Kerby Rychel’s name has come up in several recent posts. His situation is one of the most interesting and controversial in the Maple Leafs system. He has already played more NHL games than any other player ranked so far, yet, he played zero last season.
How did he get to where he is now?
Rychel was drafted in the first round in 2013 by the Columbus Blue Jackets. He had a rough relationship with the organization, being called up from their AHL affiliate team and sent back down several times, despite at times leading scoring on the Lake Erie Monsters. He won the Calder Cup with that team, but still couldn’t find a permanent spot on the Blue Jackets roster.
It resulted in a permanently soured relationship, and Rychel requesting to be traded. At the end of the 2015-16 season he finally was moved to the Maple Leafs, who sent Scott Harrington and a conditional draft pick to the Blue Jackets (the pick never had to be paid).
Rychel is a gritty winger. Saying that might make him wince. It is alleged that being groomed to be nothing but a gritty fourth-liner was one reason he wanted out of the Blue Jackets system. But, when you earn 118 penalty minutes in one AHL season, get in fights, and even suspended by the league, you can’t exactly shake that descriptor.
Fortunately for Rychel, he has lots of highlights to show he does have real scoring ability to back up the high PIM stat. Rychel is known for the ability to move himself right in front of the net while keeping or taking control of the puck, and score on his chances.
It would help his case if those chances happened a little more often. Last season he finished with 52 points in the regular season, which was the highest total on the team, but far from the highest on a points-per-game basis. Specifically on the left wing, his total was well behind Brendan Leipsic’s, however, Leipsic is now gone, taken by the new Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft.
Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe spread out his offensive talent last season, probably because he had so much of it. For much of the season he used what is probably as close as one can get to a ‘four scoring forward lines’ setup. Combined with all the injuries to players, and the various trades, the result was Rychel had many different line mates through the season. In the playoffs alone, he would play one game with Brett Findlay and Rich Clune, then the next with Colin Greening and Seth Griffith.
The Roster Logjam
For the Maple Leafs it looked like a win to pick up the proverbial player who probably only needed a change of scenery. It was not long though before a new problem for Rychel became evident. The Leafs roster is jam-packed with NHL calibre players on the left wing.
One cannot go through the whole process of evaluating Rychel’s ranking as one of the Leafs players under 25 years-old without considering the roster logjam. You can check out our recently updated roster depth chart for an idea of all positions, but I’ve extracted the left wing here.
|James van Riemsdyk
Even with a shuffle of a player like Zach Hyman to right wing it’s still a stretch to see Rychel make it on the Maple Leafs roster. He faces the combined pressure down from the arrival of Patrick Marleau, Josh Leivo waiting in the press-box, and the rapid ascent in the organization of Carl Grundstrom.
For any depth prospect who primarily plays on the left wing, things look pretty grim right now.
To add salt to the wound, Rychel is now eligible to be claimed off waivers. If Mike Babcock and Lou Lamoriello decide they don’t need him to start the season with the Leafs, he could be picked up by any of the other 30 teams in the league. It’s a difficult situation in which to put forth your best effort at training camp. However, it’s not necessarily going to happen. GMs know they can mitigate the risk of a pre-season waiver claim by putting players up on one of the really busy days where there are a lot of players passing through at once in the training camp cycle.
If Rychel does return to the Marlies he will likely be a first line scoring leader.
How we voted
Our voters gave a wide range of ranks; as high as 14, to as low as 23. I wound up placing Rychel at 20. As with all our rankings, a lot depends on factors each voter makes a priority. For a player who is about to turn 23 and played in no NHL games last season, regardless of circumstances, that hurts his ranking in the context of the Maple Leafs system.
Perhaps Rychel could be top 10 on another team, but not here. He now has two hot-shot up and comers ahead of him in Grundstrom, and Johnsson (who made several appearances on the left wing last season). Unless he can suck up all that competition Kirby style at the training camp, he’s on course to drift out of our Top 25 completely, like Frederik Gauthier did.
Where would you rank Rychel?
|Not top 25.