It’s no secret that the Toronto Maple Leafs have put a major emphasis on drafting and developing top quality prospects. The team’s pool was chock-full of high-end elite talent which included the likes of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander. At one point, they had one of the best prospect pools before they all made the jump to the NHL.
Related: All-Decade NHL Draft – 2010 to 2019
While they may not have the elite level prospects they did before, they still have a good crop that fans should be aware of. It may get even deeper with this year’s draft (whenever it happens). From the Ontario Hockey League to the American Hockey League, the Maple Leafs still have some great names that could make an impact on the team in the next few years. Here are the Maple Leafs top five prospects at the moment.
Before we get into the list, here are some honourable mentions with their stat line from the 2019-20 season.
Goalie (Wins-Loses-Overtime Losses-Goals Against Average-Save Percentage)
Ian Scott (Did not play- hip surgery)
Yegor Korshkov (16-9-25)
Semyon Der-Arguchintsev (12-63-75)
Joseph Woll (11-16-3, 3.75 GAA, .880 SV%)
Mikhail Abramov (35-41-76)
5. Mikko Kokkonen, D, Jukurit, SM- Liiga
While most teams value strong-puck moving defensemen, it’s always good to find a player who you know is capable of providing that steady presence in your own zone. The Maple Leafs were able to find that with Mikko Kokkonen, drafting him 84th overall in 2019.
While he’s not flashy or offensively gifted like Rasmus Sandin, Kokkonen makes an impact by slowing the game down providing strong defensive play. He showed his defensive style with Finland at the World Juniors, scoring twice. His strong overall play allows him to have a ceiling as high as a top-four shut down defender.
He was playing against adults as a rookie and has played relatively well, recording 19 points in 2018-19. He’s continuing to get his opportunities and he’s making the most of it, which will bode well for the Maple Leafs if he can be an effective two-way force. His character speaks volumes, as he’s willing to go above and beyond in his development.
There’s a lot of time for Kokkonen to grow as a player to reach that potential. He’ll look to gain more opportunities next year both on Jukurit and at the World Juniors again.
4. Nick Abruzzese, C, Harvard, NCAA
If there was a major surprise this year, it was Harvard freshman Nick Abruzzese. After putting up 80 points in 62 games with the Chicago Steel in the United States Hockey League, that caught the Maple Leafs attention as they selected him 124thoverall in the 2019 NHL Draft. With those impressive numbers, Abruzzese continued to prove his worth with the Crimson being a major standout player and key offensive contributor.
He finished the season with 44 points in 31 games, leading all freshmen in that category ahead of names that were selected ahead of him such as, Alex Newhook (Colorado Avalanche, who was named NCAA Rookie of the Year), Trevor Zegras (Anaheim Ducks), Cole Caufield (Montreal Canadiens) and Shane Pinto (Ottawa Senators). In addition, Abbruzzese topped all freshmen in points per game with 1.42, while earning a spot on the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) All-Star Team and the All-Rookie Team.
Based on this season alone, Abruzzese is starting to become a potential first-line player based on his PNHLe. This projects a player’s offensive potential at the NHL level.
While he’s small in size at 5-foot-9, 160 pounds, Abruzzese is extremely creative with the puck and possesses great speed and vision that makes him hard to contain. While that’s what scouts want to hear, it’s his work ethic and ability to battle for the puck that stands out the most. Whether it’s a game or even a practice, Abruzzese always seems to be on another gear.
“Some guys watch their game film on their own, in addition to what they do with coaches. He actually would watch and analyze his reps in practice,” said Chicago Steel general manager Ryan Hardy.
“He always forced himself to make every drill game-like. Even in basic, nothing shooting drills, he would shoulder check pretending he had linemates with him. He was always thinking and creating to train his mind for the game. What a gift it was to have him.”
When he’ll make the jump to the pro level is yet to be determined, but when he does, he’ll be an impactful player.
3. Jeremy Bracco, RW, Toronto Marlies, AHL
There’s a lot to love about the 61stoverall pick from the 2015 Entry Draft. Jeremy Bracco has high-end vision and is an extremely crafty playmaker. He’s got quick speed and he’s extremely agile where he’s able to get out trouble. Offensively, he hasn’t disappointed at all, recording 145 points in 169 games with the Marlies. He’s a valuable asset to have.
However, it’s been five years and he still hasn’t seen any game time with the big club. With the current state of wingers already on the roster, it’s extremely difficult for Bracco to get a chance. There is a major log jam on the right side, which is why his name has been floated around in trade talks for some time.
You never want to see talent like Bracco be wasted in the minors, which is why it would be best if they were able to find a team where he has a chance to make the roster. Until a decision is made on his future, Bracco is still a prospect for the Maple Leafs and his skillset still has him as one of the best in their system.
2. Timothy Liljegren, D, Toronto Marlies, AHL
It’s been a long road, but Timothy Liljegren is getting closer to possibly earning more time with the Maple Leafs. He was considered a top-two pick in the 2017 draft, but missed a lot of time due to mononucleosis and wasn’t able to find any consistency after that.
Since being drafted, the Swedish defender has continued to get better every single season. He won a Calder Cup with the Marlies and his workload has increased, along with his ice time. While he was known for his puck-moving skills and offensive instincts, Liljegren’s becoming a more complete player on the defensive side. This will bode well for a Maple Leafs team that’s lacking in that department. Before he became the head coach of the Maple Leafs, Sheldon Keefe applauded Liljegren’s ability to adapt and play a more defensive game when he was still the head coach of the Marlies.
There should be some sort of reassurance to the young defenseman’s development as he finally earned a call up this season when the Maple Leafs were riddled with injuries on the blue line. For the most part, he played fairly well and became comfortable as the games went on. In addition, he was able to register an assist for his first NHL point in his 11 games.
Liljegren just needed a little more time to iron out some wrinkles in order for him to be the player the Maple Leafs envisioned him to be. His audition should serve as some encouragement that he’s almost there. No matter how things pan out, he’ll eventually get his chance to be a top-four defender.
1. Nick Robertson, LW, Peterborough Petes, OHL
It comes as no surprise that Nick Robertson is the Maple Leafs’ top prospect in their system. The 53rdoverall pick from the 2019 NHL Draft lit up the OHL, leading the league in goals with 55 and recorded 86 points in 46 games played.
Robertson took the league by storm, being a dominant offensive presence for the Petes. If it weren’t for the COVID-19 pandemic, a broken finger and attending the World Junior Championship, there’s no doubt that Robertson could have surpassed 60 goals and 100 points. In the OHL, with players in their first season after their draft year (DY+1), Robertson has the third-highest primary points per game (P1/GP) with 1.39, behind only Connor McMichael (Washington Capitals) and Arthur Kaliyev (Los Angeles Kings).
Robertson possesses a great deal of skill offensively. While that is his style, it was his defensive game and penalty-kill ability that caught the attention of Maple Leafs general manager, Kyle Dubas. The fact that Robertson dominated the OHL as an 18-year-old shows his ability to grow and continue to develop his game as a prospect. The Maple Leafs are going to give him every opportunity to succeed once training camp rolls around.
Robertson’s relentless puck pursuit and ability to play in all three zones are what the Maple Leafs are looking for in a forward. They found a first-round talent in the second round. While we need to see how his play in training camp pans out, it’s not out of the question that he could push someone aside for a spot on the roster next year.