A little over halfway through the season, it’s time to tear our eyes away from the bottom of the NHL standings for a second and see how the future of the Maple Leafs are doing. Notable breakout players include Owen Sound’s puckmoving defenseman Jesse Blacker and NCAA goal scoring machine Matt Frattin out of the University of North Dakota. Below is a brief overview of some of the Maple Leafs’ biggest movers, either up or down, the organizational depth chart.
Matt Frattin, NCAA forward: Frattin is this year’s Jerry D’Amigo as a mid-tier prospect who has soared to the top of the organization’s depth chart. His unlikely comeback to relevance has been nothing short of outstanding. After being dismissed and eventually reinstated into North Dakota’s hockey program for a variety of minor charges, Matt has seen his game progress by leaps and bounds. The rugged, physical winger has been terrorizing collegiate defensemen south of the border, torching the scoresheets to the tune of 20 goals in 28 games played. Upon completion of his senior year, Frattin will make the jump to the AHL to refine his skills and should eventually carve out a successful NHL career as a well-rounded, secondary scoring option.
Jesse Blacker, OHL Defenseman: During the first few seasons of his OHL career, Blacker had the benefit of playing aÂ supporting role on a historically deep Spitfires team and developing his game at his own pace. However, last year’s midseason trade to a terrible Owen Sound team threw Blacker right into the fire where he struggled mightily as he found himself in the unfamiliar position of being a leader on the blueline. This season, Jesse has really hit his stride both offensively and defensively as evidenced by his robust stat line of 40 points and a +4 rating in 42 games played, earning him an invite to the World Junior tryout camp. He should be ready for professional hockey next season with the Marlies and could be Kaberle’s heir apparent someday on the Maple Leaf blueline.
Josh Nicholls, WHL Foward: Kudos to Director of Amateur Scouting Dave Morrisonn for what appears to be yet another late round selection who could crack an NHL roster someday. Based on a strong second half finish in his draft year, the Maple Leafs gambled on Nicholls with their last selection of 2010 with the hope that he could sustain his offensive progression. And they have not been disappointed. After finishing last season with 49 points in 71 games played, Josh has already obliterated those totals with 24 goals and 37 assists for 61 points in 48 games played, good for 12 overall in WHL scoring. With good size and strong two-way play to boot, Nicholls looks to have all the tools needed to be at least a third line player someday.
Jerry D’Amigo, AHL Forward: While D’Amigo’s 2010 season hasn’t exactly disappointment, he really has not had quite the first year impact he was (perhaps unfairly) expected to have with the Marlies, especially considering preseason speculation that he could even see some NHL action at some point. The young forward has had a tough time adjusting to the faster pace of the professional game and has seen his ice-time cut back on a number of occasions. Those struggles carried over to the World Juniors where D’Amigo was more or less a non-factor and produced just 2 points in 6 games played. However, this is still only a teenager, who won’t even turn 20 until late next month, with an impressive set of skills and considerable upside who may just need another year or two before he’s ready for the Big Show.
Luca Caputi, AHL Forward: Last season’s trade deadline jettison of Alexei Ponikarovsky to the Penguins saw the Leafs net a quality young forward and Toronto boy with intriguing size and scoring ability. After 47 points in 54 games played for the Penguins’ AHL affiliate and a cup of coffee down the stretch with the Maple Leafs to get some NHL experience, big things were expected from the youngster this season. However, issues with inconsistency and injuries have cost Caputi a significant chunk of his 2010 season thus far, limiting him to just 5 points in 18 games played between the Marlies and Maple Leafs. With the big club still searching for a long-term power forward solution, Caputi is going to have to step his game up a notch if he wants to be that guy.