The Toronto Maple Leafs have a lot going for them right now on the prospects front. They just won the NHL’s draft lottery, and with it, the right to select first overall. Chances are that pick is already made, and will come in the form of Auston Matthews, the big American pivot who’s made so much noise this year.
Keeping with the prospects, Mitch Marner, who the Maple Leafs drafted fourth overall last year, has been an absolute beast for the London Knights. He had 116 points in the regular season before kicking it up a notch in the playoffs. The Knights recently advanced to the Memorial Cup on the back of Marner’s 44 points in 18 games, which caps off an incredible postseason run.
The Toronto Marlies are right in the thick of the playoffs and are playing a tough second round series against the Albany Devils. Many future Maple Leafs are showing their skills, including William Nylander, Nikita Soshnikov and Zach Hyman.
The Leafs have a glut of young and talented prospects, many of whom will be forming the core of the rebuild. But as any fan knows, only a limited amount of players are allowed on the team at one time. There will come a time in the very near future, where the Leafs will have some hard choices to make. Which prospects are keepers and which are expendable?
The Maple Leafs have a few young guns who will be kept around no matter what. Players like the aforementioned Nylander, Marner and soon to be Matthews would fall into this category. They are highly skilled and will form the biggest and brightest part of the core for the Buds.
There are also others who have made a case for themselves. Take Hyman and Soshnikov for instance. Both made their way to the organization this year through very different means. Hyman was acquired in a trade with the Florida Panthers, while Soshnikov was signed out of Russia as a free agent.
Both experienced their first taste of NHL action this year and neither looked out of place. Hyman was tenacious in front of the net and developed some solid chemistry with Nylander. He’s the type of player to compete hard every shift, something head coach Mike Babcock loves.
Soshnikov was seen as a Leo Komarov type of player, except that he has a bit more of a scoring touch. He’s fearless and will finish each and every check he throws. Those are the qualities that made him a fan favourite in his brief tenure with the Buds this season.
— Toronto Marlies (@TorontoMarlies) April 24, 2016
While neither of these players are guaranteed to be kept, they had an excellent audition with the big club and that can only help them earn a place in the lineup for next season and beyond.
It stands to reason that some of the Maple Leafs older prospects could fit this category. Josh Leivo, Sam Carrick and Stuart Percy are three players who have been in the Leafs system for a number of years. All have limited NHL experience, and with so many prospects coming up, there simply may not be much room.
Another player many are not sold on is Kasperi Kapanen. The slick winger was the major player acquired in the deal that sent the speedy Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins. While Kapanen has shown some glimpses of what he could become, many believe that he will be relegated to a third line winger role or less in the coming years.
The Maple Leafs have a great stable of young talent. That will only increase at the upcoming draft in Buffalo, where they have 12 selections, including two first rounders. Very few prospects are considered keepers right out of the gate. Even the few listed above could potentially be moved if the right offer were to come along.
Fans of the Leafs can rest easy however. The rebuild is finally being properly done and is set to add a major piece with the first overall pick. Smart drafting and developing of players is essential, and the Buds appear to have all the correct systems in place to succeed and build a true winner.