the pro speed.  From a developmental perspective, this is probably the ideal place for him right now.  I’m not convinced that languishing in Moose Jaw for the last two months has really taught him much and I’m reluctant to throw a teenage defenseman onto a Leafs group that has, frankly, struggled.  I’m not as sold as many people are on Eakins as an NHL coach but I do think that he’s an exceptional developmental coach so Rielly is in good hands.

As far as the other Leafs go, Stuart Percy and the Mississauga Steelheads will be lining up against the top seeded Belleville Bulls.  Mississauga has been just brutal lately and there’s a very real chance that Belleville ends their season by March 26th, at which point Percy will join Rielly in the AHL.  Once again, this is probably the best spot for him to be right now, so I wont be shedding any tears if the Steelheads make an abrupt exit.

Biggs and the Generals play the Niagara Ice Dogs and unlike the aforementioned prospects, Biggs will be hoping to make a playoff run.  Also unlike the others, I think the OHL is a good spot for Biggs right now — especially in a playoff atmosphere.  He’s on a good team, he’ll play a variety of situations, and this will be a good opportunity to see if the wear-you-down style of a playoff series is a strength for Biggs.  Should be a good series and I’d expect Oshawa’s forward depth is enough to see them through to the next round.

The most intriguing series from a Leafs perspective will be the Kitchener v. Guelph matchup.  Matt Finn has been out of the lineup with an injured knee and was set to miss 3-4 weeks.  I hope he doesn’t rush back but if the series goes the distance or if Guelph should advance, Finn could see some playoff action.  On the other side of the ice, Leivo is in a nearly identical position to Biggs.  He’s on a good team and will be expected to play a pivotal role for the Rangers who’ve made a serious investment to win this season.  Also like Biggs, Leivo has the kind of game with the potential to thrive in a long, grinding playoff series.

As far as Connor Brown goes, his Erie Otters missed the playoffs and I’m not sure what the organization plans to do with him over the next few weeks.  Brown recently returned from a concussion (and scored a pair of goals in the Otters’ last game) so while he’s healthy, there’s a chance the team just skates him in practice with the Marlies but holds him off the ice.  He’s still awfully young and I doubt he sees much, if any, icetime with the Marlies but maybe he surprises me; he has all season.

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Welcome to the Playoffs, Awards, and Injury Ward edition of the Leafs Prospect Update!

Starting with the bad news, Erie Captain and surprise statistical standout Connor Brown suffered a head injury (read: concussion) against London on the 18th and missed this weekend’s games.  Erie is well out of the playoff mix and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brown sit out the rest of the year to recover — it’s probably what’s best for him in the long run.

If Tyler Biggs were Russian, he’d be considered an enigma.  Biggs has been taken off of Oshawa’s top powerplay unit (though he remains on their top line at even strength) and his production has been on and off ever since.  Biggs picked up an assist tonight — and a number of scoring chances — but prior to tonight’s game he had been on a goals-or-nothing streak.  Biggs’ last five games registered as follows: 2 goals, no points, 1 goal, no points, 2 goals.  He still isn’t much of a passer, nor is he any more comfortable carrying the puck.  This might be work that he needs to do with a fresh set of coaches next season.

Josh Leivo continues to impress in Kitchener and has now passed Connor Brown as the Leafs prospect with the most CHL-points this season.  Leivo has 19 points in 15 games with Kitchener — a point-per-game total that no player on Kitchener has been able to match despite all the drafted talented on that team.  Leivo has changed the way he puts up points since his transition to Kitchener, relying more on assists than goals, but the production has still been there despite the increased defensive focus that Spott employs in Kitchener.  There aren’t a lot of holes in Leivo’s game which bodes well for his transition to the pro game (ECHL or AHL) coming next season.

From December 28th to January 22nd, the Moose Jaw Warriors went on an 11-game losing streak which corresponded fairly neatly with Morgan Rielly’s absence from the team.   Since then, the Warriors are W4-L4 which may not be spectacular, but it is a pretty significant improvement.  Rielly is tied for 6th in scoring among WHL defensemen despite playing on one of the worst offensive teams in the league and having missed a month’s worth of games with the WJC and NHL camp.  In short, everything you’ve read on Rielly is true — he’s a dynamic offensive player and isn’t bad in his own zone either.

Until next time, you can catch me on Twitter @bcphockeyblog

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The resolution to the NHL lockout combined with the commencement of the second half of the CHL season has predictably stirred up some player movement in the NHL’s development leagues.

As far as Leaf property, third round pick in 2011 Josh Leivo was traded to the Kitchener Rangers in a deal that saw the Sudbury Wolves move their top forward in Leivo, top defenceman in Frankie Corrado and starting goaltender Joel Vienneau in one swoop.

Welcome back, Josh Leivo.

After missing time with a concussion, Leivo returned to the Sudbury Wolves lineup last week and he did so with a vengeance.  The Wolves had 3 games in 3 nights this weekend and Leivo put up 2 goals and 5 assists.  Leivo now has 34 points in 29 games on a pretty weak Sudbury team.