and here's Scott Wheelers prospect rankings:
y comprehensive ranking of Maple Leafs prospects will include three editions this season, including one after the summer's draft. Here, I will rank and evaluate all 31 of the Leafs' drafted or signed prospects.
Skill is paramount in the ranking. The NHL is faster than it has ever been, and puck skills and skating are increasingly important. As the Leafs add depth and become more competitive, the next wave of prospects will have to be more talented than past generations.
Note: As always, I have arbitrarily set the age cutoff at 22 and under. Data suggests that by the time a player turns 23, he is more or less done developing along his aging curve. That means players such as Kerby Rychel, Garret Sparks, Kasimir Kaskisuo, Miro Aaltonen and Calle Rosen won't be included. Others, who are under 23 but aren't signed to NHL deals or were drafted by the team but whose rights expired, are also omitted. That excludes Marlies leading scorer Mason Marchment as well as former draft picks such as Nikita Korostelev and Jack Walker (signed to an AHL deal with the Wild). Full-time Leafs, including 22-year-old Andreas Borgman, are also ineligible.
1. Timothy Liljegren, D, 18 (Toronto Marlies)
On June 23, 2017, when the Leafs stepped to the podium at the 2017 NHL entry draft to pick at 17th overall, I believed their choice was simple. It was either Liljegren or Eeli Tolvanen (taken 30th overall by the Nashville Predators). Now in November, after questions lingered over Liljegren's game after recovering from mononucleosis, the Leafs' new top prospect has eased concerns after a strong start to his professional career in North America. He's currently a little banged up, but Liljegren's five points in nine games lead all Marlies defencemen, while his defensive play continues to improve with a rotating cast of partners, including Martin Marincin and Travis Dermott. Only three under-19 players have appeared in the AHL this season (Filip Chytil, Klim Kostin, Liljegren). Liljegren is the only defenceman, and he hasn't looked out of place.
2. Kasperi Kapanen, RW, 21 (Toronto Marlies)
By his recent standards, Kapanen is off to a slow start this season with three goals in six games with the Marlies. Still, dating back to his 20th birthday, Kapanen has 54 points and 150 shots in 58 AHL games, good for a 76-point pace and 2.6 shots per game as one of the youngest players in the league in that span. Last season, the only players in the AHL of similar age to Kapanen who produced at or near his offensive clip (Brendan Perlini and Kevin Labanc, who are both older than Kapanen) are now full-time NHL players. Kapanen shouldn't be far behind. He remains one of the best skaters (if not the best) in the Leafs organization. He has the skill and pace to be an excellent NHL winger, even if we've only seen it in flashes so far in his young career. In his last 17 games under Leafs head coach Mike Babcock, Kapanen has played more than 13:40 minutes only once. The game was April 15, 2017. He was on the ice for 16:30 minutes, scored two goals, picked up four shots, finished with a plus-2 rating and scored the playoff overtime winner.
3. Andreas Johnsson, LW, 22 (Toronto Marlies)
I've been tire-pumping Johnsson since his rookie-of-the-year season in the SHL. Were it not for a concussion in his second game for the Marlies in May 2016, I believe Johnsson would be in the NHL. I remember watching a pair of games against Utica last February and identifying when that Johnsson was finally back. He'd been good all year, but he has been better than good since, posting 35 points in 42 regular-season games alongside a team-high six goals during their two-round run in the playoffs. What's most impressive about Johnsson is how far his defensive game has come. Early in his career in Sweden, he was purely a trigger man with a knack for finding open space on the big ice surface for his shot. Today, Johnsson is still a scoring threat. He's also Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe's most reliable two-way player. His NHL call-up is overdue.
4. Travis Dermott, D, 20 (Toronto Marlies)
Truthfully, I didn't think Dermott was a great pick at 34th overall in the 2015 draft. At that point, players such as Sebastian Aho, Filip Chlapik, Daniel Sprong, Jeremy Bracco and Oliver Kylington were higher on my board. In hindsight, the Leafs did well. While not a dynamic offensive presence or shooter, Dermott, has blossomed into an excellent throwback defender who, at 20, does a great job against the best in the AHL most nights. He has largely been taken off the power play this year in favour of tougher matchups at even strength, but Dermott has still been steady. One knock? He's a little too undisciplined, a recurring problem. He plays smart and fast enough that he should become an everyday NHL defenceman at some point in the next two years. The Leafs will need that cheap depth.
Kasperi Kapanen is one of the top prospects in the Leafs system. Photo credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
5. Carl Grundstrom, LW, 19 (Frolunda HC)
In his second full season with Frolunda after spending the two prior with MODO, Grundstrom has taken on an increased role on the perennial SHL contender. His ice time has risen from 13:37 to 15:23 as a result. He sits fourth on Frolunda in points per game (0.6), first in shots per game (2.8) and first in goals per game (0.5). Grundstrom plays a physical, up-tempo style that endeared itself to Keefe in last year's playoffs and Babcock in this year's pre-season. He's never going to be a dynamic offensive creator, but he should fashion out a role as another depth player on an entry-level deal. With a centre who can get him the puck, Grundstrom is going to be a fan favourite in Toronto. You can read more about his game here.
6. Jeremy Bracco, RW, 20 (Toronto Marlies)
Bracco played a lot of hockey last year. Across three teams — Windsor, Kitchener, Team USA — and four different settings — OHL regular season and playoffs, world juniors and the Memorial Cup — Bracco played 77 games, posting 96 points. He played deep into the summer, which cut his training period short before he caught mononucleosis. Don't let his four games played on a deep Marlies team deter you. Once Bracco is in pro-level form, and the Marlies can open up space in their roster for him regularly, he has the offensive tools to continue to develop in the AHL, and beyond. He is a Memorial Cup champion, world juniors champion and the U.S. national program's all-time leader in assists.
7. Eemeli Rasanen, D, 18 (Kingston Frontenacs)
The Leafs have too often gone to the well of hulking defencemen and wingers in recent years on draft day. While some of those players are featured in this ranking, on most occasions, the organization missed. With Rasanen, they may not have. In his sophomore season in the OHL, Rasanen has taken on huge minutes and a leadership role as an assistant captain in Kingston. Early on, he's thriving. At 6-foot-7, he's one of the biggest elite-level hockey players in the world. Unlike some of his counterparts, he's gifted offensively. Rasanen sits third among under-19 OHL defencemen in scoring this season — behind 2018 projected first-round picks Evan Bouchard and Ryan Merkley — with 14 points in 17 games. He can score with his shot, does a nice job finding forwards with stretch passes, plays extremely physical without taking a lot of penalties and continues to improve as an above-average skater for his size. He has room for growth, too.
8. Adam Brooks, 21 (Toronto Marlies)
After two of the more dominant seasons in recent memory in junior hockey, Brooks has struggled to adapt to his depth role with the Marlies as a rookie. He looks hesitant with the puck, he isn't generating shots and he is passing too much. Still, he has remained a regular in the lineup and continues to play centre, suggesting he's viewed favourably in the organization. He has the puck skills and ability to be a creative, playmaking centre at the pro level. He should ease into a more offensive role eventually, where he's more likely to develop his game. He's an effective forechecker and he certainly doesn't lack work ethic. He's in the same tier as Bracco and Rasanen.
9. Dmytro Timashov, RW/LW, 21 (Toronto Marlies)
After getting outplayed by Trevor Moore for minutes outside of depth even-strength play last year, Timashov has bounced back and earned a spot on the Marlies' top power-play unit early this season. He has nine points in his last eight games while playing further up the lineup. He's slowly becoming more than just a playmaking option with a wide base after working diligently on his shot all summer. Timashov, like Brooks, was dominant at the junior level — even on a Quebec team that offered him no help. It may take him some time to get there at the pro level, and he tends to hang onto the puck a touch too long, but if his start to this season is any indication, he's trending upward fast.
10. Yegor Korshkov, RW, 21 (Lokomotiv Yaroslavl)
Korshkov, a notoriously slow starter, has nine points and 21 shots in his last 10 KHL games, while playing a shade more than 13 minutes per game. Fully recovered from a brutal broken leg that cost him the bulk of last season, Korshkov has resumed his spot as one of the best young players in arguably the second-best pro league. I wouldn't have taken him 31st overall in 2016 as an over-ager, but he plays a heavy game effectively, and drives off the wing to the net to create chances. That should translate well to the AHL, if he decides to come to North America. The Leafs have a lot of talent on the wing, but few who can play at Korshkov's height (6-foot-4). He's got above-average hands, too.
11. Andrew Nielsen, D, 21 (Toronto Marlies)
This is where the ranking begins to taper off. To Nielsen's credit, after a dreadful playoffs with the Marlies last year, he has played some good hockey to start the season, fighting his way back into a regular lineup spot, which didn't look like a guarantee after his first couple of games. His skating remains an issue, but he's not taking as many minor penalties — a positive sign. Still, it's his offensive ability as a passer and shooter that's going to carry him a step further, if he wants a real shot at playing in the NHL because some of his defensive deficiencies.
Joseph Woll with Team USA at last year's world juniors. (Photo by Dan Hamilton/Icon Sportswire via AP Images)
12. Joseph Woll, G, 19 (Boston College)
After a hugely successful freshman year at Boston College last season, Woll struggled out of the gate behind a weaker team to begin the 2017-18 campaign. He had three strong games and three weak outings in his first six starts. But lately, he has looked like the Woll of old. In the month of November, in his seventh and eighth starts of the year, Woll is 2-0 with a .960 save percentage, stopping 48 of 50 shots. Woll meticulously studies technique. In the times I have spoken to him, it's clear that he's obsessed with his craft. His longtime goalie coach once told me that Woll kept a pamphlet he gave him years earlier on goalie technique at his bedside table. You can see it in his game, too — in the way he plays his butterfly, challenges shooters and isn't erratic in his movements.
13. Martins Dzierkals, RW/LW, 20 (training in secret with skills coaches)
Dzierkals is the biggest wild card. His numbers in junior, which don't jump off the page, are stunted by the fact that he played a good chunk of the last two seasons with one or two seriously sprained ankles. Mix in an average shot, and you might wonder why I've ranked him this high. But Dzierkals is also one of the better skaters on his edges in the organization, a kid who can cut laterally with fakes and shifts at an extremely high level. When you can skate and handle the puck as well as he can, there's a lot to work with. This month, I saw him working on his shot with Leafs skills coach Mike Ellis at MasterCard Centre, the Leafs practice facility. Like Mason Marchment last year, who was a less productive junior player than Dzierkals, the Leafs and Marlies appear to believe off-ice strength training and on-ice skills development is a better path forward for Dzierkals than Orlando or Rouyn-Noranda. He was outstanding at rookie camp and the rookie tournament, but he needs to get stronger.
14. Frederik Gauthier, C, 22 (Toronto Marlies)
Gauthier exists in this fringe area where he's well-liked by the Leafs and Marlies, but the clock is ticking. The next time I do this ranking, he'll be days away from turning 23 and graduating from being an ambiguous “prospect.” He may still become a reliable fourth-line centre in the NHL — he certainly won't cost a team in any noticeable way — who can penalty kill and take key draws, but the odds are stacked against him in much the same way as they are for the rest of the players below him on this list.
15. Jesper Lindgren, D, 20 (HPK)
I've always had an appreciation for the way Lindgren plays. In 2015, the year he was drafted, I ranked him in the late 50s as a fringe second rounder. I still believe the Leafs did well to land him at 95th overall. Despite playing 30 games for MODO in his draft and post-draft seasons, he was never given a real chance to play more than third-pairing minutes until they were demoted to HockeyAllsvenskan, the second tier, and he stepped into a leading role last year as the team's highest-scoring defenceman and the league's top under-20 defender by a landslide. Now playing at a higher level on a one-year contract in Liiga, the Finnish Elite League, that takes him to the edge of his Leafs rights (likely in hopes of coming to North America next season), Lindgren is thriving. While his three points in 21 games doesn't showcase his offensive gifts, don't be fooled. Lindgren is playing 20:50 per night (second on his team by nine seconds) and has run into bad luck with just one goal on 45 shots on one of Liiga's weaker teams. Relatively speaking, he's playing more than other young Liiga defenders such as Robin Salo (Islanders) and Olli Juolevi (Canucks). He has struggled to put on weight since his draft year and that's a concern (he's 161 pounds) but there might still be something there.
What will become of the GOAT? (Photo by Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)
16. Ian Scott, G, 18 (Prince Albert Raiders)
It's a small sample size, but Scott is playing exceedingly well early this season, with a 4-2 record and a .927 save percentage. If you dig deeper, it's not as recent a trend as it might appear for a goalie whose numbers didn't flatter him last year. In his final six starts last season, he posted a .934 save percentage. In his last dozen WHL games, he has stopped 320 out of 344 shots for a .930 save percentage. Behind the first not-awful team of his junior hockey career (one that has seen him play a lot for his age after being taken as the first goalie picked, at No. 9, in the 2014 WHL bantam draft), Scott's strong fundamentals and positioning have begun to shine through. He's not overly athletic and needs to fill out his lean 6-foot-3 frame. There's also enough in his track record to suggest caution with his recent surge.
17. Trevor Moore, LW, 22 (Toronto Marlies)
After an excellent end to his collegiate career, Moore arrived in Toronto and played well as a rookie in the AHL last season. Relatively speaking, he's off to a slow start this year. There's a lot to like in his game. He's one of the Marlies' shiftier players, he's aggressive on his lifts to come away with takeaways, and he skates well. But there's nothing in his game that suggests he's going to be more than a fringe injury replacement at the next level. Moore might just end up being an effective top-nine scorer in the AHL, and that's fine.
18. Pierre Engvall, RW/LW, 21, (HV71)
After breaking his clavicle on a brutal hit in his eighth game of the year in the SHL this season, Engvall's chances with the Leafs organization are probably closer to zero than just about anyone on this list given that his rights expire next summer. The hit required surgery, and he's out of action until near the end of the season. Still, I really liked where Engvall's game was at to start the year. He was outstanding in the HockeyAllsvenskan playoffs last year and kicked off his first season on a low-scoring HV71 team in the SHL with four points in eight games and four in five more in the Champions Hockey League. He's a big kid with skill, and his skating was coming along, but it's a tough break.
19. Rinat Valiev, D, 22 (Toronto Marlies)
Valiev had an injury derail his season last year, but he's back to full health now and playing well on the Marlies' third pair and second penalty-kill unit. Given the Leafs' depth on defence right now, he's well down the list of potential call-ups. That doesn't bode well for his odds going forward. He will almost surely need a change of scenery if he's going to have a chance at getting back to the NHL, where he played 10 games with the Leafs in 2015-16. He's a decent skater and passer, who tries to jump into the play, but lacks strong offensive tools at the pro level.
Dakota Joshua skates with Ohio State. (Photo by Ric Kruszynski, courtesy of Ohio State Buckeyes)
20. Dakota Joshua, C, 21 (Ohio State University)
Joshua has quietly become a strong player at a good program in the NCAA. After a breakout last season on a stacked Ohio State team (his 35 points in 33 games was fourth in team scoring), Joshua hasn't started as strongly this year. Still, he has the athleticism and the physical tools — which can also lead to him taking too many penalties – to be given a shot with the Marlies or Solar Bears once he graduates or decides to turn pro. He's a straightaway centre who has played the wing and attacks north-south in waves.
21. J.J. Piccinich, RW, 21 (Orlando Solar Bears)
Piccinich plays an effective game, quickly endears himself to coaches, but will almost certainly never progress past the AHL, let alone with a deep group in Toronto. Piccinich is a well-rounded player with some talent, but doesn't possess the kind of high-end talent a player needs to make the jump to the NHL. He likely becomes a depth forward for the Marlies at some point, playing the penalty kill. He may slide up the lineup if there are injuries to other players.
22. Fedor Gordeev, D, 18 (Flint Firebirds)
Gordeev had a coming-out party at this year's rookie tournament. While most of the defencemen struggled, he played really well. On a Leafs defence that looked slow, the towering Gordeev stood out as a strong skater. He has returned to a weak Flint team and is playing well in an increased role. He doesn't have a ton of ability as a passer or shooter, but he handles the puck well and creates entries with his feet after years as a forward in minor hockey. Gordeev has a long road to becoming a pro at any level, but there are some tools to work with. That makes him an interesting prospect at this stage.
23. Nikolai Chebykin, RW/LW, 20 (St. Petersburg)
Chebykin has been unstoppable in the MHL (Russia's top junior league) for the last two seasons. He's a physical, powerful, shot-first winger with zero discipline (and I mean zero. He snaps on a regular basis.) After briefly beginning the season back in the MHL, he has posted three points in five games in the VHL (Russia's AHL-equivalent for the KHL). There's a lot of raw ability in his game, and it'll be fascinating to see what the Marlies' coaches could do with the 6-foot-3, 210-pound winger. That said, I doubt he'll ever come over and he's a project at best.
24. Vladislav Kara, C, 19 (Bars Kazan)
I was going back and forth with Kara and Chebykin for this ranking. Kara looked good on Thursday night for Team Russia in the Canada-Russia Series, but I think he tops out at a lower ceiling than Chebykin. Still, Kara has been excellent in the VHL, though he struggled in his first stint in the KHL this season. He has earned consideration to play for Russia at the world juniors, even though it's a long shot. He gets in on the forecheck and has developed quickly in the last 12 months. If he continues at this pace, he'll be higher on the spring ranking. Like Chebykin, he's got a big shot and tries to use it as often as possible.
25. Ryan O'Connell, D, 18 (Penticton Vees)
The Leafs took a flier on O'Connell out of St. Andrew's College. He's making a one-year pitstop in the British Columbia Hockey League to play against better competition before heading to Boston University next year. He's a long way from being a top prospect but he's playing well in all situations in a top Jr. A program before heading to a college that churns out offensive defencemen. I like O'Connell's game, but he's raw after deciding to go the prep school route instead of the USHL or OHL path. O'Connell is a gifted skater, who does a wonderful job moving the puck up ice as a passer.
26. Nicolas Mattinen, D, 19 (Flint Firebirds)
Mattinen, who was drafted in 2016 after being a healthy scratch in the OHL playoffs, has become a shot-generating machine in his new home in Flint. Mattinen leads Flint defencemen in scoring with nine points in 17 games, one more than Gordeev, and he's throwing 3.4 shots on goal per game (58 in 17) in an increased role in his post-London days. That puts him fifth among OHL defencemen in shots and suggests the goals will start to come, even though he doesn't have a heavy shot. If you asked me whether Mattinen would shoot more than Ryan Merkley, Conor Timmins and Cam Dineen among others at the start of the year, I probably would have said no. I'm still not convinced it's going to be part of a larger trend. I don't like his offensive tools, other than decent handling for his size, at all.
27. J.D. Greenway, D, 19 (University of Wisconsin)
Greenway hasn't yet played for the University of Wisconsin this season due to “personal issues.” There's not a lot to his game to love other than he's a strong, athletic skater for his size. Still, I think there's room for his game to grow if/when he gets back on the ice. He's likely got three years at school to figure it out, too. Until then, nothing to get excited about.
28. Ryan McGregor, C, 18 (Sarnia Sting)
On a high-powered, first-place Sarnia team, McGregor has been bested by a couple of teammates he should be outperforming — at least if his draft position (172nd overall in 2017) was a proper indication of his talent. The Leafs likely took McGregor, a thin two-way centre, as a project, but he looked out of place at the rookie tournament. It's clear, even in the OHL, he needs to get a lot stronger.
29. Keaton Middleton, D, 19 (Sagniaw Spirit)
Middleton's game is finally starting to take positive steps forward. It was stagnant for a season and a half after he entered the OHL as a top prospect. Is it too little, too late for a hulking defender whose puck skills needed to develop a year or two ago? We'll find out. He has a chance to showcase himself as a world juniors hopeful next week when he plays in the Canada-Russia Series, but I'd put his odds at nearly zero for cracking a stacked Team Canada defence.
30. Vladimir Bobylev, RW/LW, 20 (Toros Neftekamsk)
Bobylev looked pedestrian in both this summer's rookie camp and this fall's rookie tournament before the Marlies gave him a chance to join their pre-season road trip. He didn't take advantage and now he's back in the VHL as a fringe option in the KHL. Bobylev has strength along the wall and decent speed at the junior level, but he was never able to overcome and be better than just good with Victoria. His path with the Leafs is, in all likelihood over, at any level.
31. Nolan Vesey, LW, 22 (University of Maine)
After a promising freshman year, Vesey hasn't taken the proper steps forward, at all, since. His rights will expire when he graduates and that will be that. He benefitted from playing with Penguins prospect Blaine Byron last season and that has showed with his absence this year. Given the ties to Vesey's father Jim, who scouts for the Leafs, maybe he'll get a tryout with the Marlies or Solar Bears, but I doubt it.
I have also broken down the ranking into tiers, in the same way my draft rankings are divided into tiers, in order to provide more context on their potential fluidity.
The tiers denote players who are tightly grouped. Ranking one player a couple of spots lower than another doesn't always mean there's a huge gap in their potential future development, or in their ceiling.