August 24, 2015
TORONTO – The Maple Leafs organization mishandled the development of prospect Stuart Percy last season, according to assistant general manager Kyle Dubas.
Percy made the Leafs blue line out of training camp in 2014-15 instead of returning to the AHL’s Marlies for another year of grooming as expected. A promising start to the year, however, eventually turned into him being shipped back to the minors when times became difficult, and from there his season plateaued – with some recalls, demotions and various injuries limiting any chance at making any real progress.
Dubas says you can blame him for that.
“I don’t think our process with Stu was good enough,” said Dubas, who also serves as Marlies GM. “I thought we rushed him up and he played real well and as soon as he started to struggle, we didn’t really protect him up here with his usage, so on and so forth for a 21-year-old. Then we struggled and put him right down.
“I don’t have anybody to blame but myself. I take the brunt of that.”
Percy dressed in seven of Toronto’s first eight games of NHL season before his first demotion in late October.
On Oct. 14 against the Avalanche he saw a career-high 23:34 of ice-time — including 6:41 on special teams. Just three games later, though, he played a career-low 10:17 against the Bruins, with just 31 seconds on the penalty kill, and was demoted the next day. He was recalled twice before mid-November, but never stayed more than a week. He dressed once more in January and that marked the end of his NHL year.
“I don’t believe that we put Stu in the best position last year to have success,” said Dubas. “He had a great camp, made the Leafs, the minutes he played with the Leafs were very tough, then he went down to the Marlies and he was injured and bounced.”
Injuries were a main reason the Toronto native had his development halted at times during last season and why he couldn’t get back to being the defenceman the club thought he was at training camp.
After being demoted on Oct. 26, Percy played 15 games with the Marlies but then missed six in early January with a concussion. He was cleared to return Jan. 9 and was hurt again Feb. 1 — an undisclosed upper-body injury that forced him out for three more weeks. Percy eventually made it back and played right through March and April, finishing the AHL season with one goal and 11 points in 43 games, but was scratched for Game 3 against the Grand Rapids Griffins for an undisclosed reason.
“We were never really ever to see him back at a 100 per cent. I’m excited to see Stu healthy,” said Dubas.
On top on injuries, the mental battle seemed to take its toll on Percy as well through a long and difficult season.
“No matter how strong mentally somebody is or how much grit they have in that area it’s tough when you start up with all the accolades — and deservedly so — but then he struggles a little bit even though he’s playing difficult minutes. Rather than adapting his minutes, we just sent him to the Marlies.
“He was obviously in a position where he was forced to really develop his mental toughness, we could have been a lot better in helping him.”
Internal competition will be more intense this season for Toronto’s 25th pick from 2011 with Viktor Loov, Scott Harrington, Matt Finn, Rinat Valiev and veteran Andrew Campbell — who are all left-handed defencemen — competing with Percy on the left side. Dubas, though, is optimistic that Percy will bounce back in his third year and put his sophomore setbacks behind him.
“It’ll be good to follow a set plan this year rather than having him up and down,” said Dubas. “If he makes the Leafs – outstanding. But if he’s with the Marlies we’ll have a clearly-defined way how we will handle Stu.
“We expect, based on his ability and intelligence, he’ll be one of our best players on the Marlies and challenging to come up with the Leafs.”