Brian Burke's stated goal for building his version of the Maple Leafs has been to start from the net out. Now questions abound about his success (or lack thereof) of solidifying the goaltending position, but it can't be ignored that Burke has added several goaltenders with the potential to succeed, and the maturation process is well underway. In the same vein, Burke has turned his attention to defence.
There have been two common elements Burke has tried to acquire defenceman that are big, mobile and play with a physical edge. Some of his acquisitions lack one or two of these characteristics, but overall that would describe the template of the defenceman Burke has tried to add.
So in the 2011 Draft it wasn't overly surprising that Burke added a young defender who can play at both ends of the rink, uses his skating effectively to break out of his zone, to enter the offensive zone, and to close down oncoming forwards. With the 25th pick in the first round, the Leafs chose Stuart Percy, a dependable two-way defender from the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors.
Percy possesses the ability to contribute in all facets of the game. At just 18 years old, he still has signicant time to improve and evolve into a top four defender at the NHL level. Percy's potential lands him at #11 in our countdown.
The Oakville, Ontario native realized what must of been a boyhood dream when he was selected by the Leafs this past summer. Coming off an impressive season for the Majors, where he scored 4 goals and 29 assists during the regular season, then added another 2 goals and 10 assists in 20 playoff games as the Majors lost to Owen Sound in the OHL finals. (Mississauga would go on to also lose in the finals of the Memorial Cup). Leafs brass were impressed with Percy's play through the latter stages of the season and particularly in the playoffs, as the Majors relied heavlily on Percy to log significant minutes.
Percy is not one to shy away from a physical game, but more often he uses his strong skating and positioning to angle players into less dangerous areas of the ice to take away scoring chances. In that regard, Percy is more comparable to Carl Gunnarsson than other young Leaf defenders like Cody Franson, Luke Schenn or Keith Aulie.
This season has been one of extreme highs and lows. Early in the season, the Majors, recovering from significant personnel losses after their Memorial Cup run last season, were near the top of the OHL standings. Their new captain Percy was a signficant reason for their success, as he has contributed 22 points in 25 games. However, Percy missed some time in October due to a concussion suffered against the Plymouth Whalers.
After returning from the injury Percy continued on his strong play. But in a game in mid-November against the Kitchener Rangers, he was checked after clearing the puck into the offensive zone and, after bouncing off of fellow Leaf prospect Andrew Crescenzi, crashed violently into the boards, breaking his wrist and suffering another concussion. Percy has yet to play since this incident, and reports surface over the weekend that he has suffered a setback in his recovery from the concussion.
The current climate of concussions in hockey is one where there are still far more questions than answers. For a young player like Percy, suffering two concussions in less than a month is a very alarming situation. The Leafs have a significant investment in Percy, and having signed him to his entry level contract in late November, I would imagine are in constant contact with the Majors regarding his development and recovery. Percy's a very young player, and doesn't turn 19 until the end of May; there is no rush to bring him back this season since the Majors will likely retain his services next year (and the Majors have fallen back to the pack this season).
Assuming Percy can recover, he remains a prospect with a bright future in the NHL. The Leafs will obviously have to monitor him closely for signs of adverse effects to his game
From the rankings you can start to tell which voters valued future potential higher than other. Two panelists put Percy at #8, while other rankings were as low as #16. This is what Skinny has to say about ranking Percy #8 on his board:
All of my rankings were based on potential, and I see a lot of it in Stuart Percy. He's not overly big, not overly physical, not overly fast, not the best puck mover, doesn't have a cannon shot, and didn't take figure skating lessons so he can't carve like Jeff Skinner. What Stuart Percy is though is just a good well rounded defenseman. For every person that excels greatly in one aspect, they tend to lack in another. Cody Franson has a huge shot, but it's great defensively. Luke Schenn is good defensively, but slowed by his big ass. Jake Gardiner can skate like nobody's business, but gets himself into trouble thinking this is still juniors. Percy doesn't do anything great, but he also doesn't do anything bad. He simply does it all pretty good. Concussions issues aside, I view Percy as a can't miss #2/3 defender in the NHL. The Super Nintendo Hjarmmalwhatever, the Gunnarsson, the Brad Stuart. You'll watch the games and never notice him, because he'll be doing exactly what he should.