It's that time of the year again. The Toronto Maple Leafs open their pre-season schedule September 15th at 6:00 PM in London as the Philadelphia Flyers play host to the Leafs.
With current holdouts Nazem Kadri and Cody Franson still question marks to begin the season with the team, the Leafs prospect pool might be getting a long look this upcoming training camp.
With that said, here's my ranking of the Leafs top-10 prospects heading into the 2013-14 season. The rankings will be taking age, upside, and their NHL arrival into account.
10. LW/RW Jerry D'Amigo
This may come to surprise a few readers, but simply put Jerry D'Amigo will be a Toronto Maple Leaf at some point this season. If that's at the start of the season, that's great. If its later in the year—just as good.
D'Amigo is smallish in height (5'11), but he's got NHL-ready strength as he weighs in at around 210 pounds. D'Amigo had a down year by his standards only amassing 29 points in 70 games. The decline can likely be attributed to the NHL lockout and having AHL stars Nazem Kadri, Keith Aucoin, Ryan Hamilton, and Mike Zigomanis all play a much greater offensive role with the club for the first half of the season.
When they left though, D'Amigo scored at nearly a point-per-game rate. In nine playoff games, D'Amigo scored a goal and added eight assists.
D'Amigo's best attributes are that he can affect the game without scoring. He's far more offensively skilled than Leo Komorov, and he's likely just as good defensively. He may not throw his weight around as much as Komorov, but he does an admirable job at it nonetheless.
: 2013-14 Season if all goes well this training camp.
9. RW Josh Leivo
Josh Leivo is making his presence in the Leafs organization heard as he is jumping up across everyone's draft boards. Not one player has jumped as much as Leivo has the past year.
Leivo possesses an almost-NHL ready body at 6'1" and 195 pounds, but could afford to add some more strength. At 20 years old, Leivo is a bit of a long-shot to make the Leafs Opening Night roster, but he remains in the hunt.
He's one of the only Leafs forwards who projects to be a top six forward in the future. He has a good combination of size, skill, and the ability to score. He finished out the season with the Toronto Marlies and impressed with his offensive ability.
His abilities have always been compared to fellow Leafs prospect Greg McKegg. McKegg just missed being included in the Leafs top-10 this year. His lack of consistency with the Marlies resulted in a bit of a dip in his ranking.
: 2015-16 Season
8. D Jesse Blacker
Jesse Blacker is another player who could make an appearance this year with the Leafs. He will likely not crack the opening night line-up, however in an 82-game season, he may end up being an injury call-up if one of the Leafs regulars may fall.
Blacker is a very intriguing prospect as he has every quality you want in a top-four defenceman. He can skate, he can hit, hit can play a three-zone game, and lastly, he can lead a team.
His arrival in the NHL is very near and the Leafs couldn't be happier. Because of the lockout last year, the Marlies blueline was full of experienced guys like Jake Gardiner, Mark Fraser, Mike Kostka, Korbinian Holzer, and others. However, with at least three of the four likely to crack the Leafs next season and Kostka with the Chicago Blackhawks, Blacker's role with the Marlies will likely increase dramatically.
Look for a breakout season by Blacker as he looks to rise in the Leafs Prospect rankings.
: 2014-15 Season
7. D Petter Granberg
Granberg won't wow you with offensive flair, he won't amaze you with Scott Niedermayer like strides, however, what Granberg will do is make life easier for his defensive partner and be a thorn in the side of many opponents.
His stock climbed massively this season as he got a chance to play alongside defenseman Alex Edler at the 2013 World Championships with Sweden. When he played Canada, his job was to shutdown the Steven Stamkos line.
He has been compared to fellow Swede and Maple Leaf Carl Gunnarsson, however, to many Leaf fans delight, he's probably a bit more physical than Carl and he likes to hit with regularity.
He will likely need a year or two of seasoning in the AHL to get accustomed to the North American game, but its not out of the realm of possibilities that Granberg steals a spot from another Leaf heading into the season
: 2014-15 Season
6. D Stuart Percy
Percy has potential Captain written all over him. At all levels of play, Percy has been a leader on and off the ice.
In his first five games with the Marlies, Percy manage to net a goal and add three assists. Percy is extremely useful as he has enough offensive ability to warrant playing on the power-play, however where he excelled is defensively. He'll eventually be thought of as a shutdown defenseman and will be a top pairing penalty killing defender for the Buds.
One downfall of his game is he isn't very physical, which may land him on Randy Carlyle's bad side. Both John-Michael Liles and Jake Gardiner saw time in the press-box last year because of their inability to play physically.
The difference between them is Percy uses his head better than both of them. He anticipates the play better, and he uses his wheels to get into a better position, essentially knocking the puck off the opponents sticks before they can get a play off.
5. RW Tyler Biggs
You may be wondering why I have him ranked so high, but I still see plenty of upside in Tyler Biggs.
At 6'3" and 225 pounds, Biggs unlike many Leafs prospects is NHL-ready in the size department.
If he was better offensively, Biggs would easily be a top three prospect in the Leafs organization, however, due to his lack of offensive prowess, his ranking falls a bit. One trait that lends itself nicely to his future is his fondness for fore-checking, playing physical, and playing a good two-way game.
A good comparison for his game may actually end up being Nikolai Kulemin, however I've been hearing many Colby Armstrong comparisons too. It's not the greatest, but hey, Armstrong, when healthy, was an integral part of the Leafs attack.
: 2015-16 season
4. Matt Finn
Matt Finn and Stuart Percy are always compared to one another. Both played in the OHL, both were taken roughly around the same draft position (Percy 25th, Finn 35th), and both were leaders with their respective OHL clubs.
Finn is a year younger and has slightly more offensive upside, so I decided to rank him a bit higher over Percy. Both I feel will eventually be top four defenseman one day in the NHL though.
I wouldn't call him an intimidating presence, and he won't wow you offensively, but his game is strong nonetheless. I liken his game to Penguins defender Paul Martin, who has etched himself out a pretty nice career so far.
What might work against Finn right now is injury troubles. The injuries sort of stunted his development, and as a result, he fell at the NHL draft eventually getting drafted by the Leafs in the second round. He's easily a first round talent though, and many teams will likely regret not taking this guy in the first round.
: 2016-17 Season. At least three seasons away.
3. C Joe Colborne
How much longer can the Leafs wait? At 23 years old, Joe Colborne is starting to lose his prospect status.
He finished the AHL season second on the Marlies in team scoring, and eventually saw time with the Leafs towards the end of the year and into the playoffs. He was a surprise addition to the Leafs lineup for injured center Tyler Bozak for a few games.
What helped out his ranking here is he didn't look out of place. At 6'5" and 215 pounds, Colborne has an NHL-ready body. His lack of consistency though is alarming, even at the AHL level.
At some point last year, Colborne, before he got injured was leading the AHL in scoring. But after he returned, the offense ran dry and he was relied more on his defensive play.
One downside to Colborne is his real lack of faceoff prowess. Colborne is likely the leading candidate to become the third line right winger alongside center David Bolland and Nikolai Kulemin, however, he has some prospects nipping at his heels.
: 2013-14 Season
2. C Frederik Gauthier
Here's the biggest surprise out of the bunch. Yes I have ranked Gauthier this high.
Simply put, Gauthier has Jordan Staal-like abilities and I believe his size, skill, and game translate well to the NHL game. He's been a decent junior player, however, I feel he's one of those rare players whose game will likely translate better in the NHL over the juniors. A fair comparison is Jordan Staal, who also didn't really dominate the OHL competition, but what he did was play a complete game. Something many junior players never can do.
At the age of 17, Gauthier scored at a point-per-game pace, scoring 62 points in 60 games. Also, he was used primarily in a shutdown role playing against the other clubs' top offensive stars.
He's got good speed for his size, and even better, he plays the center position quite well. He wins faceoffs at a great rate of 53%, equal to that of Leafs center Tyler Bozak, but even better, he's 6'4" and 220 pounds as an 18-year-old. He'll have the reach to terrorize opponents on the defensive end.
He becomes the first Leafs first-round draft pick to come out of the QMJHL since Vincent Damphousse.
: 2016-17 Season
1. D Morgan Rielly
Easily the top Leafs prospect in the organization, Rielly is one of the best prospects in the game...period.
He's got a rare blend of elite skating, smarts, and offensive explosiveness that will likely result in him being a 40-60 point defenseman at the next level.
He's got some work to do defensively, but offensively, Rielly is a top shelf talent. Right now he's been drawing comparisons to Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins, however, I feel if his game rounds into form and he gets better defensively, a Scott Niedermayer comparison may not be that far out of reach for Rielly.
Rielly could land himself a job with the Leafs this season as he's too young to be sent to the AHL, and he may be just too good to play in the WHL with the Moose Jaw Warriors.
Do the Leafs risk a year of development with Rielly and send him down, or do they keep him will be the question of training camp on everyone's minds.
The easy answer I think is they send him back to junior. Allow him to lead the Canadian Juniors this year in Sweden, and again get a call-up to the Marlies this season. I don't feel like a demotion to juniors will stunt his growth. I mean it won't improve his growth, but there's nothing like a chance to play in the World Juniors for a young players development.
NHL Arrival: As early as 2013-14 season, likely a 2014-15 Season debut for Rielly.
On the Outside Looking In
: RW Carter Ashton (falling fast), C Greg McKegg, D Korbinian Holzer, C Carter Verhaeghe, C Dominic Toninato, C Tony Cameranesi, G Garrett Sparks and LW Brad Ross.