TORONTO-The Toronto Maple Leafs have nine prospects playing in the Canadian Hockey League this season and each of them are being watched closely by management.
“We all have been able to see them a number of times already this season,” said Leafs VP of Hockey Operations, Dave Poulin, regarding management watching its prospects in live action. “Jimmy Hughes (Director of Player Development) heads up the contact with all of our drafts and is in constant communication with both the players and their organizations. We are also fortunate to have a number right here in Ontario, so proximity has given us an additional edge in monitoring them.”
Of the nine prospects, only 2012 fifth-overall selection Morgan Rielly plays in the Western Hockey League while the other eight are in the Ontario Hockey League.
2011 first-round picks Tyler Biggs and Stuart Percy, third-round pick Joshua Leivo, sixth-round selection David Broll and seventh round selection Garret Sparks are all in the OHL along with 2012 second-round selection Matt Finn and sixth-round picks Ryan Rupert and Connor Brown.
A quarter into the CHL season, certain prospects are starting to stand out for their play and living up to the expectations agreed upon this summer at Leafs development camp.
Rielly is garnering attention out west this season with the Moose Jaw Warriors as he is tied for first in CHL scoring for defencemen with four goals and 20 points in 19 games.
Brown, a forward, has scored 14 goals in 18 games, which leads his Erie Otters club and is good for third in OHL scoring, forward Leivo leads the Sudbury Wolves with 10 goals and 20 points in 19 games and Guelph Storm defenceman Finn leads all OHL blue liners with seven goals.
“Morgan is off to a terrific start, as are a number of the players,” said Poulin. “In terms of expectations, we have set the bar high with prospect camps, our introduction to strength and conditioning, nutrition, behavior, and all of the other factors that will go into their development. We want to provide the framework for all of these drafts to reach their highest levels. Our expectations should mirror theirs.”
With Rielly, Finn and Percy, who has contributed five goals and 10 points for his Mississauga Steelheads, Leafs management is optimistic about the future of their blue line.
If you also take into consideration three prospects playing in Europe, four more in the NCAA and Toronto Marlies Jesse Blacker and Jake Gardiner, the organization has 12 defencemen all 22-years-old or younger.
“We do have a very strong and eclectic group of defencemen in the organization right now, though that was not necessarily a conscious drafting decision,” said Poulin. “We draft the best available player on our board (and) that has simply been a D-man on a lot of recent occasions. The group is really a diverse one in terms of their styles of play, and where they are geographically. We have a promising and deep group.”
Along with a fleet of defencemen Toronto also has a young group of players who are taking on leadership roles with their clubs, which also pleases the organization when they think about the future.
Finn, Brown and Percy all captain their squads while Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds’ forward Broll, Rielly and Leivo wear an “A” on their jerseys.
“Character has been an important part of our draft process, so we’re very pleased that a number of our prospects have assumed leadership positions with their teams,” said Poulin. “Dave Morrison and his scouts do a lot of homework and background as they go through the process. Of particular interest are players accepting these roles at a young age in the respective leagues, as well as the different leagues themselves. It bodes very well for the future locker rooms in our organization.”
Rielly, Leivo, Finn, Percy and London Knights’ forward Rupert were recently selected to represent their leagues at the upcoming CHL Super Series against Russia.
All will suit up except for Rupert, who is expected to miss time with a shoulder injury. Rupert is the Leafs only CHL prospect not to score a goal yet this season, collecting seven assists and 36 penalty minutes in 14 games before his injury.
Broll got off to a hot start in the beginning of the season with two goals and eight points in his first six outings, but in his last 12 games he has just two goals and six points.
Guelph Storm goaltender Sparks is currently the most worked goalie in the OHL as he’s faced 588 shots in 15 games and has played the second most minutes of any keeper. The Illinois native is 10-4-1 with a 3.56 goals-against average and .903 save percentage. His last six games have been split between great performances and the total opposite. He has been pulled in three contests while the other three he only allowed five goals on 117 shots, a .957 save percentage.
Biggs, who’s playing his first season in the OHL after transferring from Miami of Ohio, has nine goals and 19 points in 19 games, which is good for third on the Oshawa Generals scoring list.
Since Brian Burke has been GM of the Leafs, the club has not drafted a player from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
The last player Burke drafted from the QMJHL was Nicolas Deschamps in 2008 with the Anaheim Ducks. The 22-year-old forward now plays for the Marlies.