Ok, I know a lot of these draft picks are being analyzed from various perspectives around the Barilkosphere already. I'm also aware most of you may have already looked into some of this information. That being said, I'm going to attempt to do a bit of a rundown on comparables, and where the players the Leafs selected are at in their development.
Tyler Biggs - 22nd overall
I'll run through these in the order they were selected, so first up we have the Leafs initial choice, 22nd overall selection Tyler Biggs of the US NTDP.
First off I think it's important to point out that Burke and his scouting staff seem to have selected a number of kids with 1993 birthdates. Biggs kicked this trend off, being born on April 30th of '93. In comparison, Gabriel Landeskog who was selected 2nd overall by the Avalanche was born on November 23rd of '92. That might not seem like a big gap, but when you're dealing with a single year of development amongst teens, a 5 month gap is almost half a year and can be pretty significant developmentally.
At this point it should be clear that Tyler Biggs does not project as a significant offensive contributor. Despite Burke's statements to the contrary, Biggs has had a very limited offensive output for a first rounder. In two USHL seasons, his ppg production rate is only 0.50. By way of comparison, the likes of Thomas Vanek produced at a 1.42 ppg clip with 80 goals, and 153 points in 108 games.
Here are some other USHL players you may recognize from recent memory and their production rates:
Suffice it to say, being a 0.50 ppg player in the USHL makes me think Biggs is at best going to be a 3rd or 4th line grinder. His production with the USNTDP was slightly (ever so slightly) higher with the U18 squad, where he ranked 5th in team scoring with 31 points in 55 games (0.56 ppg).
So what's the closest comparison we can make at this stage? Well I'd suggest that Burke and crew are hoping to have landed another Ryan Kesler. Biggs doesn't play centre, so that aspect isn't as probable, but from a point production perspective, they are reasonably comparable at the same stage of their development, though Biggs still suffers a tad.
Kesler produced 10 points in 13 USHL games (0.77 ppg), he produced 72 points in 102 USNTDP U18 games (0.71 ppg), with 44 points in 46 games in his draft year. The main distinction is, Kesler only registered 23 penalty minutes that year, while Biggs recorded 161. Biggs was also the most penalized player at the World U18 Championships with 49 minutes in penalties in only 13 games.
He's a solid skater, who forechecks well and goes to the net, but he doesn't have much discipline in his game right now, and he needs to focus on developing other aspects of his game. His own coach from the USNTDP, Ron Rolston (Brian's brother) had to say:
"He's a guy who is intimidating even when he plays the college team," U.S. coach Ron Rolston said. "We played Maine a couple of weeks [ago], and he physically took four or five guys right off their feet with physical checks. He just plays the game hard."
Rolston said coaches asked him to curtail his fighting "because he's one of our better players and we don't want him the box all night for seven to 10 minutes."
Here is what Corey Pronman from Puck Prospectus had to say about the selection of Biggs:
Now Biggs on the other hand is a pick I did not like at all. Nevermind the fact the Leafs traded up and dealt a high second to get him, in terms of the player himself there isn’t much there to dream on. Yes he has the plus physical game, decent mobility and has a solid shot but his holes are major possession-skill holes that are hard to correct. In a perfect world he ends up a good 3rdline player who can spot in front of the net on a 2nd unit powerplay, but likely ends up a decent to below-average bottom-six player who is a fan favorite for grinding it out and bringing a physical element but doesn’t bring high-end quantifiable value to the table.
Can't say that I disagree with any of that, so I'm let down more than a bit with this selection. Taking the "safe pick" with your highest selection leaves a lot to be desired.
Stuart Percy - 25th overall
This is another "safe" pick, but I haven't got much of a problem with it. Percy at least produced at a higher level in his 17 year old season, and he's another late birthday, at May 18th '93. This past year Percy produced 33 points in 64 games for the top OHL team, the Mississauga St. Mike's Majors. He had the highest point output amongst all D men in the Memorial Cup, had the 2nd highest point production amongst draft eligible D men in the OHL playoffs (behind Dougie Hamilton), and he was ranked 26th in the OHL in points amongst D men during the regular season (5th amongst those under 18 - tied with Ryan Sproul).
Scouts raved about his play in the Memorial Cup, and his play turned more and more heads as the season progressed. Here is a description of his play from scout Christopher Boucher (check the link for ratings explanation):
He [Percy] has an excellent stick, strong positioning, and makes an incredibly consistent first-pass. He makes things look easy, and finished with the best one-game grade (85) among his draft-eligible teammates. His grade this game equalled his grade from an earlier game I scouted; two grades of 85 in successive games is beyond impressive. And finally, Percy's grade in this game was better than highly-ranked prospects Nathan Beaulieu (72), Jonathan Huberdeau (68) and Zack Phillips (65).
Percy had the best risk/reward rating among his draft-eligible teammates. In fact, he had the best risk/reward rating of any draft-eligible player playing in this year's Memorial Cup final.
Percy had the best o-zone risk/reward rating of any draft-eligible player in the game. Yes, better than Huberdeau and Phillips. Percy was successful with 100% of his 15 offensive-zone puck-battles, while completing 15 of 19 o-zone pass-attempts. Powerplay time had alot to do with his incredible o-zone numbers, but a defenseman with top o-zone numbers in any game is still impressive.
Percy also had the best defensive-zone risk/reward rating of his draft-eligible teammates, but was second in the game to St. John Sea Dog defenseman, and 5th ranked North American skater Nathan Beaulieu (1.43).
Percy also had the top neutral-zone risk/reward rating among his draft eligible teammates, but was third behind Huberdeau and Beaulieu among draft-eligible players in the game.
Percy's all around game has been compared to the likes of Ryan Suter, and frankly if he turns into that caliber of D man, I think the Leafs have found another extremely solid prospect for the back end to go along with the likes of Jesse Blacker, Jake Gardiner, Keith Aulie, and incumbent youngsters Luke Schenn, and Carl Gunnarsson. Brian Burke likes to play from a strong hand on his blue line, and he's building a very impressive crop of D behind the leadership of Dion Phaneuf.
Josh Leivo - 86th overall
In my opinion this selection is the Leafs STEAL of the draft. Leivo is yet another late birthday at May 26th '93. His play early on in the year with the Sudbury Wolves was less than impressive, but he was being asked to do more than he had in the past in a tougher league.
He went from producing only 13 goals and 30 points in 64 regular season games, to posting 4 goals and 10 points in a first round sweep of the Ottawa 67's (who finished second in the OHL's Eastern Conference, and had the fourth highest point total in the OHL - the Wolves finished seventh in the East, and fifteenth of the sixteen playoff teams with a 29-35-2-2 record). He opened the playoffs with a bang, producing a hat trick and 5 points in his first OHL playoff game. He then followed his impressive opening series up with another 2 goals and an assist as the top team in the OHL - the Mississauga St. Mike's Majors trounced the Wolves 4-0 in their second round series.
Standing 6'2" and 180 lbs, Leivo still needs to fill out, but his production in the early season shouldn't scare Leafs fans. Examining his monthly splits we see the following production month by month (including his playoff run):
Obviously his run in March swayed the Leafs scouting staff pretty heavily. Hopefully it isn't just a fluke, but the expectation that his development will continue in his 2nd year in the OHL is a relatively solid one. From Dec. 6th through the end of Leivo's season with the Wolves, he produced 17 G, 20 A, and 37 points over the course of 42 games (regular season and playoffs). That production rate of 0.88 ppg would have ranked him 17th amongst U18 OHL forwards, ahead of the likes of 2nd round picks Brett Ritchie (44th overall by Dallas), and Lucas Lessio (56th overall by Phoenix).
Leivo needs to make strides in his on ice awareness of shooting lanes, timing, and offensive anticipation. His skating and his play along the boards is already quite well developed though, and that leaves lots of room for growth in other areas. He may have reminded some of Jonas Hoglund or Jason Blake with his early-season tendencies to hit goalies in their chest protectors. Hopefully he can pick some more corners, or work on his dangling a bit, but we'll see if he can add more creativity to his bag of tricks. He seemed capable of it in the playoffs, so there's something to look forward to next season.
Tom Nilsson - 100th overall
The first of Brian Burke's annual Swedish selections was bruising defender Tom Nilsson. Yet another late birthday, born on August 19th '93, Nilsson managed to play more playoff games in the Swedish 2nd division (Allsvenskan) than any other U18 defender managing to get 10 under his belt. This is noteworthy because the Allsvenskan is a Men's league, and is not largely populated by junior age kids.
He also had a role on Sweden's World U18 entry this year, and won a Silver Medal with the team alongside the likes of Oscar Klefbom, Mika Zibanejad, Viktor Rask and Jonas Brodin. He was also named Sweden's best player of the game in their match-up against Canada.
He's a longer term project, who at this point plays a physically rugged game, but is relatively small from a stature standpoint at only 6' and 176 lbs. He needs to fill out in order to play his role effectively. There has been talk of concerns with his skating, but his defensive game is reasonably well rounded. Personally my concerns largely center upon his need to put on weight, and whether or not there's any offensive spark to his game.
On April 16th of this year, Nilsson signed an extension with his club MORA, so we should expect him to play at least another season in Europe. It is unclear if the Leafs are going to be happy with him developing in the 2nd tier Swedish league though, so I'm not sure if they won't be looking for him to either move to a higher division club, or come across to play in the AHL or CHL.
Leafs director of Amateur Scouting Dave Morrison related the following on Nilsson:
Very young still, born right before the cutoff date there and he really had a coming out party at the end of the year. Thommie Bergman really likes him, likes his potential, likes his upside, and he’s got a propensity to make a big hit in the neutral zone. Even though he’s not a big guy, he can make some pretty big hits. There’s a lot of potential with that guy. It’s a little bit higher risk, but a little more higher reward at the end of the day.
I'm a little wary of the idea of a "big open ice hitter" with a smaller body. While it may translate reasonably well in Junior ranks, I'm not sure that's a selling point in the NHL against fully grown men. If he does compare favourably to the likes of Niklas Kronwall it's from a physical standpoint, as Kronwall is also only 6' and weighs in at 190 lbs.
Here is a comparison of Kronwall's early development to Nilsson's:
It should be noted that Kronwall's birthday is January 12th, almost 7 and a half months earlier than Nilsson's, so the fact that he also got into 3 SuperElit games two years ago, and another 13 Allsvenskan games this past season is important to note (Allsvenskan has replaced the old Swedish Div. 1).
Neither player had a lot of offensive numbers at the age of 16 or 17, which may speak to the fact that playing on Men's teams often means a limited role for young Swedish blue liners. Going forward if he can produce a bit more he may eventually crack the NHL.
Ok on that note, I'll leave room for discussion by others. I'll take a shot at some info regarding the Leafs later picks tomorrow.