Hockey’s Future, the renowned hockey prospects website, announced their Spring Organizational Rankings today and the Toronto Maple Leafs found themselves in the bottom tier of the league at #23. The ranking is based on an assessment of a team’s farm system, which takes into account the amount of star power and depth that is likely to be produced. For a team in “rebuilding” mode, that’s not a flattering number to see.
The first thing to consider when looking at these rankings is that Hockey’s Future has very specific criteria for determining whether or not a certain player qualifies as a “prospect”:
A player will be considered a prospect until he meets the following criteria:
- If a prospect is a skater (forward, defenseman) and has played in 65 NHL games or more before the completion of the season of his 24th birthday; or, if a goaltender has played in 45 NHL games before the completion of the season of his 24th birthday, that player will be considered graduated to the NHL. Conversely, if a player completes the season of his 24th birthday without passing those milestones, then that player will no longer be considered a prospect by Hockeyâ€™s Future, regardless of the playerâ€™s status with his NHL club.
- An NCAA player who signs his first contract at or above the age of 22 has three years to meet the above criteria (65/45), while those NCAA players that turn pro under the age of 22 will be subjected to the criteria above.
- European players who sign their first NHL contract at or above the age of 22 have three seasons from the time they sign that contract to meet the above criteria. Those European players below the age of 22 that have signed a NHL contract will be subjected to the criteria in section one.
Essentially, it means that in the context of HF’s rankings, 5 of Toronto’s top 6 or 7Â young players, Luke Schenn, Jiri Tlusty, Mikhail Grabovski, Anton Stralman, and Nikolai Kulemin are no longer considered prospects. Take out those 5 and you can see immediately how much of a blow it would be to a team’s prospect core.
The article commends the Leafs on several potential top six forwards in the system, including Boston College winger Jimmy Hayes, University of Denver Star Tyler Bozak, and Quebec sniper Mikhail Stefanovich. Aside from that, players such as Didomenico, Champagne, Hanson, and Stalberg figure to provide some much needed tenacity and sandpaper. I find it a little strange though that Bozak is listed as Toronto’s 18th best prospect, behind household names such as Ben Winnett, Matt Frattin, and Korbinian Holzer.
After that, it gets pretty ugly. The Leafs very little depth beyond Stralman and Schenn on the blueline. Although Toronto’s #2 ranked prospect Dmitri Vorobiev is plenty talented, there remains plenty of questions regarding whether or not he’ll ever come over to play in North America. After a scare late last season with a potentially career-ending heart condition, Vorobiev has recently been cleared to play once again, but has chosen to sign a two-year deal to remain in Russia with the Dynamo Moscow hockey club. Aside from Vorobiev, it’s a reach to say that there’s any other Toronto prospect with legitimate top 4-6 potential at the NHL level. Addressing this need at this year’s draft with at least 1 defenseman in the top 2 rounds, and perhaps another in the mid-late rounds is a must.
As for the goalie situation, there are a whole lot more questions than answers right now, which explains why Burke is still in the process of negotiating with Swedish free agent Jonas Gustavsson, as a means of a long-term solution between the pipes. The enigmatic Justin Pogge has struggled to find any sort of consistency over the past few seasons at the professional level, after showing so much promise on the junior stage. Pogge is an upcoming restricted free agent and I’m assuming that at the age of 23 there is still too much potential to pass on, but it’s possible that if Burke can get Gustavsson under contract, he may just cut bait and go with James Reimer full-time on the Toronto Marlies. Like Pogge, Reimer offers intriguing ability and size, but due to having played behind terrible teams his entire career, it’s still very tough to evaluate what exactly you may have on your hands. With no depth at the junior level or overseas, it’s time for the Leafs to nab another quality goaltending prospect this June. Names such as Olivier Roy, Matthew Hackett, Mike Lee, and Edward Pasquale should all figure very prominently in the discussion for one of Toronto’s two 2nd round picks.
The collection of young talent at the NHL level is starting to look promising, but the Leafs still have a lot of work to do to replenish the system and make up for many years of trading away draft picks. Moving a veteran or two at the NHL Draft may allow for the Leafs to stockpile multiple picks and either move up from the seventh spot, or address the lack of depth.
Always a pleasure,