With the Toronto Maple Leafs announcing they would not be participating in a prospect tournament this year due to CBA negotiations, development camp became all the more important for young prospects trying to make an impression on Toronto management.
By using (admittedly amateur) videos of the scrimmage sessions, I put together a few notes upon request from the camp. I didn’t originally plan to write anything up, but this is a slow time of the year and many people asked me to so I changed my mind.
A few things to keep in mind when reading these observations:
1) There are very few players that I haven’t seen prior to this camp. The players that I haven’t seen would more consist of the guys playing overseas (like Victor Loov), or Dominic Toninato from high school, and so on. Generally speaking though, this isn’t my first time seeing most of these players, which I think is somewhat important to note.
2) I don’t put a ton of stock into watching a few scrimmage videos, so I’m not going to sit here and rip on guys for “bad” camps or whatever you want to call them.
3) Like everyone else, I expect more from the older players.
Onto the notes/musings/observations:
– Greg McKegg was the most talented Leaf forward prospect at the camp. That really isn’t saying much though, because Toronto doesn’t really have many (any?) prospects that are skill-first players. Other forward draft picks are guys like Tyler Biggs, Brad Ross, Sam Carrick, and so on. They’re primarily role players, grinders and support forwards. After McKegg I’d say the next most talented Leafs forward prospect is either Tony Cameranesi or Josh Leivo. Cameranesi is a speed guy, while Leivo has a great shot. Neither of them consistently create offense, but if you put them with good players they will thrive (Leivo played with the top scorer in the OHL this year, for example).
– On that note, if I was going to compare Leivo to anyone, it would be David Jones. Both are 6’2, shoot-first wingers who can really riffle the puck and are essentially one-shot scorers. That said, Leivo still has a long way to go as he’s still really skinny and at least a few more years away. The Jones comparable would be his ceiling in my eyes, for the record.
– The Leafs compared their last pick from this year’s draft, Viktor Loov, to Jesse Blacker and I could see why from the brief video. He’s lanky, loves to jump into the rush and even went down the wall and tried to 360 around a defender in the offensive zone one play. He did get beat a few times defensively, but was actually able to recover more often than not. He too has a long way to go, but he acquitted himself well considering how young he is.
– Tyler Biggs was on a line with Tony Cameranesi and Brad Ross, but they weren’t as dominant as one would hope considering 2/3 of that line were made up of players the Leafs selected first in separate draft classes. Biggs may very well have been the most physically mature and strongest player there, but you do see the need for him to grow his offensive game. Should be interesting to see what league he does it in.
– Since before he was drafted I’ve stuck to one player comparison when it comes to Biggs, and that’s Mike Knuble. Like Biggs, Knuble also had 15 points in his first year in college, but really more than that he’s a 6’3 grinder who made a career out of complementing top line players. Whether it was Thornton in Boston, Forsberg in Philadelphia or Ovechkin/Backstrom in Washington, Knuble has managed to be a great guy at making space for skilled players, being a net presence and using his body. Knuble started off his career as a pure grinder before making his way up to those top lines, then for eight straight seasons he put up anywhere from 40 to 65 points. A few differences between Knuble and Biggs – Biggs has a much better shot and is a little more nasty, while Knuble has a better net presence and is better on the cycle. Those are both very teachable things though (and this is all said with the idea that Biggs develops his offensive game over the next few years).
– Max Everson quietly looked good. Other than Morgan Rielly he might have been the best skating D-man of the bunch. He’s smooth and he has some reach defensively to clog lanes. He’s a solid four years away -if ever – when it comes to the Leafs, but he’s someone worth monitoring when you consider his wheels.
– On the mention of Morgan Rielly, it’s pretty clear that he’s the only elite prospect out of the total group at development camp. That’s not a knock on the rest of the players because elite talents don’t exactly grow on trees, but it seemed as if Rielly could bring the puck where ever he wanted to. He had one play where he chipped if off the boards to himself while holding the offensive blueline, then went around a few guys and threw a cross ice pass to Brendan Silk for a tap in. On another shift he walked the blueline and hit the crossbar.
– Had he played a full season of junior last year he might have been worth A LOOK at the NHL level, but he didn’t. He played 18 regular season games and then five playoff games. Jumping from that limited amount of time to develop, straight to the big league is a classic prospect rush job. Let him dominate a full season, have a fantastic world junior, and we’ll see him next year.
– The Rupert’s were out finishing every check and getting dirty as per usual, but there were more than a few instances where they sensed something was crossing the line and held up (e.g. – they went to hit someone who was in the process of turning their back and eased off). They worked hard and tried to make an impression that way versus doing anything a little more on the crazy side… which they have been known to do once and awhile.
– Two of the Leafs better prospects, Stuart Percy and Matt Finn, are players who are just not going to standout in scrimmages like these. They play a no-frills game that you come to appreciate over time versus the flashy skating/hitting/shooting elements of hockey that tend to standout in these kinds of camps. Percy just makes the game look easy. For example, there was one play where he looked trapped in the corner of his own end with one player chasing him from behind and another coming right at him, and he simply threaded a backhand pass right up the middle to his center breaking out. I think both he and Finn are the types of players who will look better against top players because their poise and puck movement will become a lot more apparent and separate them from all the young kids they were on the ice with at camp.
– Andrew Crescenzi won every faceoff I saw him take. David Broll one-timed a bomb off one clean faceoff win by Crescenzi and scored.
– When Broll kept his game physical and simple he was effective, but as soon as he tried to become a playmaker it left you sort of scratching your head. Some shifts he would dump it in deep, throw a solid check, cause a turnover and start a cycle; others he would cross the blueline, slow down and try to throw a saucer pass through a defenseman.
– David Wolf is 6’2 and nearly 220 pounds, he played in the German league last year throwing up 35 points in 46 games while accumulating 167 PIMs in the process. He was older than many of the other players at camp, but he did everything you could ask of a player in his position to make an impression. He got in a fight, he finished every check, was consistently battling and getting dirty in the corners and even showed the occasional offensive flash. Here’s a situation where it’s just unfortunate that the Leafs aren’t in a prospect tournament, because I’m sure the Toronto brass would like to take a look at him in game situations.
– Wolf did get burned on one play though where he brought the puck up to the blueline off the cycle, but then lost the handle and saw Jamie Devane scoop up the puck and go down on a breakaway and score bar-down.
– Devane looked solid from what I could see. His skating has improved drastically since he was drafted and he was an impact player in the scrimmage despite playing with an undrafted camp invite (Nick Sorkin) and high-schooler Dominic Toninato. I think it also speaks volumes that they put him on this to carry it and be a leader.
– I wish I could sit here and tell you about the goalies, but it’s honestly way to tough for me to even begin to evaluate a goalie off this tape in a scrimmage that was frankly sloppy while the goalies alternate consistently, so I’m just not going to bother.
– Ross was solid if unspectacular. He’s another player that seems to be more of a “gamer” than a scrimmage-type guy. Let’s face it, he’s a dirty player. He crosses the line, irritates, slashes you while the refs aren’t looking, and it’s hard to bring that level of intensity to a prospect scrimmage. I think if you saw this Ross-Biggs duo in a prospect tourny they would have made life absolutely miserable for every opponent that got in their way.
Hope these notes shed some light on the camp.