Local boy Stuart Percy adds a top 10 ranking in our prospect rankings to the captaincy of the Mississauga Steelheads.
Back in the winter when we looked in at Stuart Percy, the 2011 1st round pick was out of action, having picked up a concussion after a unfortunate hit (involving fellow Leaf prospect Andrew Crescenzi). And it was a shame, because at the time Percy was off to a flying start in the OHL.
As captain of the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors, Percy was providing excellent two-way hockey play and leadership to a team dealing with the loss of a number of key players from its Memorial Cup run the previous season. Prior to his injury, Percy was registering almost a point a game, an eye-popping scoring record for a defenceman (He would finish the season with 25 points in 34 games). It was made more impressive by the fact that as his team's top defender he also routinely drew matchups against other teams top forwards.
Injuries aside, Percy had an extremely successful first post-draft season (which included signing an ELC with the Leafs and suiting up for a couple of Marlies playoff games), and the Mississauga native jumps up into our top 10, up one spot from his previous ranking.
Far from the flashiest of players, Percy's play away from the puck is what sets him apart. Scouts love his ability to use excellent positioning to close off attacking forwards and take away high percentage scoring chances. Unlike Luke Schenn or Dion Phaneuf, Percy won't end up on most highlight reels for delivering bone-shattering hits. But a little like Carl Gunnarsson, more often than not you'll find the puck being retrieved and moved back up ice because of a simple play to take away the forward's offensive options. Percy won't be found out of position very often, and has good enough skating and defensive awareness to identify when he needs to get back in a hurry.
Over the last few years you've seen a slight shift in the Leafs mindset when drafting defenceman. They've moved away from the Luke Schenn/Mike Komisarek types (physically imposing but slower and not as strong at moving the puck forward) and seem to have gone about developing a small army of Carl Gunnarsson types (defenceman whose value comes from little plays that often go unnoticed, and who move the puck forward quickly and efficiently). Percy is the full embodiment of that movement; everything that Carl Gunnarsson is now as a defenceman, you can see traits of his play in Percy. Over the next few years as he develops and acclimates to higher levels of competition, Percy could blossom into the type of two-way defender the Leafs desperately need.
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It's kind of fitting that Percy, a player who in most scouting reports gets referred to as a steady eddie type defenceman, takes a nice and slow rise on most people's lists, not really moving up more than a couple of spots, and he has a fairly small variance in his votes, especially considering how wide-open the list has been to this point. As I mentioned yesterday, in terms of total points from votes Percy edges out Joe Colborne by virtue of Plea From A Cat Named Felix's 8th place vote, which is up 4 spots from his placing in the winter.
Despite the fact that Percy missed some time this season with a
concussion I still feel confident enough in his abilities to rank him
inside the Top-10. 7 of the players in my Top 10 are already either
NHL regulars or will be next season, Percy and Blacker are the only
exceptions. The reason I included them in the Top 10 is that I believe
that both have a very good chance of sticking in the NHL either with
the Leafs or another team. Everyone else around them has a few more
question marks than these two.
Everything that I've read about Percy suggests he'll be a low
maintenance, unheralded type of D that the Leafs desperately need.
Similar to Matt Finn but one year ahead development wise. Percy has
been praised for his high hockey IQ and his boring effective defensive
game. While he may not be the fastest skater, working with Barb
Underhill sould help in that sense, Percy will be able to use smart
positioning to his advantage. Adept at reading plays Percy will be the
type of guy you never notice but plays 15 minutes a night. I couldn't
ask for much more.
Interestingly, Plea and I effectively swapped votes this time around as I dropped Percy from 8 to 12. I should point out that I still think Percy has a lot of upside and could be an effective, if underappreciated, future top 4 defenceman for the Leafs. With that in mind, there are two things i was wary of.
The first was that at a very young age, Percy has a bit of an injury history. And I think that a few of those injuries have been isolated events that aren't likely to be recurring issues, but concussions are involved and that is a red flag. Ultimately I think Percy recovered enough in his return to the lineup to alleviate most of my concerns but I'd still like to see him return to play at a high level over a longer period to time.
The second factor was competition. The Leafs blueline of the future is gettting to be a crowded place. Jake Gadiner knocked down the door to go straight to the NHL, Korbinian Holzer has all but earned a promotion, Jesse Blacker had a fine showing in his rookie campaign in the AHL, the team has two intriguing prospects in Sweden in Granberg and Nilsson and they added two more strong prospects in Morgan Rielly and Matt Finn. The Leafs have a very strong contingent of D prospects at the moment, which regardless of how I rank them compared to another, is going to make it more difficult to reach their potential.
I think what happens this summer plays an important factor in Percy's future. WIth the CHL transfer agreement expiring, the 19 year old Percy could possibly jump to the AHL and get a chance to ease into the professional game with no pressure as to his ELC status. Assuming Percy is able to make that transition and receive sufficient playing time, it could be a big boost forward in his progression as a young defenceman.