The Leafs’ top end talent is undeniable. It’s very good right now, and its best players are still developing and growing. One of the issues with the Maple Leafs’ recent playoff series with the Boston Bruins came when looking lower in the lineup.
Trevor Moore and Tyler Ennis were both fine additions this year, but likely only one of them will be back next year as Ennis looks for some cash in free agency. Frederik Gauthier is a replacement-level fourth-line centre who plays about eight minutes a night, there’s not much to him and most wouldn’t be opposed to an upgrade.
Connor Brown and Patrick Marleau both severely underperformed, especially in the back stretch of the season. Are both fourth-liners at this point? Probably. In terms of whether they and their cap hits will be around next year, one of them were shopped at the trade deadline and the other has his fate for next year entirely in his hands.
Long story short, the Leafs need more depth players. More entries in the lottery to find a gem to play lower in the lineup and be effective for cheap. One of the solutions is free agency, which is where they found Ennis. Another solution is the Toronto Marlies, where they found Moore.
So who on the Marlies could it be?
Possible Leafs Help
Marchment had a very incomplete season for the Marlies. It started with him shooting out of the gate (literally), going on a massive offensive bender where he looked like the most dominant player on the ice. After a few weeks of that, he slowed back down to a pace we were accustomed to seeing out him until he suffered a massive collarbone injury. His season was essentially done at that point, until he made his return to the lineup until the second-last game of the season.
Has he come back as the dynamic offensive grinder who can skate, check, shoot, and fight? Or is he the reckless winger who takes things too far and ends up hurting his team by sitting in the box too much? The answer is definitely somewhere in the middle, but it will be this postseason where we find out where on the spectrum he’s come back from his injury at. I’m really excited to see what Marchment can bring because he definitely can play on an NHL fourth line.
I have a lot to say about Pierre Engvall, namely because his counting stats are frankly boring, while his effectiveness in so many aspects of the game is so mature and impressive. Engvall has many tools in his toolbelt as a result of having to play on the third line almost consistently for a year and a half.
When Engvall first arrived in Toronto last season, he was given a top-six role and showed off to everyone his raw shooting and skating talent during the final stretch before the playoffs. Once the playoffs arrived, he was relegated to fourth-line duties with Frederik Gauthier and Colin Greening. In that role, he improved his forechecking and defensive capabilities, adapting them to the North American ice. In his first full season with the Marlies, he retained his third-line role and was given the task of developing as many tools and skills as he possibly can, including playing centre (which he did in the Swedish junior leagues), killing penalties, being a pest in the offensive zone, and improving all over the ice in the defensive zone.
Here’s what his coach had to say about him back in February:
“This year we’ve been trying different things with Pierre to try and make him a more versatile player. The way he skates, the way he shoots the puck, the tools he has offensively, he’s always brought that to the table. And now, whether it’s penalty kill time, playing on a checking line, and now playing centre. It’s these types of things that we want to do to put more tools at his disposal, so as his career progresses, he can fill more roles.” - Sheldon Keefe
Basically, Engvall is being groomed into the perfect middle-six forward; someone who can play both centre and wing in a scoring role as well as in a shutdown role. In terms of effectiveness, Engvall has a lot going for him. He’s 6’5” every shift, meaning his stride and reach are a major asset to him. Engvall does a thing where he crouches down as low as he can while taking full strides with his stick radially out in front of him. It’s super effective on the forecheck and when defending through the neutral zone.
He’s also Borgman-levels strong, and uses his body ruthlessly along the boards and in front of the net to protect the puck or keep others away from it. This has been one aspect that I’ve seen a lot of growth from Engvall this season. He’s not just stronger, but more willing to use that strength to do the job he needs to. Along the boards while protecting the puck, there’s not many that are better on the Marlies — maybe only Chris Mueller has him beat in that area. He also plays with an edge and isn’t afraid to push guys around or fight when it’s necessary. There was one game against the Binghamton Devils where he fought Michael McLeod because his opponents were all so fed up with him.
And I say all of this before I bring up the calling card that he brought with him from Sweden over a year ago: his shot. In terms of shooting, Engvall can use his long stick to great effect — he gets a lot of whip out of it and can get his shots off really quick. His skating was good when he showed up, but a little sloppy. Now, he has a powerful stride and is the primary breakout man and forechecker for his line night in night out.
This prospect making the Leafs out of camp is a long shot, I admit, but I’ve been a big fan of his since his second week with the Marlies back in 2018. He will make the NHL sooner or later, he’s been too good and too consistent not to. Whether he makes it out of camp, mid-season, or in 2020 (when he’ll require waivers) will likely be up to the numbers game or if the Leafs want him to play a season where he’s in a scoring role so he can rack up some points before making the jump. They’ve done this same tactic with players like Moore and Johnsson in previous seasons.
Not Likely Leafs (Yet)
A lot of my prospect analysis focuses more on defence and tools and how players play over just pure offense. A lot of hockey players in the AHL can score, but not many of them are able to translate that scoring touch in the lower leagues to production in the NHL.
That’s where I hesitate with Jeremy Bracco. He can put up points, we all know this. His Elite Prospects page is quite clear and he has plenty of video evidence to back up that claim. But one thing that has me scratching my chin is the all-around game of Bracco.
Before the season, I was hoping to see improvement from Bracco in the defensive zone and in battles along the boards, but I didn’t get that from him this year; only more points. He’s all well and good to stand at the defensive blue line and wait for the rearguards and Chris Mueller, Adam Brooks, or Trevor Moore to hunt the puck down and allow him to break it out, but when it comes to doing the dirty work himself, he doesn’t seem particularly interested or capable of doing so. He tries to be delicate along the half-wall in the offensive zone way too much and still makes mistakes in terms of coverage.
Sheldon Keefe has also made it a point to specify what parts of Bracco’s game he praises in his press conferences. He knows what Bracco can do for him offensively — and he needed that from him this season while the forward corps was a total mess with trades and injuries — but he also knows not to put him out late in a game when he needs a stop unless it’s so he can blow the zone off a failed entry by the offense to go for the empty netter.
We saw players like Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, and Andreas Johnsson take more time in the AHL than we might’ve liked in order for them to learn a 200ft game that can be useful in the NHL for more than extremely sheltered minutes. Bracco can’t be trusted late in games when the quality of play increases, nor can he penalty kill. He will need time to get both of those things buttoned down before he makes any mohawk moves in the NHL.
Bracco does a great job of using space and gets a chance on offense, but it's the defense that's alarming. He was back with Sandin when the Sens got the puck, but decided to push up into no-mans land and left Mueller to cover his mistake. From there, limited effort getting back. pic.twitter.com/z7sqt6Gh9f— Hardev Lad (@HardevLad) April 13, 2019
He’s not Mitch Marner, not even the “lite” version of him. Marner is a relentless defender who plays three inches taller and 30 pounds heavier than he is. He can play incredible offense and defense at 5v5 and on special teams. There’s not really a comparison I can see other than both can skate well and put up points on the power play.
A late bloomer if there ever was one, Brooks has always been behind the age curves for players from his birth year, but always seems to make the cut if you make him a few years younger. This season, he spent a large portion of the middle of the season playing as the Marlies’ first-line centre while Mueller was out with injury. The Marlies didn’t win much in this time, but enough to get them into the playoffs.
Brooks always feels to me as the Tyler Bozak to Bracco’s Phil Kessel. They work well together, the centre is assumed to play the defense on the line, while playing a simple enough game to just let the pucks bounce off him from the right side and into the net.
Brooks is generally passable in a lot of areas that he plays in, whether it be skating, shooting, or puck handling, but he knows where to be when he’s on the ice (he penalty kills with Engvall), he can stand his ground and play a smart game in front of the net, and he’s getting better all the time. This prospect will likely take some more years of developing, but he might be a new-age fourth-liner in the future. Maybe as good as Nic Petan!
Timashov had a lot of potential when he showed up from the QMJHL, but while he’s grown a better all-around game, his offensive production has somewhat plateau’d. Yes, I know if you go look at his EP page, you’d see a 44% increase in production from his age-21 season (34 points) to his age-22 season (49 points). That’s a good increase and should be commended, but looking deeper than just the all-around numbers tells a different story. Timashov was given power play time this year, with one of the better power plays in the league. He put up 21 points this year on the PP, compared to only 10 last season. If you put those numbers back into his season totals, it’s a mellow 28 points instead of 24.
In terms of skills, Timashov still doesn’t know how and to shoot. He doesn’t shoot when he has the opportunity, and he can’t get pucks through when he does. He’s been good enough for 13 to 14 goals every season, but there comes a point where you have to say that’s not good enough for an NHL-bound prospect.
One thing I will give him credit for this season is that he has really improved his forechecking. He’s very dynamic and aggressive and works hard. I’m encouraged seeing that out of him, especially since he was later rewarded with limited penalty kill time in the back half of the season.
Timashov will be 23 by next season and has some time to grow and find some more of a scoring touch. Until then, he’s on the outside looking in.