The diversity in opinions and varying personal criteria among voters make the Top 25 Under 25 (T25U25) a special series. There is only one pre-determined requirement: age. From there, anything goes.
For many of our writers, there is a struggle to balance the organization's pool of prospects against its current young core.
Players such as Jake Gardiner, Nazem Kadri, Martin Marincin, Peter Holland and Richard Panik are already NHL players. Others, such as William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen, Jeremy Bracco, Connor Brown, Brendan Leipsic and Andreas Johnson represent the future of the Leafs franchise -- even if some of them don't become NHL players.
As evidenced by five different players receiving first place votes, the balancing act isn't easy and there's no real consensus among the staff. We didn't sit around and debate the players amongst ourselves. Each voter decided on what they believed was a sound foundation for ranking value, and they submitted them independently of the rest.
Here's how mine broke down.
There were several ways in which I approached the ranking, but due to the age and established nature of some of the players, it was a decidedly different approach than the one I take when evaluating a draft class or pool of non-NHL prospects.
Not all voters used the organization's status as a criterion. I did. The Leafs rebuild factors into the value each player has to the organization moving forward. The present isn't nearly as important to the future, and that gives huge value to a Mitch Marner or a William Nylander over an established Nazem Kadri. Future star power will make or break the end result of this Leafs rebuild, and Kadri may well factor into it as a key player (he already is), but he's not a piece that changes a franchise.
I didn't approach the ranking as one that was strictly a meritocracy. As evidenced through my non-ranking (narrowly) of Taylor Beck, a player's NHL status doesn't guarantee him value. Taylor Beck is replaceable. The Marlies roster this season will include several players who could play a fourth line role in the NHL.
The lottery ticket that the players I ranked near the bottom of the T25U25 represent hold more value than a Taylor Beck does. The chance that one Nikita Korostelev, Jesper Lindgren and Dmytro Timashov can be more than a fourth line NHLer (both forwards have top-nine upside and the value of a regular defender exceeds a fourth line forward) holds considerable value. Nothing plagues NHL franchises more than the idea that picks are expendable. If you draft for upside, you will find real value, not Taylor Beck value.
All three of the aforementioned players have translatable skills alone that can make you an impact player. Korostelev's shot and physical presence are prominent in NHL tools. I was one of only three voters to have Korostelev in my T25U25, and I had him ahead of Dermott, Lindgren and Timashov, which you'd have known if you followed my draft rankings this season. Lindgren's patience and puck management are not only translatable, their necessary in today's game. I was one of only five people who ranked Lindgren in my T25U25. Timashov's puck handling and cross-ice vision play into success as an undersized player at the next level. These are real, identifiable stylistic traits.
And there's a chance none of the three become NHLers, but the value in acquiring them is worth more than any value Taylor Beck holds to the team, at least for a rebuilding team.
Below is my full ranking, matched side by side with the consensus T25U25. Those in bold were unranked by the other.
|25||Travis Dermott||Chris Gibson|
|24||Jesper Lindgren||Matt Finn|
|23||Dmytro Timashov||Scott Harrington|
|22||Nikita Korostelev||Travis Dermott|
|21||Carter Verhaeghe||Dmytro Timashov|
|20||Matt Finn||Carter Verhaeghe|
|19||Viktor Loov||Frederik Gauthier|
|18||Nikita Soshnikov||Nikita Soshnikov|
|17||Scott Harrington||Taylor Beck|
|16||Martin Marincin||Viktor Loov|
|15||Frederik Gauthier||Josh Leivo|
|14||Josh Leivo||Jeremy Bracco|
|13||Richard Panik||Stuart Percy|
|12||Stuart Percy||Brendan Leipsic|
|11||Jeremy Bracco||Andreas Johnson|
|10||Peter Holland||Martin Marincin|
|9||Brendan Leipsic||Richard Panik|
|8||Connor Brown||Connor Brown|
|7||Andreas Johnson||Peter Holland|
|6||Kasperi Kapanen||Kasperi Kapanen|
|5||Jake Gardiner||Mitch Marner|
|4||Nazem Kadri||Nazem Kadri|
|3||Morgan Rielly||Jake Gardiner|
|2||Mitch Marner||William Nylander|
|1||William Nylander||Morgan Rielly|
There are several immediate differences you'll notice.
First, the aforementioned heavy emphasis on prospects. I was one of only four writers whose top two was composed of William Nylander and Mitch Marner, with most voters siding with Rielly, Gardiner or Kadri atop their rankings. I was one of only two voters who had Nylander at No. 1 and Marner at No. 2. I gave Nylander the edge but it's close. You can find out why by reading Is Mitch Marner or William Nylander the Leafs' best prospect?
Obviously, the consensus Mitch Marner ranking at No. 5 stands out against my ranking at second. You could argue that Mitch Marner isn't a sure thing, and that Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner and Nazem Kadri are already surefire NHL players. You'd be right. But I don't think it can be said that any of them hold more value, or have even close to the potential of a Mitch Marner. The Leafs would deal any of the players ranked at No. 4, 3 and 1 in the consensus for another Mitch Marner. Had it been any year between 2010 and 2014, Marner would have been in the first overall pick discussion with Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, Nathan MacKinnon, and Aaron Ekblad.
There are several other places where I differed significantly from the consensus as well.
Beyond the non-ranking of Gibson and Beck in favour of Lindgren (find more of my thoughts on him here) and Korostelev, players I ranked four or more spots above or below the consensus include Matt Finn (above), Scott Harrington (above), Martin Marincin (below), Frederik Gauthier (above), Andreas Johnson (above) and Richard Panik (below). You can find my thoughts on Harrington (here), Johnson (several pieces, but most recently here) and Gauthier (here) in various posts at PPP.
Finn, was hampered by early season injuries only to find himself as the Marlies' youngest defender. He's a year removed from being the Leafs best prospect on the back-end, playing a successful shutdown role against the OHL's best forwards and many since-turned-NHL players. He's still a legitimate prospect, and was a shrewd pick at 35th overall in 2012.
Marincin, a capable NHL defensemen, was still my second highest ranked defensemen -- behind Stuart Percy -- in the T25U25 despite being lower than the consensus. The decision on Marincin, Gauthier and Leivo at 16, 15, 14 was among the closest choices I had to make, along with Holland and Leipsic at 10 and 9.
Ultimately, I ranked Marincin where he finished because of his limited offensive upside. Despite driving possession well relative to his teammates in Edmonton this season, Marincin's 12 points in a combined 69 games split between the AHL and NHL this season is about what you should expect from him offensively (mimicked his production from the year prior). And while Percy doesn't wow offensively, his 14 points in 51 combined games this season exceeded Marincin's offensive output in both of the past two years, while being a year younger.
Marincin's strongest offensive year in the AHL was heavily influenced by a season spent in Oklahoma with Jordan Eberle, Mark Arcobello, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and others during the lonckout.
Panik, a year removed from being picked up off waivers from a competitive team, received a slightly lower ranking than the consensus in large part because I believe Leipsic, Brown and Johnson are legitimate NHL prospects with high-impact-upside. Panik has a real chance this season to take on a bigger role, but he needs to show he can out-play the cheap depth players the Leafs have brought in.
If you have any questions on any of the aforementioned players, prospects, or rankings, leave them in the comments or shoot me a tweet @scottcwheeler.