Editor's Note: If you click on the "Toronto Maple Leafs Top 25 Under 25" bar up top you can see the previous editions
Last year, the blog shamelessly borrowed a highly successful format from another blog, the fantastic Copper & Blue, to keep tabs on its prospects and young players, ranking the top 25 players in the organization under the age of 25. It was called, unoriginally, the Top 25 Under 25. The inaugural edition was done over Christmas 2011 and published around this time last year. A follow-up was done in the summer and published during the summer.
Phil Kessel, indisputably the Leafs best player under the age of 25, won both votes unanimously. A third edition of the countdown was planned to take place around Christmas 2012 and with Kessel having turned 25 and graduated, a hotly contested debate would have taken place to crown a new champion.
Then the NHL pissed everybody off with an asinine lockout and the panel said "fuck it".
Anyway, with the season back in full swing, I’m happy to announce that the Top 25 Under 25 will return… eventually. We’ll probably shift off of the December/June periods we’d been using, maybe going to March/September or something, we’ll figure it out. In the meantime, to keep you abreast of what our prospects have been doing (in more of a season-long, as PPP commenter elseldo has been doing a great job summarizing daily results of Leaf prospects across junior, college and minor leagues) [Editor's note: if they were done as fanposts it'd probably be easier to share]. Starting today, we’ll look at the guys who we left off of our list back in August and try to get a sense of where they would have seen their ranking go had we been doing the official list. Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments.
Kenny Ryan (previous ranking: T-36) – trending: up
Even before the exodus of players from the Marlies when the season began, the former 2nd round pick was establishing himself in the AHL, contributing to the Marlies 4th line, and chipping in 9 points (4G, 5A) in 23 games (as of this writing). Ryan has shown improvement in his game over the last season when he was a bit player for the Marlies and a solid contributor at the ECHL level. That doesn’t mean he will be jumping back up into the Top 25 but he doesn’t belong down at the bottom of our rankings anymore either.
Dennis Robertson (T-36) – trending: stable
Robertson’s a late-round pick so we’re playing with a pretty sliding scale of expectations here. Having said that, now a junior at Brown University, he’s having a solid season so far with a mediocre Bears team, currently sitting second in team scoring with 12 points (1G, 11A) through 18 games. In both of his freshman and sophomore seasons, he was about half a point a game, and he’s up to 0.67, which is a positive sign. He’s still a long-shot to be a meaningful pro.
Andrew MacWilliam (T-36) – trending: stable
As a big, tough, stay-at-home defender, MacWilliam’s boxcar stats never tell the whole picture. He’s captain of the UND team (and got suspended for a game at the beginning of the season for a bizarre off-ice incident), but he’s already almost matched his output from the past two seasons in just over half the games (23 games, 1G, 5A; his career high is 8 points). The Leafs organization is in a weird space with its defenceman in that there’s a bit of a void in defence of players in the minor pro levels. MacWilliam, a senior this season, could possibly become someone who makes the jump next season and either is a third-pairing guy with the Marlies or gets more ice time in the ECHL somewhere. He turns 23 this March so expectations remain low.
Eric Knodel (T-36) – trending: up
A huge defenceman with some offensive upside, Knodel’s a redshirt sophomore with the University of New Hampshire who has also almost surpassed his previous high offensive totals (20 games, 5G, 3A). Knodel also turns 23 this year, so him ever becoming a legitimate pro is a longshot but at very least I think he’s the best of the organization’s four late-round college defenceman, which should move him up slightly.
Max Everson (T-36) – trending: stable
It’s bad enough that Everson, a 7th round pick in 2011, got suspended for the balance of the season from Harvard University (even if he doesn’t become a pro, can’t imagine getting kicked out of Harvard reflects well). But in his absence, he’s landed with Omaha of the USHL and hasn’t exactly been a factor (13 games, 1G 4A). Assuming Everson returns to school he only has 2 years of eligibility left, so if he wants to have a future in hockey, the Leafs brass is going to expect some results and lessons learned right away.
Jamie Devane (36) – trending: stable
Like Everson, the only thing keeping Devane from trending down is that they were already tied for last as it was. After spending way too much time with the Marlies in the pressbox, they sent him to San Francisco of the ECHL where he’s been used sparingly. (12 games, 1G). 21 players selected after Devane in the 2009 Entry Draft have now played in the NHL, and dozens have played more than the 14 total professional minor league games. Not Burke’s finest draft pick.
Connor Brown (35) – trending: up
It may take some time to figure out exactly what the Leafs have with this 2012 6th round pick, including what the effect of playing significant time with OHL wonder boy Connor McDavid is, or whether he gets any phantom points attributed to him because Erie has approximately 9 kids named Connor on their team. Nevertheless, Brown’s already blown past his OHL rookie point total, and is currently scoring at a 1.25 ppg clip (47G, 25G 24A). He probably doesn’t vault into the top 25 but probably takes a few knocks at the door.
Ryan Rupert (34) – trending: up
Rupert got off to an odd start in his season, not scoring until nearly the 20 game mark. However London took off rolling on a remarkable 22-game win streak and Rupert’s play has been excellent during that stretch; he has rebounded from a poor start to produce at just under a point a game (35 games, 8G, 24A). He’s also been suspended for doing crazy shit, so… bonus.
Tyler Brenner (33) – trending: down
The NHL isn’t in the cards for this free-agent signing out of R.I.T. The influx of depth from the lockout pushed Brenner back into the ECHL, where he performed acceptably (32 games, 8 G 13 A with Bakersfield, 2 games, 1G with Toledo), but he turns 25 in April and in 2 seasons of pro hockey hasn’t given any indication he’ll be retained when his contract expires.
Viktor Loov (32) – trending: up
At 20 years old, Loov has established himself as a regular for Sodertalje, playing in the Allsvenskan (Second Division in Sweden), and has already surpassed his production from last year (29 games, 2G, 5A). Leaf fans won’t really know what to make of Loov unless he comes over to North America but it’s not fully clear where he stands on the Leafs depth chart at this stage, with a lot of names ahead of him.
Tom Nilsson (31) – trending: up
Like Loov, Nilsson is establishing himself as a reliable defender in the Allsvenskan (in his second full season with Mora). The difference is Nilsson is a year younger, making the feat a little more impressive. Nilsson also was one of the beneficiaries of injuries causing highly touted defenders Klefbom, Lindholm and Brodin to miss last month’s World Junior Championships; Nilsson was reliable and performed well for the eventual silver medalists. The trending up is probably a bit of a correction of being undervalued in our previous Top 25 list.
Dominic Toninato (30) – trending: up
My personal practice in this exercise is to basically ignore everybody drafted after the 3rd round of the previous NHL Entry Draft, just for the reason that more information is required to be able to make a reasoned projection. So a guy like Toninato, picked in the 5th round, didn’t factor into my rankings last time around. However, after a strong post-draft season, going better than a point a game for Fargo in the USHL (16G, 25A), brings Toninato into the picture for me as a prospect to, at the very least, keep an eye on. Toninato turns 19 this March and is heading to Minnesota-Duluth next season, so we’ll have a marked increase in difficulty to measure his progress against.
Sam Carrick (29) – trending: stable
Carrick’s first pro season was unfortunately timed, since the lockout and the depth of the Toronto Marlies meant Carrick was going to be facing even longer odds to play in the AHL this season. However, Carrick has transitioned to the pro game relatively well, contributing positively to Idaho in the ECHL (33 games, 9G, 13A). Carrick still feels like a long shot to be an NHLer, but seems to be earning a longer look at the AHL level next season.
Tony Cameranesi (28) – trending: up
The speedy little 5th round pick has been having a great freshman season in the NCAA, scoring at roughly a point a game (24 games, 10G, 12A) with Minnesota-Duluth. As a little guy, Cameranesi’s path to the NHL is to score… a lot, so this fast start is promising for his future prospects. He was just outside the Top 25 in our last edition, so I can’t see him going anywhere but up next time.
David Broll (27) – trending: stable
I think at this point we clearly understand what Broll is and isn’t as a player. As a 20 year old, he’s pushing just under a point a game with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the OHL, which as we’ve discussed ad nauseum regarding Tyler Biggs is not the achievement it appears at first blush. However the fact that Broll appears to have done something to catch the eyes of the Leaf management, considering he is under contract and played 3 regular season (and 2 playoff) games at the end of last year with the Marlies. At best, he’s a 4th liner, so I’d expect him to remain on the bubble of the Top 25.
Garret Sparks (26) – trending: up
Sparks just missed out on a spot in the Top 25 last time around, and hasn’t done anything to dissuade me that he isn’t deserving of a place going forward. Sparks is now the guy in the nets for an underrated Guelph team, and his save percentage has taken another noticeable jump up, from .907% last season to .918% this year. The Leafs goaltending org chart is still very crowded, so next season I’d expect Sparks to follow James Reimer, Ben Scrivens, and Mark Owuya’s path by finding a starting job somewhere in the ECHL (Get an affiliate next season, for Christsakes!)