With the promotion of a half dozen rookies into the NHL during the 2016-17 season, the Leafs prospect pool has been quickly diminished.
With that, a great deal of young players have also moved up the depth charts, in the lower ranks. While the budding superstars are no longer around in the Leafs top prospects list, there are a litter of depth prospects at all positions.
Up front, the Leafs are led by Kasperi Kapanen, an asset brought in via the Phil Kessel trade. He is far and away the most NHL ready prospect they possess, and was voted the Leafs Prospect of the Year for 2016-17. Following the trend of skilled and smooth skating forwards, Jeremy Bracco and Adam Brooks have done all they can in junior hockey, each piling up points in the CHL in 2016-17. The future of goal scoring runs through two Swedes, Carl Grundstrom and Andreas Johnsson.
Along the blue line, recent signees Andreas Borgman and Calle Rosén offer some intrigue as to how well they will be able to adapt to the North American game, but each has proven a mature game with offensive upside. Home grown draftees, Travis Dermott and Andrew Nielsen had promising rookie years in the AHL in 2016-17, and will likely earn upwards of 20 minutes a night with the Marlies in ’17-18, too.
In the blue paint, the Leafs have a trio of strong goaltending prospects. Continuing along the trend of drafting goalies with great size, all three of Joseph Woll, Garret Sparks, and Ian Scott have NHL potential, while all are in different stages of their career.
Also of importance is the fact that these players are developing their game at different rates, meaning there is sure to be a consistent stream of prospects filtering into the Leafs roster over the next several years.
Along with much more successful drafting of late, the Leafs have been wise to sign young free agents form Europe as well. Defencemen Borgman and Rosen each have experience in Sweden’s top league, the SHL, and Miro Aaltonen found great success in the KHL during 2016-17.
Leafs Top 20 Prospects
All prospects without any full-time NHL experience are considered for this list.
20: Martins Dzierkals – RW – Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL)
- Age: 20
- Size: 5’11” & 170 pounds
- Acquired: Drafted 68th overall in 2015
- 2016-17 Stats: 21 goals & 49 points in 47 games
After spending his NHL Draft year in the MHL, Martins Dzierkals has spent the past two years in the QMJHL. He adapted well to the North American game, putting up 24 goals and 67 points over 59 games in 2015-16. This past season was similar, as Dzierkals maintained over a point-per-game rate.
Dzierkals remains as skilled as ever, using his hands and vision of the ice to create opportunities. He hasn’t gotten much bigger since his draft year, and is still muscled off the puck at times. He will likely return to Rouyn-Noranda for the 2017-18 season, which would be his last in the CHL. The Leafs hope he can further increase his offensive output while putting in work at the gym.
In general, Dzierkals remains an intriguing prospect with seemingly untapped potential. His transition into the AHL will be a very telling one, when it comes, as doubts remain over his ability to play professional hockey. But, the skill is there. No one can take that away.
19: J.D. Greenway – LD – University of Wisconsin (NCAA)
- Age: 19
- Size: 6’4″ & 205 pounds
- Acquired: Drafted 72nd overall in 2016
- 2016-17 Stats: 1 goals & 7 points in 34 games
After playing with the U.S. National U17 and U18 teams prior to his draft, James (J.D.) Greenway moved on to the University of Wisconsin, beginning with the 2016-17 season. In his draft year, Greenway showed flashes of offensive upside, adding five goals and 28 points over 64 games with the U18 squad.
In his freshman year, Greenway focused primarily on improving his defensive game. While he has the size to be an intimidating defender, he is not overly physical. He has solid gap control, but has often been knocked for an inconsistent shift-to-shift game. Despite showing some impressive instincts and reads of the ice, Greenway has yet to prove to be a dependable defenceman at both ends of the ice.
In all, Greenway certainly has the ability to be a difference maker. However, whether or not he will be able to translate that consistently at the pro level remains to be seen. He is surely another two to three years away from making that jump, and Leafs brass will be hoping that his two-way game improves significantly in that time.
18: Garret Sparks – G – Toronto Marlies (AHL)
- Age: 24
- Size: 6’2″ & 201 pounds
- Acquired: Drafted 190th overall in 2011
- 2016-17 Stats: 2.16 GAA & .922 SV% in 31 games
A member of the Leafs organization for four years now, Garret Sparks has paid his dues in the minor leagues. The 24-year-old was excellent as the Marlies starter in the AHL in 2016-17, but wasn’t given the starts when playoffs rolled around. With the signing of Curtis McElhinney to a two-year deal, it appears that Sparks is expected to remain in the AHL for a little longer.
Standing at 6’2″, Sparks uses his frame well to cover the bottom half of the net. His mobility is strong, but he’s been known to overcommit to developing plays at times. In any case, his numbers speak for themselves. Sparks has played two consistently successful years in the AHL, but will need some NHL action in order to become a dependable goalie at the highest level.
All in all, Sparks has proven his ability to stop pucks. He has transitioned well at all levels and had a strong 17 game showcase on a weak Leafs team back in 2015-16. For him to take the next step, he needs to play a backup role by 2018-19. The question is whether the Leafs will give him the opportunity before his game stales at the AHL level.
17: Ian Scott – G – Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
- Age: 18
- Size: 6’3″ & 174 pounds
- Acquired: Drafted 110th overall in 2017
- 2016-17 Stats: 3.69 GAA & .895 SV% in 50 games
Ian Scott has tremendous potential that has gone unappreciated over the past two years in Prince Albert. Playing behind a bottom feeder team, Scott’s numbers don’t indicate his true ability. One thing he can take away from his time with the Raiders is an uncanny amount of exposure, as he faced an average of 35 shots per game last season.
Scott uses a large frame to play an aggressive style, positioning himself at the top of his crease to leave very little shooting space. He is quick laterally and can cover the net post-to-post almost instantly. His rebound control is also off the charts, checking the box on all essential goaltending abilities.
Everything considered, Scott is a legitimate NHL prospect with the potential to be a starter down the line. He will return to the Raiders for 2017-18, hopefully with an improved team in front of him. Should he continue along his current trend, Scott could be one of the top goaltenders in the WHL within two years, and potentially a top goalie prospect for the NHL.
16: Eemeli Räsänen – RD – Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
- Age: 19
- Size: 6’7″ & 209 pounds
- Acquired: Drafted 59th overall in 2017
- 2016-17 Stats: 6 goals and 39 points in 66 games
The thing that immediately jumps out when watching Eemeli Räsänen play is his 6’7″ frame. While he could be potentially punishing in his own zone, he more often uses his body to cut off passing lanes instead. He also has a booming shot from the point when he gets it off. His skating looks extremely awkward, but it gets the job done and is continuing to improve.
In 2016-17, Räsänen’s first in North America, he showed an offensive edge through long outlet passes and quick decision-making to join the rush. As he continues to grow into his body, Räsänen’s game will only become more fluid. He has the potential to develop a very strong two-way game as his abilities round out.
Overall, Räsänen has the potential to become a real offensive threat. His development at the OHL level will be interesting to track, as he can play another two seasons there. If he can improve his skating ability and learn to use his size to his advantage more often, Räsänen can become a menacing presence in his own end.
15: Dmytro Timashov – LW/RW – Toronto Marlies (AHL)
- Age: 20
- Size: 5’10” & 187 pounds
- Acquired: Drafted 125th overall in 2015
- 2016-17 Stats: 11 goals & 24 points in 63 games
Dmytro Timashov spent his 20-year-old season in the AHL, instead of going back to the QMJHL for an overage season. His rookie year with the Marlies was solid, putting up promising offensive numbers despite playing limited minutes. As well, Timashov showed off a much improved goal scoring touch that has developed since his draft year.
Timashov’s greatest asset is his skating ability. His first three steps are explosive and he can separate from opponents in a foot race. He has tremendous vision of the ice as well, and can thread the puck through lanes as well as anyone. Along with his improved scoring ability, Timashov is a force offensively.
While he will certainly need a minimum of two or three more years at the AHL level, Timashov continues to boast an excellent skill set. Although slightly undersized at 5’10”, Timashov’s skating ability will make his transition through the AHL and into the NHL a fairly smooth one. If he can improve his defensive awareness, he could become one of the most promising prospects for the Leafs.
14: Miro Aaltonen – C/W – Vityaz Podolsk (KHL)
- Age: 24
- Size: 5’11” & 172 pounds
- Acquired: Signed as a free agent on March 17th, 2017
- 2016-17 Stats: 19 goals & 44 points in 59 games
Originally a sixth round pick by the Anaheim Ducks back in 2013, Miro Aaltonen spent the following four years in Finland’s top league, Liiga. Finally, in 2016-17, he made a smart jump to the KHL. He found immediate success with Vityaz Podolsk, leading all under 24-year-old players with 44 points for the year. The result was an entry-level contract with the Leafs.
Aaltonen is a great skater with impressive top speeds. He also possesses quick hands and puck skills. Aaltonen visibly thinks the game very well and understands the importance of his position on the ice during developing plays. He is a versatile forward, with the ability to play both wings or center, although he centered his line for most of the 2016-17 season.
As a 24-year-old, Aaltonen will be in tough to crack the Leafs lineup for 2017-18, and a year in the AHL would definitely be beneficial for his transition. He has all the tools to succeed at the professional level, and would be a top candidate to be one of the first forwards called up in case of injury this year. In any case, Aaltonen is a near NHL-ready prospect with plenty of offensive upside.
13: Kerby Rychel – LW/RW – Toronto Marlies (AHL)
- Age: 22
- Size: 6’4″ & 214 pounds
- Acquired: Traded from Columbus Blue Jackets in June 2016
- 2016-17 Stats: 19 goals & 52 points in 73 games
Acquired by the Leafs during the 2016 offseason, Kerby Rychel put forward a pretty solid showing in his first full year as a Marlie. He led the team in points with 52, as well as penalty minutes, with 118. The tenacious winger showed an aggressive edge that hadn’t always been so predominant in his game. Regardless, he showed that he retains the ability to make a difference offensively.
At 22, Rychel seems to be adding a gritty asset to his overall package of NHL potential. At 6’4″, he can certainly accomplish that, but hopes are that he adds it to his skill set, not making it his primary objective. Rychel used to be praised for an electric release, but those days seem to be in the past, as he has sported a 9.1, 6.8, and 10.3 shooting percentage over his three AHL seasons.
Although Rychel’s NHL projection seems to be diminishing, he remains a strong candidate to be a potential third or fourth line winger with some offensive upside. He often takes heat for still being in the AHL, despite only being a 22-year-old. If he can improve his numbers with the Marlies in 2017-18, he should be someone that the Leafs look towards for a promotion.
12: Yegor Korshkov – RW – Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (KHL)
- Age: 21
- Size: 6’4″ & 187 pounds
- Acquired: Drafted 31st overall in 2016
- 2016-17 Stats: 6 goals & 19 points in 36 games
Most Leafs fans have a poor association to the name Yegor Korshkov. He was selected 31st overall in 2016, his third NHL Draft-eligible year. There were still a number of highly touted prospects on the board at this time, but Leafs management decided to take a risk. This past year, Korshkov’s third in the KHL, he continued to improve his offensive output, with his 0.53 points-per-game ranking 12th among under 24-year-old players in the league.
The 21-year-old is regarded as a physical playmaker who drives hard to the tough areas to put pucks in the net as well. Standing at 6’4″, Korshkov loves to jump into the physical game whenever possible. His offensive production was actually very promising when considering his time on ice jumped from 10:57 to a whopping 13:00 in 2016-17.
In the long run, Korshkov remains a legitimate NHL prospect despite many fans distain over his selection. He has found success in the KHL at just 21, which is much more rare than in the NHL. His contract with Lokomotiv runs through 2017-18 meaning he could transition to the Marlies as soon as 2018-19. This would allow him to find much more significant ice time and ultimately, develop his game to the best that it can be.
11: Joseph Woll – G – Boston College (NCAA)
- Age: 19
- Size: 6’3″ & 203 pounds
- Acquired: Drafted 62nd overall in 2016
- 2016-17 Stats: 2.64 GAA & .913 SV% in 34 games
Joseph Woll was thrown straight into the starter’s role at Boston College, taking over for Thatcher Demko who had turned pro. He put up very promising numbers for a 19-year-old, one of just four goaltenders under 20 years of age to play in at least 30 games.
Woll uses his size effectively to block off most of the net, but also shows fluid agility and lateral coverage. His rebound control could arguably use some work, usually as a result of an inability to track the puck through traffic. Asides from that aspect, Woll is a solid all around goalie, and has proven it on the international stage at the World U18’s and World Juniors, too.
Overall, Woll is continuing along a positive trendline towards a professional career. While he still has another two years, give or take, before signing with the Leafs and turning pro, Woll has already shown the invaluable characteristics of any great goaltender. He will be an intriguing prospect to watch over the next couple of years as he continues to develop at Boston College.
10: Andrew Nielsen – LD – Toronto Marlies (AHL)
- Age: 20
- Size: 6’3″ & 207 pounds
- Acquired: Drafted 65th overall in 2015
- 2016-17 Stats: 14 goals & 39 points in 74 games
After taking a massive jump in 2015-16, adding 70 points in 71 games with the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes, Andrew Nielsen earned a spot on the Toronto Marlies. He played well at the AHL level, adapting well despite consistent concerns over his skating ability. In the end, he led Marlies defencemen in points with 39, while sitting fourth with 82 penalty minutes, and sixth in shots on net with 135.
Nielsen uses his size and strength to enforce his physicality on opponents, but can sometimes take too many costly penalties or lead himself out of position as a result of over-aggressiveness. On the other hand, he’s a kid with a great frame who offers offensive upside. Of course, his skating remains an issue, but it’s slowly become less of a liability.
In all, Nielsen is going to continue to develop his two-way game over the next few years with the Marlies. If he can lockdown his defensive coverage and get his skating to be at least average, the Leafs will have themselves a very exciting prospect.
9: Adam Brooks – C – Regina Pats (WHL)
- Age: 21
- Size: 5’11” & 176 pounds
- Acquired: Drafted 92nd overall in 2016
- 2016-17 Stats: 43 goals & 130 points in 66 games
Another over-aged selection form the Leafs 2016 draft was Adam Brooks, a point producing phenom out of the WHL. He exploded in the 2015-16 season, tallying 120 points, only to surpass that mark this past season. Brooks finished second in league scoring with 130 points, only behind his teammate, Sam Steel. As a result of two consistently dominant performances, the Leafs inked Brooks to an entry-level contract on June 29th, 2017.
While Brooks is often overlooked due to being drafted in his third year of eligibility, he showcases all the tools necessary to making a smooth transition to professional hockey. His best assets come from his unparalleled work ethic and an elite level of hockey IQ. Don’t be fooled, Brooks is not your typical one-way player who picks up points, as he was consistently relied upon in defensive situations and excelled on the penalty kill with the Pats.
Heading into 2017-18, Brooks is set to take the ice with the Toronto Marlies in a significant season for his development. Should he be able to transition to the AHL game while maintaining a strong two-way game, Brooks will continue to rocket up the Leafs depth charts. The 21-year-old could find himself on a similar trajectory to that of Connor Brown.
8: Travis Dermott – LD – Toronto Marlis (AHL)
- Age: 20
- Size: 5’11” & 196 pounds
- Acquired: Drafted 34th overall in 2015
- 2016-17 Stats: 5 goals & 24 points in 59 games
Travis Dermott is another of many Leafs prospects who made their professional debuts in 2016-17, playing out his rookie year with the Marlies. Dermott did well to stick to his game and continue to make safe plays at both ends of the ice. Dermott’s 24 points were second among Marlies defenders, and his +9 rating ranked second on the team.
After three years with the Erie Otters of the OHL, Dermott proved that he was more than ready to make the jump as a 20-year-old. A mobile defenceman, Dermott reads the game well and understands the importance of his positioning on the rush as well as when hemmed in his own zone. He has some offensive upside too, reading the safe chances to join the rush and create an odd-man rush.
Overall, Dermott has continued to progress as expected. His ability to make safe plays without being too risky in trying to turn the play up ice has made him a trusted player in all situations. While the Leafs blue line continues to pile up with potential NHLers, Dermott will persevere in his maturation process at the AHL level for another two or three years.
7: Jeremy Bracco – RW – Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
- Age: 20
- Size: 5’9″ & 181 points
- Acquired: Drafted 61st overall in 2015
- 2016-17 Stats: 25 goals & 83 points in 57 games
Jeremy Bracco kept Leafs fans riding a roller coaster of highs and lows during the 2016-17 season. Over the first half, he produced at an elite rate with the Kitchener Rangers, with 17 goals and 51 points in 27 games. After being traded to the Memorial Cup hosts, Windsor Spitfires, his production plummeted, adding just eight goals and 32 points over 30 games, before being ousted in the first round of playoffs.
A month later, the Memorial Cup rolled around, and Bracco was a beast. In four games, he potted three goals and eight points en route to capturing the trophy. Bracco continued to wow fans and scouts alike with an unreal playmaking ability. He sees the ice as well as anyone and can dangle with the best of them. While his size remains a concern, it has yet to hold him back at any level.
While there remains mixed opinions over Bracco’s NHL projection, he is rolling steadily along an excellent development curve right now. He is eligible to join the Toronto Marlies for 2017-18, but will face a tough test in earning consistent ice time given the plethora of promising forward prospects also vying for top-line minutes each night.
6: Calle Rosén – LD – Växjö Lakers HC (SHL)
- Age: 23
- Size: 6’0″ & 176 pounds
- Acquired: Signed as a free agent on May 16th, 2017
- 2016-17 Stats: 6 goals & 19 points in 41 games
Another pick of the free agent field from Europe, Calle Rosén is coming to North America from the SHL where he recently put up the second most points among defencemen under the age of 24. Rosén has unfortunately suffered through a few concussions over the course of his career, possibly the only reason for concern with this signing.
Rosén is yet another defender who can make a difference at both ends of the ice on this list. He loves to rush the puck up ice with confidence and can skate well enough to catch opponents on the backcheck. His weakness used to be in his defensive awareness, often being caught forechecking or found out of position. However, his seasoning in Allsvenskan and the SHL have turned those flaws into strengths.
As a 23-year-old, Rosén has a shot to challenge for a spot as the Leafs sixth defencemen this fall, but that will largely depend on his ability to adjust to the NHL style. Perhaps more likely, will be a stint in the AHL on what will be a stacked Marlies blueline, whether that be for a few months or an entire season. In all, Rosén is a mobile, two-way, near NHL-ready defender with potential offensive upside and strong skating ability.
5: Andreas Borgman – LD – HV71 (SHL)
- Age: 22
- Size: 6’0″ & 205 pounds
- Acquired: Signed as a free agent on May 16th, 2017
- 2016-17 Stats: 5 goals & 15 points in 45 games
The second of two signings on May 16th, 2017 was Andreas Borgman, who is also coming from the SHL where he was a champion in 2016-17 and also the league’s Rookie of the Year. He really heated up during the postseason, where he led all defencemen with 10 points in just 14 games. One year younger than Rosén, Borgman is one of five left-handed defenders on this list.
Borgman seems to be just scratching the surface in terms of unearthing his raw potential. After moving through the SuperElit league over two years and Allsvenskan in another two, Borgman made an immediate impact in the SHL. He is a terrific puck mover and can play physically when the time presents itself as well.
As Borgman enters his first NHL training camp, expectations are that he will battle for a roster spot, but more than likely be sent to the Marlies for a year or two of seasoning. The 22-year-old definitely has potential to be a top-four defenceman on the NHL one day, but his time of arrival will depend largely on his adjustment to the smaller North American ice surface.
4: Andreas Johnsson – LW – Toronto Marlies (AHL)
- Age: 22
- Size: 5’10” & 190 pounds
- Acquired: Drafted 202nd in 2013
- 2016-17 Stats: 20 goals & 47 points in 75 games
A seventh round pick four years ago, Andreas Johnsson has grown leaps and bounds since joining the SHL in 2013-14. Over three years, Johnsson won the Rookie of the Year, a league championship, and finished fifth in the league in points with 44 in 2015-16. This past season, Johnsson joined the Toronto Marlies, finishing second on the team in goals with 20, and third in points with 47.
Over the course of one year in the AHL, Johnsson showcased impressive speed and a skill set that that is driven by quick hands. Most notably, he has proven a consistent ability to put pucks in the net in both the AHL and SHL. Johnsson is set to return to the Marlies for the 2017-18 season, and will be looked upon to be a leader in goal production.
Projecting a path towards the NHL for Johnsson will likely see an additional one or two years in the AHL before a transition into the Leafs top nine. In his prime, Johnsson will be a scoring winger with a realistic possibility of potting 20 goals per year. The 22-year-old is looking like an absolute steal from the 2013 draft.
3: Carl Grundstrom – LW – Frölunda HC (SHL)
- Age: 19
- Size: 6’0″ & 194 pounds
- Acquired: Drafted 57th overall in 2016
- 2016-17 Stats: 14 goals & 20 points in 45 games
Carl Grundstrom recently completed his second complete SHL season, making quite an impact along the way. During 2016-17, he led all players under 20 years of age in both goals and points. As a result, Grundstrom signed an entry-level contract with the Leafs on April 28th. He was able to join the Toronto Marlies in time for the playoffs, where he ranked third in team points-per-game with 0.67 over just six games.
Grundstrom is a hard worker with great character on and off the ice, as well as an admirable compete level. Playing each shift like it’s his last, Grundstrom has been trusted in all situations in the SHL. He has a potentially elite shot which is powered by a wicked quick release. While he won’t be the most skilled player on his team, Grundstrom is a coach’s dream who can skate well enough.
The 19-year-old is still likely three years away from becoming a full-time NHLer, but should he come over to join the Marlies for a few years, Grundstrom will develop into the Leafs system and become a fan favourite almost immediately. A complete package, Grundstrom has the potential to put up consistent production while filling several slots in the Leafs every day lineup.
2: Kasperi Kapanen – RW/LW – Toronto Marlies (AHL)
- Age: 21
- Size: 6’0″ & 181 pounds
- Acquired: Traded from Pittsburgh Penguins in 2015
- 2016-17 Stats: 18 goals & 43 points in 43 games
One of the main pieces from the Phil Kessel haul, Kasperi Kapanen had his most consistent and dominant season in the Leafs organization. In his second full AHL season, Kapanen was one of just 11 point-per-game players in the league, playing over 40 games. The 21-year-old quickly became one of the Leafs most exciting young prospects, and possibly earned a spot in the top-nine for 2017-18.
Following the trend of recent Leafs prospects, Kapanen combines speed, skill, and smarts to play a dynamic game. One area that Kapanen had long been told to improve was his defensive responsibility. This past seaon, he finally bought in to playing a solid two-way game, and it paid off in spades. A strong skater with impressive puck skills, Kapanen is the best prospect up front for the Leafs right now.
Looking ahead to next year, Kapanen will be given every opportunity to make the Leafs roster out of training camp. Having played eight regular season and six playoff games for the Leafs last year, Kapanen was able to make a lasting impression on Mike Babcock. Projecting as a future top-six winger, Kapanen has shown the potential to be a 60-point player with the right line-mates.
1: Timothy Liljegren – RD – Rögle BK (SHL)
- Age: 18
- Size: 6’0″ & 192 pounds
- Acquired: Drafted 17th overall in 2017
- 2016-17 Stats: 1 goal & 5 points in 19 games
Initially valued as a top-two pick for the 2017 NHL Draft, Timothy Liljegren‘s health issues ultimately caused his value to drop. After battling through mono, Liljegren got into 12 games in the SuperElit league and 19 in the SHL. Often marked as a risky defender for his decision making, Liljegren is a game-changer when he’s at his best. His skating ability is off the charts, as he loves to rush the puck up the ice with authority.
An incredible stick handler, Liljegren has a powerful shot from the point which he can thread through blocks and screens. He could potentially quarterback a power play and has tremendous offensive upside. Defensively, Liljegren has been picked out for his risky decisions, instead of making the safe play. However, the reward far outweighs the risk at all times in Liljegren’s game.
Heading into 2017-18, Liljegren is set to return to the SHL, hopefully for a year full of health. He should be one of the top defencemen in the league, and could arguably be more than ready to join the Leafs in time for 2018-19. Falling into the Leafs’ lap at 17th overall, Liljegren instantly replenished a depleted prospect pool in Toronto, reestablishing an elite presence at the top of the list.
Contributor for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Prospects. Scout with the Oakville Blades of the OJHL. For questions, concerns, or comments, contact me at email@example.com or on twitter @SlawsonTHW.