PPP's Top 25 Under 25 - The Backline

A look at the borderline defencemen that are looking to crack the top 25.

Yesterday, David Broll ran away with 39% of the vote to be the community's choice of six bruisers to make it into the Top 25. Today we look at some of the more unpolished rearguards in the Maple Leafs system.

For the much maligned drafting record the Toronto Maple Leafs have sported, it's interesting to note that going back as far as Tomas Kaberle, the Leafs have made out okay with late-round selections of defenceman. From Jay Harrison in the 3rd round of 2001, to Ian White in the 6th round of 2002, to Anton Stralman in the 7th round of 2005, Korbinian Holzer in the 4th round of 2006, and Carl Gunnarsson in the 7th round of 2007, the Leafs have plucked a number of viable NHL defencemen from the later rounds of the draft.

The Leafs also managed to get once-upon-a-time goaltending prospect Mikael Tellqvist, and current Leaf goaltender James Reimer later in the draft, so they've done okay with goaltenders later on, too.

There's no direct link between these successes in the past and a future ability to produce these types of players, but at the very least these six individuals, one of whom enters our Top 25 list for the first time, can point to the successes of previous late-round selections and ask "Hey, why not me too?".

Let's take a closer look at who might be the next late-round success story.

Max Everson (Defence, 19, previous ranking; T-39) Everson was taken in the seventh round of the 2011 Draft, and is a smart, defensive-minded defenceman who won't bring a ton of offence. A graduate of Edina High School in Minnesota (Leaf GM Brian Burke's alma mater), Everson registered 4 assists in 34 games in his freshman season for Harvard this year, and will be looking to continue to develop in the NCAA in the coming season.

Petter Granberg (Defence, 19, previous ranking; 26) Granberg almost snuck onto the last back in the winter, as late in the voting process he was named to Sweden's gold-medal winning World Junior roster, which caused a few voters to re-think their selection and bump Granberg up. Back home he completed a solid second season as a teenager playing against men in Sweden's top professional league. The 4th round pick in 2010 signed a contract with the Leafs this past spring, but he is still under contract with Skelleftea for one more season so we might have to wait one more year to see the big stay-at-home defenceman in person.

Viktor Loov (Defence, 19, previous ranking; Not Ranked) The Leafs broke from their typical draft strategy of taking younger prospects by grabbing the 19 year old, who had been passed over twice previously in the draft, with their 7th round pick in the 2012 Draft. Loov does a little bit of everything well, but doesn't particularly excel at any one facet of the game either. This likely makes his road to the NHL harder because of his unlikelihood in specializing in one end of the ice. He had a fairly successful rookie campaign in Sweden's second professional division, and will be staying in Sweden for the upcoming season.

Tom Nilsson (Defence, 19, previous ranking; T-39) Nilsson plays with a nasty physical edge, and after being drafted in the 4th round of the 2011 Draft, he made an immediate impression on Leafs brass with his hard-hitting play (while still 17 years old) during the 2011 Leafs rookie development camp. He has followed up with an impressive rookie campaign (as an 18 year old) in Sweden's second division, scoring 10 points in 44 games for Mora. Nilsson received an invitation to Sweden's World Junior Championships selection camp this summer, so like Granberg last season, we could very well be given a preview of the young Swede at Christmas time.

Garret Sparks (Goalie, 19, previous ranking; 35) It's so hard with young goalies to figure out just how close they are to being ready. About all you can hope for is year-over-year improvement. Sparks, the 6th round selection from 2011, provided that by assuming the starting role for the Guelph Storm, and improving his save percentage from 0.890 in his rookie season to 0.907 last season. He was instrumental in the underdog Storm extending their first round series with Plymouth to 6 games before the team ultimately ran out of gas. Sparks has moved beyond "long-shot prospect" status and is now someone that we'll be keeping an eye on, just in case.

Dennis Robertson (Defence, 21, previous ranking; T-39) Robertson was selected in the draft as a 20 year old, so his development path started at a point no one else on this list had even reached yet. He had gotten an immediate opportunity to play as a freshman at Brown University, and played well (17 points in 30 gams). However, it appears he stagnated offensively this past season as a sophomore (16 points in 32 games). The sixth round pick from 2011 has a heavy shot and is strong in his own end, but the Leafs have made a significant investment in their future on defence in the last few seasons, and Robertson will have a difficult road to reach the pro ranks.

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