The most significant deficiency in the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect system is impact forwards. The Leafs simply lack the presence of a John Tavares, or an Evander Kane, or a Tyler Seguin (... oops) that can grow with the team and become a focal point for the team's offence. The Leafs have Phil Kessel, of course, but beyond possibly Nazem Kadri, the organization lacks true top-level talent from the rest of its forward prospects. They all seem to top out at supporting offensive types or checking players.
What that means is that the Leafs have to go to alternative means to try and find offence from its young players. This creates several opportunities for young players to try and grow into a role. For one of these seven individuals, they've shown enough in their limited time with the club to earn a spot in the Top 25.
Spencer Abbott (Forward, 24; previous ranking - Not Ranked) The latest of Brian Burke's many college free agents during his tenure, Abbott looks to have more offensive talent than most of the others who eventually settled into fringe NHL or AHL roles. His senior year scoring (21-41-62) is on par with Matt Frattin's 60 points in his senior year at UND. Abbott suffered a concussion in the playoffs so only saw minimal action with the Marlies on an ATO last season. The departures of a few forwards (such as Marcel Mueller and Phillipe Dupuis) should create an opportunity for a newcomer like Abbott.
Tyler Brenner (Forward, 24; previous - 37) One of the guys that will compete for that opportunity is Brenner, a similarly talented player as Abbott who left school one year earlier from R.I.T. to join the Marlies. Brenner's first full season in the pro was a disappointment, as he struggled to find offence and the depth of the Marlies forwards landed him in limbo between the AHL and ECHL. With a group of young CHL grads on their way to the Marlies this season Brenner could continue to find difficulty in securing ice time with the Marlies.
Connor Brown (Forward, 18; previous - Not Ranked) Connor Brown is actually the exact draft pick that we've been hoping the Leafs would take; rather than just taking someone with limited offensive upside that might top out as a 4th line, Brown had strong offensive numbers (53 points in 68 games as a rookie on the comically awful Erie Otters) but has some defeciencies in his defensive game that will have to be ironed out (flawed stat or not, -72 is pretty brutal). As a 6th round pick Brown is something of a longshot and still has quite a bit of development to go before he can be a legitimate prospect.
Tony Cameranesi (Forward, 18; previous - 32) Cameranesi is a quick playmaking centre that was picked in the 5th round of the 2011 draft. He made a good transition to the USHL, and will take yet another step forward as he heads to Minnesota-Duluth. Cameranesi is a little undersized (listed at 5'9" and 162 lbs), so he'll need to put on some size as he adjusts to competing against fully grown men in the NCAA and beyond.
Sam Carrick (Forward, 20; previous - 27) Carrick took a massive step forward this past season, as he was heavily relied upon as an overager on an offensively starved Brampton squad. Carrick's primary value is his work on the defensive side of the game, as prior to this season his offensive game wasn't particularly developed. Luckily, Carrick just spent four seasons under the tutelage of one of the best defensive coaches in the CHL in Stan Butler. The Marlies are suddenly crowded with young players that will be fighting for playing time next season, so this could be a big chance for a player like Carrick.
Kenny Ryan (Forward, 20; previous - 23) The good news from the past season is that Kenny Ryan is probably too good to be playing in the AHL. As a 20-year old, he spent his first professional season trying to find his place in the Marlies but there simply wasn't playing time available he was sent to Reading. Ryan can play a strong two-way game, but the competition for playing time won't get any easier in the coming season.
Dominic Toninato (Forward, 18; previous - Not Ranked) Toninato actually has a fair amount in common with Tony Cameranesi. Both have been drafted in the 5th round by the Leafs in successive years (Dominic this past summer in the 2012 draft) after outclassing the Minnesota high school leagues. Both will spend their first post-draft year acclimatizing to a step up in competition in the USHL, before heading to Minnesota-Duluth (Toninato is scheduled to head to school one year after Cameranesi). And both, while possessing great speed and vision, still have a significnat amount of work to achieve their dream of becoming NHLers.