So for young Toronto Marlies defenceman Jesse Blacker, the last four years of his career have been a struggle to obtain the necessary opportunities. Now entering his third season as a professional, he's expected to get plenty of them this season, and potentially a chance to finally crack the Maple Leafs lineup.
Blacker's proximity to the NHL lands him in the Top 10 for the third consecutive edition of the Top 25 Under 25, dropping one spot from his previous position.
Going back to the beginning of his OHL career with the Windsor Spitfires, Blacker has found himself with a lot of players to climb over to make a meaningful impact. He began his career with the Windsor Spitfires right as Windsor was in their Taylor Hall led dynasty, winning an OHL championship and Memorial Cup in 2009 as a depth defenceman. After requesting a trade with the goal of obtaining a greater role, he would cap his junior career with another OHL championship 2011 with Owen Sound.
Team success has followed Blacker to the AHL, where in his rookie season the Toronto Marlies would go to the Calder Cup finals (though injuries and another large depth chart limited Blacker to just 6 games during the playoffs). Last year, with a swollen Marlies blueline, Blacker managed just 11 points in 56 games, though his role increased dramatically following the lockout.
Part of the decline in production since his OHL days can be attributed to fewer opportunities; with more offensively inclined defenders such as Jake Gardiner or Paul Ranger, or forward Mike Zigomanis, manning the point during the powerply, Blacker's not had many opportunities to pad his point total there. Instead, he's focused on his defensive play, using his strong skating and his good positional play to steadily increase his role in the Marlies lineup. As Marlies blogger Kyle Cicerella notes, ther young defencemen in the organization have noticed it, too.
“It’s nice having a guy that can skate really well with you on the blue line,” Gardiner said at the time. “If I get caught I know he’s there and he moves the puck really well. He’s steady, which also gives me more leeway.”Blacker received a brief call-up to the NHL this season (though he wouldn't appear in the lineup). Blacker is capable of moving the puck up ice quickly and efficiently, has proven capable of playing top pairing minutes in the AHL, and as a right-shot that plays the right side, the Leafs' potentially thin right side of the blueline could present an opportunity for Blacker to see NHL action this year, especially if Cody Franson does not come to a contract agreement in time to start the season.
Comparing this list of votes to the last one, we've moved closer to consensus on Blacker, though still with some outliers. birky had Blacker ranked significantly higher than the field last time (at 5), but dropped him all the way to 12th. PPP was the low vote last time at 16, and bumped him up to 12, while Chemmy, who had him at 14, drops him three spots to 17.
I don't know what to think about Jesse Blacker. I had high hopes for him (his OHL production was very nice) but I just think he's getting ready to age out of being a ʺprospectʺ and he hasn't shown anything at the pro level yet. It's not inconcievable that he turns into an NHLer but it looks more unlikely than it did last season.
67 Sound's initial ranking at 7 is one of three votes that would be the highest Blacker would receive this time around.At 183 points, his total is 9 points behind the 9th ranked player and 17 points ahead of D'Amigo.
At this point in the rankings I don't see anyone likely to be Top 4 D/Top 6 F so demonstrated achievement matters more. I put Blacker, Percy and Finn on roughly the same level but Blacker's likely to contribute sooner.