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Leafs prospect Jeremy Bracco intends to prove people wrong

The Toronto Maple Leafs selected standout American prospect Jeremy Bracco in the second round of the 2015 NHL Draft and he plans on proving he's got what it takes to help the team during its rebuild.

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Getting drafted in the second round of the NHL Draft is no small feat. In a draft with depth like the 2015 class, it's even more impressive.

But when you're as small as Jeremy Bracco is, or described as "diminutive," it's just another step on a long roading to proving everybody wrong.

As Bracco sat with his mother, father, younger sister, younger brother, two pairs of grandparents and two best friends on the second day of the draft, having not been selected in the first round the night prior, there were nerves and anxiety.

After hearing his name called, it was all fun and games, he'd been vindicated.

Suddenly, he was a Toronto Maple Leaf, and parading from chats with head coach Mike Babcock and president Brendan Shanahan to interviews with the media, spots on TSN Radio and Sirius XM, before finishing it off with photoshoots and some time spent watching friends get selected, beginning their own whirlwind.

"Once you have your name called, it was really nice after," Bracco said, seemingly unfazed by the new spotlight and pressure. "It was a lot of fun, I enjoyed it.

The media doesn't bother Bracco, whose confidence oozes.

"It was kinda cool to see the media and just take pictures," Bracco said.

The entire draft process was something Bracco enjoyed, he said, particularly because his grandparents made the trip.

To the 17-year-old, the media is part of Toronto's allure.

Because the main focus in Toronto's media is on hockey, there's a bigger market for support from fans according to Bracco.

"It’s all business there (in Toronto) and for them not winning in the past few years, their fans are really loyal," Bracco said.

For Bracco, that the team hasn't won is just more fuel, something added to accomplish.

"They're trying to turn the franchise around to become a winning team," Bracco said, mentioning Mike Babcock, William Nylander and Mitch Marner as reasons to be excited about the new direction. "It’s special to be a part of it."

"Anytime you win the Stanley Cup is special but doing it in the city of Toronto that hasn’t won since 1967, it’ll be a cool experience for sure," he added, as if he was confident it was going to happen. "Playing in Toronto and doing it there would be really special."

This season, with the help of National Training Development Program (NTDP) head coach Don Granato, Bracco said he thinks there were certain steps he was able to take that will help him join the Leafs sooner than later.

"Playing with the development team teaches yourself how to play in the NHL and be a man," Bracco said, crediting the program for help on and off the ice. "I’m really happy I took that step in my career and I’m going to miss that place."

Bracco says the program will always be near and dear to his heart, calling it "indescribable."

"Anybody that was there they’ll remember it."

Heading into the summer, he's focussed on Toronto's prospect camp and preparing for school. Next season, Bracco has committed to playing for Boston College and he's thrilled with the path he's already chosen.

"Going to school, I’m lucky and fortunate enough to go with a few of the guys," Bracco said, alluding to teammates Colin White and Casey Fitzgerald.

Still, he's open hearing what the Leafs have to say about potential other options. The Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) hold his Canadian Hockey League (CHL) rights.

"Right now I’m focused on school," Bracco said, "But going into mini camp if they (the Leafs) sit me down and say they think that’s better for my development and that that route’s better for me to step in quicker or become a better player overall then that’s a conversation I’m going to have with them come mini camp."

The record breaking winger, who surpassed Patrick Kane's scoring mark with the NTDP this season, hopes prospect camp will be a stepping stone to getting a shot at the Leafs.

He's looking forward to putting on an NHL sweater for the first time and getting to know some of the younger players more.

"Just going to Toronto with the fans there and everyone there it’ll be really special."
If he can take the next step, and get a chance at Leafs training camp, Bracco hopes to be able to learn from Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk, two graduates of of the NTDP.

"I’ve heard a lot about Phil Kessel and JvR (van Riemsdyk) being from the program that I played at and just following in their footsteps," Bracco said. "It’s cool to see them being a part of the Toronto Maple Leafs and having a lot of success there and being really good players in the National Hockey League, so hopefully I can follow in their footsteps."

On draft day, prior to being selected, Bracco had thought about the Leafs. It was hard not to, he acknowledged.

Anybody would sign up to play for the Leafs if given the chance, he said.

"The Leafs were in the back of my mind as one of those storied franchises that would be great to be a part of and part of something that they’re rebuilding and becoming better with the younger players," Bracco said. "I’m just happy to be a part of that."

The Leafs were direct in Bracco's first conversations with Mike Babcock and Brendan Shanahan and their staff though.

"They said 'welcome and the work just starts now and what you do to get here is great and all but you’re going to have to double the workload to be back,' " Bracco said, adding that the team told him that come mini camp he would be provided with nutritionists and trainers and "all the resources" he needed to become an NHL player for the franchise.

Bracco said he's looking forward to utilizing those resources to develop his best asset, his playmaking ability, as well as work on his weaknesses. If he can work on his overall strength and his first two steps, he hopes he can make the big club.

The key ingredient?

"The chip on my shoulder is definitely big for me and coming everyday to the rink to prove people wrong."