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2017 Top 25 Under 25: What could push #10, Travis Dermott, into the NHL lineup?

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With additions to the Leafs’ defensive depth, will Dermott make the cut?

2015 NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7 Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Today I’m going to discuss why we ranked Travis Dermott 10th in our Top 25 Under 25, ahead of his competition for an NHL roster spot—Calle Rosen (ranked 17th) and “man of mystery” Andreas Borgman (ranked 16th). But first, here is a chart from prospects-stats.com that gives us a baseline to measure Dermott's work last season.

Raw Charge’s stats guy Loserpoints gave this interpretation of the data: “Dermott’s shot rate is firmly in that low-end first pair range, which is encouraging. All around, that's a solid profile for a player in his first professional season. Not spectacular but definitely reasonable for a first year.” Also more than reasonable for a player who also had to spend some of the season rehabilitating from injury.

Dermott played 59 regular-season games for the Marlies last season, his first full season of professional hockey, earning 5G/19A for 24 points. Early in the season he sustained a high-ankle sprain and missed several months, but found his footing swiftly when he returned. He has also risen in PPP’s Top 25 ranks — from 22nd in his draft summer, to 19th in 2016, to his current position of 10th this year.

PPP writer Kevin added that he likes Dermott’s mobility, strength, and puck moving, and finds it hard to see any weakness in his play despite his age. “If Dermott were born ten days later,” Kevin said, “He would have been one of Canada’s top-defenceman at the World Juniors last year. Instead he spent the full season with the Toronto Marlies, where he continuously improved throughout the season and established himself as one of the team’s most reliable defenceman.

“Dermott was in the running to make my Top 10, and placing him anywhere in the 9-14 range sounds fair to me. He does not offer the size or long reach to be a prototypical shutdown defenceman, and he is not a major goal scoring threat. I am rarely blown away with Dermott’s game, and it is tough to envision him as a top pairing NHL defender, but he seems to be reliable enough to crack an NHL lineup down the line. I still expect him to start next season with the Marlies, but a strong camp could force his way into the equation.”

Perhaps some recency bias has influenced our rankings, especially after seeing his work in the Marlies’ playoff run. El Seldo especially called this out during the AHL playoffs: “One of the Marlies top blueliners this year, Dermott is also trying to work his way off the Marlies. With a couple spots he’s been making his case, and MLHS stepped in and made one for him as well. Dermott has almost .5PPG in the regular season, has 4 in 4 in round one, and has been a key factor in almost every game of the first round.”

Dermott’s position as next man up used to be a lot clearer before more defensemen were added to the Leafs’ system—the MLHS article that Seldo referenced above implied that Lou Lamoriello might have been thinking about him as a good fit for the NHL at some point last season. But now there is a lot more competition for the role.

Will we see Dermott in the NHL? Have we overvalued him because we’ve been following him for several seasons, and also don’t know much about the players he is in competition with for the NHL spots—or were we perceptive about his abilities?

I’ve turned to Justin Bourne’s AHL observations, columns he wrote about the Marlies specifically, for some insight.

In Bourne’s article, What I learned after two seasons on the Toronto Marlies coaching staff, he points out that young players want to be too good at hockey to ask for additional practice or help, and suggests that an important quality for players to have is the ability to recognize their weaknesses and work hard to improve these weaknesses with training staff:

They still want to be cool, to be popular amongst their peers, as most people that age do. That’s not a crime. But because of that, asking for extra time with staff, truly working on something they’re bad at for everyone to see, some of these things can be perceived as embarrassing, like walking up to your teacher in high school and asking for extra work for extra credit. It's great, and you'll probably benefit from it, but you'll almost certainly get chirped by the “cool” kids, which most would prefer to avoid.

I tweeted about this awhile back: It’s so important at the AHL level that “not trying your hardest” is what’s embarrassing.

This is why you covet young players like Zach Hyman and Connor Brown, and pay to keep them around. This is why you need older veterans like Colin Greening, Rich Clune, Steve Oleksy and others. You need guys like that to eradicate the disease of “too cool to try” from team culture.

Is Dermott in the “too cool to try” category? His professionalism, on the contrary, has impressed the highest decision-makers in the organization.

A recent article in the Toronto Sun sheds light upon this question. Dermott spent his summer practicing, because even he recognized that he had competition in camp for that left-shot D spot on the last pair. Dermott told the Toronto Sun, “‘It’s good to hear they’re confident with my game and where I’m going so far and have that in the back of my head. But I still know there are a bunch of really good defencemen here that I’m going to have to be better than to make a spot. Consistency, that’s the biggest part. Making sure I’m at my best every game so that when I do make a little mistake, just rebound quickly and make sure I don’t live off that for the rest of the game.’”

It’s clear that Dermott recognizes inadequacies in his play (especially in consistency and rebounding from mistakes) and has taken the step to address these issues with Toronto training staff. He also mentioned to the Toronto Sun that he is focusing on his nutrition, and that it has helped his game: “‘It’s just more counting calories, which everyone should be doing, not just pro athletes. It was cool seeing my calorie intake and how many were burning off during my workouts and when I’m on the ice. I made sure I wasn’t losing anything but getting everything I could out of my workout.’”

But are these attributes enough to help Dermott make the lineup?

Another insight Bourne delivers is that because the AHL is a development league, individual players’ talent development and winning things together are occasionally competing goals: “On top of that, on an individual level – like it or not – the biggest rivals AHL players have are the guys in the stalls to their left and right.”

Extrapolating from this insight, although the AHL is considered a more intense league than the NHL for competition with the people on one’s own team, I’d posit that the NHL might be worse. Players have to continue to prove themselves against each other, in the national eye, and every team has its heroes and scapegoats. Therefore, showing at the AHL level that teamwork is as important as individual development would also predict how a person might behave in the NHL room.

Does Dermott have what it takes to keep developing himself, and also keep pulling toward a common goal of winning games—which is the most important part of being on the Toronto Maple Leafs?

The MLHS article advocating for Dermott’s place in the Leafs’ lineup pointed out that he was given a wide variety of partners last season, including Viktor Loov, Ty Stanton, Willie Corrin, Justin Holl, Alex Gudbranson, Frank Corrado, and Steve Oleksy. He did well despite the range of partners, and the veteran player Oleksy found positive things to say about him. Oleksy said to MLHS: “Travis is a guy that can play both ends of the rink. I think it allows me to feel more comfortable getting involved [offensively].”

Dermott’s most frequent linemates are also in the prospect-stats chart at the top of this piece—and the first two of them are forwards.

This bodes well, although it is not any kind of conclusive proof of worth.

In July, Bourne had this to say about Dermott to TSN1050 (transcribed by MLHS) after observing him for a season:

It’s a tough one for me because I’m torn. I haven’t seen any of our defencemen graduate the way that I have seen, over the past two years, a number of forwards go up. Just seeing him at our level, there were times when some of the higher-ups in the organization were calling him the best 20-year-old defenceman in the American league. He is another guy who is having a great season and suffered a tough injury.

He had a high-ankle sprain and missed a couple of months, and that kind of slowed him down and took him a while to get back to speed. After he found his stride after about 15 games in the American league, he is just so elusive. When he goes back on a puck to retrieve a dump-in, forwards coming in to hit him can’t touch him. He’s just like Michael Vick in the pocket back there. He’s very exciting and I think Maple Leafs fans should be real excited about his potential. I think he’ll make the team. I like him a lot.

Dermott’s next step is obviously to impress in camp, but in a larger way, he’s been auditioning for a spot all summer. Will the organization see his desire to work hard and reward it?

We’ll see.

The Tape

Fulemin says, “Dermott's highlight reel to me looks sneaky-good--he doesn't have an outstanding slapshot like Nielsen or Rosen, but he's very good at sliding away from the opposition in the top half of the offensive zone and then deploying a little wrist shot that he gets on target. it reminds me a little of Jake Gardiner's powerplay work.”

Travis Dermott stats via Elite Prospects

Season Team League GP G A TP PIM
Season Team League GP G A TP PIM
2011-2012 York Simcoe Express Mn Mdgt AAA ETAMMHL 19 2 7 9 12
2012-2013 Newmarket Hurricanes OJHL 53 1 14 15 24
2013-2014 Erie Otters OHL 67 3 25 28 45
2014-2015 Erie Otters OHL 61 8 37 45 53
2015-2016 Erie Otters OHL 51 6 37 43 65
Toronto Marlies AHL 0 0 0 0 0
Canada U20 WJC-20 5 0 2 2 2
OHL All-Stars Jr Super Series 1 0 1 1 0
2016-2017 Toronto Marlies AHL 59 5 19 24 60
2017-2018 Toronto Marlies AHL - - - - -