The Toronto Maple Leafs knew they were going into a rebuilding season. They had a few priorities which included shipping out players in return for picks and prospects, as well as developing a constant culture of hard work and tenacity night in and night out. Both of these things have slowly started to happen as the season rolls on.
The next and maybe the most important part of a rebuild, is to nurture and grow the talent that is already in the system. The most recent draft saw the Maple Leafs take nine different players through seven rounds. Five of these young men are now playing in the OHL and are having very successful seasons.
Nikita Korostelev, Sarnia Sting
Korostelev was the last pick made by the Maple Leafs in this past draft going in the seventh round 185th overall. He’s an agile skater who is able to unleash a bullet of a shot when given the opportunity. He’s always looking to possess the puck and has excellent hockey sense and a nose for the net.
The big Russian forward has had his campaign cut short by numerous injuries. He’s only played in 36 games, but has put up 13 goals and 13 assists for 26 points. Korostelev definitely has the skills to contribute at the NHL level someday. He needs to add weight to his frame and play with a bit more structure. Fortunately, Mike Babcock can do wonders if the seventh rounder makes the roster.
Stephen Desrocher, Kingston Frontenacs
The hulking defenseman was drafted by the Maple Leafs in the sixth round, 155th overall this past June. He is already a proven winner, which is evidenced by his Memorial Cup win with the Oshawa Generals last year. He started off the year well by putting up 11 points in 17 games for the Gens.
He was then shipped off to division rival Kingston, in exchange for a bevy of picks. Desrocher hasn’t looked out of place at all, and has 20 points since the trade. He’s a steady presence on the blueline and uses his size and smarts to control the play in his own end and along the boards.
Jeremy Bracco, Kitchener Rangers
Many questioned the Maple Leafs after they selected the diminutive forward in the second round of the past draft. The doubts stemmed from those that saw the forward as undersized and thought he would be pushed around. Bracco has proven all of those doubters wrong and has become one of the biggest scoring threats on the powerhouse, Kitchener Rangers.
Bracco has 50 points in 38 games since joining Kitchener from Boston College and is looking more and more dangerous each passing night. He has speed, slick hands, and a proven nose for net.
Travis Dermott, Erie Otters
Many are familiar with Dermott because he represented Canada at the World Juniors over the Christmas break. He wasn’t used a ton, but did play some big minutes on the power-play for the Canadians. Dermott is having a fantatsic season with the Otters this year and has 36 points in 39 games.
His career high came last year when in 61 games, he was able to score 45 points. That mark should be shattered this year by the Maple Leafs second rounder, as the Otters are a lethal offensive team and Dermott is a big factor from the backend. He is seen as an intelligent defenseman who displays good mobility in all three zones on the ice.
Mitch Marner, London Knights
What hasn’t already been said about Marner? One of the Maple Leafs crown jewel prospects, the speedy forward has been turning heads all season in London and has recored 78 points in 38 games this campaign. He’s a quick skater that is able to generate a flurry of chances off the rush or in the offensive zone.
He’s also not shy to compete hard in all three zones and is tenacious on the puck. Marner plays on one of the most dynamic lines in the OHL alongside Christian Dvorak and the 2016 draft eligible, Matthew Tkachuk. His career high is 126 points, which he reached last season. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that he equals or betters that stat line this season.
Marner could make the jump to the Maple Leafs next season. It would be an exciting treat for Leaf fans to see how their most recent top draft pick transitions to the NHL.