When we last checked in with him on his countdown, Dominic Toninato, a 2012 5th round pick selected out of Minnesota high school, had done a good job of proving his offensive skills, putting up a strong season in the USHL before heading off to the University of Minnesota-Duluth. We left him at #17 on our countdown, a major shift over the previous year where, as a new and relatively unheralded draft pick, he was an unknown years away from being a potential NHLer.
After another season of data, Toninato still registers as a prospect worth noting, but has fallen in our estimation. He leads off this edition of the countdown at #25.
The NCAA can be an unforgiving place for a long-term prospect to grow into an effective pro prospect. The season is truncated compared to other leagues, the age range wildly fluctuates (from as young as 18 to in some cases players can be 25 or 26 years old), and there is no possibility of a "change of scenery" if you are stuck in the wrong system (unless you choose to transfer which costs you a year of eligibility). So for a freshman, you come in knowing that you don’t really have much time to figure things out. You have to adjust to the physicality of playing against young men and not teenagers, of earning ice time (which you have to take away from more established and senior members of the team), and you don’t have the same number of opportunities to do so that you would in the OHL, for example.
Toninato had an okay freshman season, registering 15 points in 38 games for a UMD squad that was both fairly young and also average in the standings. Freshman statistics generally need to be taken with a grain of salt, since most first year college players start low in the depth chart and have to try and work their way up. But it’s worth noting that one of the reasons we were intrigued by his teammate Tony Cameranesi last season was that he managed a point a game as a freshman. And fair is fair: Tyler Biggs’ freshman season wasn’t considered a resounding success, and his production as a freshman for Miami (OH) was virtually identical (17 points in 37 games), except Biggs was a year younger at the time.
Toninato possesses the necessary skills to potentially become a future pro prospect. But the reality of the NCAA is that with 60-odd teams, there are over 1,200 players in the league at any given time looking to find a spot on the track to the NHL, and as of right now roughly a third of all players in the NHL come through the college system (so about 200 players, give or take). Those aren’t the best of odds, and Toninato needs to establish himself as a legitimate offensive threat in the NCAA to keep moving forward, both in his career and in our rankings.
The good news from a ranking perspective is that at this stage, it’s quite easy to make massive jumps, because of the marginal differences between prospects. After being largely overlooked in his first appearance (before which he had just recently been a 5th round draft pick, and historically low-round picks from the most recent drafts don’t rank well their first year), he made a big jump (14 spots) last season. He takes a major step backwards on this countdown, tumbling 8 spots.
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As you can see from the rankings (which this year, will also include the rankings from last summer’s list where applicable), Toninato’s rankings fell on 8 of 9 voting cards, falling off the Top 25 entirely on 3 people’s lists. Though the drop of 8 places is a harsh assessment, it’s worth noting Toninato finished just one point behind our Number 25 finisher, and two points behind Number 23. Entry into this year’s list was a tightly contested affair.
"Has impressed at multiple prospect camps, but needs to put together a full season of solid play in the NCAA" – SteveBurtch
"NHLe from last season works out to roughly 11 points. That’s not good enough for my list." Chemmy
Most people’s comments on Toninato indicated a willingness to re-evaluate if Toninato’s results improved. UMD looks to enter this season leaning heavily on a mix of sophomore and junior forwards, so the chances could materialize. But for now, Toninato is firmly a prospect on the bubble.