TORONTO- The Maple Leafs will have five players from their 2011 draft class suit up this season with their AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies. But, defenceman Tom Nilsson will not be one of them.
“He will be in Europe one more year,” said Leafs VP of Hockey Operations Dave Poulin.
Nilsson, who was taken with the 100th pick in 2011, is available to come over from Sweden and play for the Marlies after signing an entry-level contract with Toronto in March. Instead, however, he will stay back and follow the same path to North America as fellow Swedish blue liner Petter Granberg, who the Leafs picked 116th overall in 2010.
Granberg, who turns 21 on Aug. 27th, stayed in Sweden last season to play with Skelleftea instead of joining his draft class in Toronto because the club felt it was best for his development.
“He also spent a lot of time playing international,” added Poulin.
After developing his game back home, Granberg impressed the organization in July at prospect’s camp with how physical he was with his 6-foot-3 205-pound frame. He showed the club that he was finally ready to make the transition to Toronto and will most likely start the year with the Marlies.
“I think it’s normal when you come from Europe to have a curve to get to the highest level,” said Poulin. “Leo (Komarov) had the luxury of the first couple months in the AHL. (But) Petter definitely will be in North America.”
Nilsson, who turns 20 on Aug. 19th, will move up from Sweden’s second division and play this season with Frolunda. The hope is that the experience of another year of pro in Europe will be just as positive for him as it was for Granberg.
“Nilsson is literally on the same curve as Granberg, only a year later,” said Poulin. “We thought it was very much in Petter’s best interest to stay in Sweden and develop and now Tom has the perfect template in place to do the same thing.”
Nilsson, like Granberg, is a right-handed defender who likes to play physical and stay at home. However, Nilsson plays his game at 6-foot-0 and 176-pounds, which means he will be expected to add some size while in Sweden. If everything goes the way Poulin and the Leafs want it to, he should join the Marlies for the start of the 2014 season.
The five players drafted alongside Nilsson expected to play for the Marlies this season are Tyler Biggs, Stuart Percy, Josh Leivo, David Broll and Garret Sparks.