I recently spoke with Yahoo! Sports Western Hockey League writer Kelly Friesen about current Toronto Maple Leafs prospects.
Here is what he had to say:
Question: There’s no doubt the Maple Leafs plan on having Keith Aulie playing full-time in the NHL next season. In your opinion, is this a smart decision, or is Aulie being forced into the NHL too soon?
Answer: Aulie is ready for the National Hockey League. Last year he outplayed Dion Phaneuf on some nights. He’ll do fine as long as you don’t put too much pressure on him. That being said, he does need to work on his lateral movement, but that will come over time.
Q: We all saw just how good James Reimer with his performance last season. As a goalie who almost nobody had heard about, Reimer won his first career start against the Ottawa Senators on New Year’s Day. He never looked back, and almost helped the Maple Leafs complete an amazing run to the playoffs. Do you think Reimer will be able to repeat his success from last season as the Leafs’ full-time starter?
A: A lot of goalies have sophomore slumps, so it’s impossible to say how good he will be next year at this point. But Reimer is a very composed goaltender. With his one shot at a time mentality, he definitely could have another strong season next year. However, the Leafs definitely need to bring in a strong veteran back-up. They’re going to need someone who can play 30 games next year and someone who can challenge Reimer.
Q: Based on where the Maple Leafs are picking in the first round, who do you think would be the best fit for them and why?
A: Well, around the 20-30 range, I’d say Ty Rattie of the Portland Winterhawks would be a good pick up. He’s a highly skilled winger, he beats players one on one and has a strong wrist shot. Joseph Morrow, who also plays for the Portland Winterhawks, would be another good pick up. He’s a puck moving defenceman that plays a strong defensive game. I expect him to go in between 15 and 25.
That being said, I think they should combine the two picks and trade up to the 10-15 range. Mark McNeill of the Prince Albert Raiders would be an awesome fit for the Leafs. He’s a big 6-foot-2 centre that plays a strong two-way game. I’ve heard various comparisons of his play to Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan and Travis Zajac. He’s exceptionally strong and he’s a player who can run your power-play and penalty-kill.
Q: We all know about Nazem Kadri’s bumpy road to the NHL. After a tough first 17 games, he was sent back to the AHL and later re-called to the Maple Leafs, where he played much better. Do you think Kadri will reach the 20 goal and/or 40-point mark if he plays a full season (70+ games) in 2011-2012? Why or why not? If you think he will so, how many goals and points do you think he’ll score?
A: It all depends on how much ice time Kadri gets. If he finds chemistry on the first line with Kessel, he could notch 40-50 points next year. But if he struggles it’s possible he could have another season where he’s back and forth from the NHL to the AHL. Next year will make or break him. If he struggles again, his trade value could drop to a second round pick. I wouldn’t be opposed to trading him this summer, but only if the deal is right.
Kelly also answered a few questions on the upcoming NHL Entry Draft.
Q: It’s June 24, 2011 and you’re the Edmonton Oilers. Who do you take first overall and why?
A: I take Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. He’s the guy to take, he posses patience and poise that very few have. When it comes to pure skill, he’s easily the most skilled player in the Western Hockey League, and Columbus Blue Jackets’ Ryan Johansen and Los Angeles Kings’ Brayden Schenn are in the Dub. When he’s at his peak I see him as a future point a game centre. Also, Nugent-Hopkins between Hall and Eberle could be the best line in hockey one day.
Q: Jonathan Huberdeau has moved way up in many draft rankings. Where do you see him going?
A: I’ve heard Dave Tallon and the Florida Panthers are really high on him. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him go third overall, but it’s possible he could drop to fifth or sixth.