Every year, we vote in the Top 25 Under 25, and we make predictions about who will one day be in the NHL. That seems to be a bar we’d like prospects to clear if they aren’t already there on voting day. Hindsight can tell us how well our prospects did from past years since we began in 2012:

This table is visible on the web as well.

Because we did two votes in a single year twice, there’s been 12 votes already. The oldest lists show a top heavy team with nothing in the cupboard, even in hindsight. And you’d expect if you looked up the 2011-2012 or 2012-2013 Leafs, you’d find a team on the cusp of being a contender. The prospect pool says every pick was spent on winning now. And we all likely remember how far reality really was from appearances. It’s what’s brought us here to a place that looks a little similar from this point of view.

If you look at the 2014 list, you can see something that wasn’t all that obvious as the team went about its business. Divisional realignment did the Leafs a favour, and ensured their barely over .500 regular season got them, not the playoffs, but William Nylander.

And of course, the 2015 list looks amazing. And it led to the worst team the Leafs had ever put on the ice on purpose. Naturally, with a history as long as the Leafs, they’ve been worse by accident occasionally. Only three players in the 2015 T25 have not played at least 10 games in the NHL.

Viktor Lööv played four games for the Maple Leafs and then 240 AHL games for two teams. He went on to a career in the KHL for Finnish team Jokerit, and has been in the Swiss league now going into his second season. He counts as so close to an NHLer, it might have just been chance that he never caught on as someone’s stay at home guy.

Jeremy Bracco is at least the co-author of his own misfortune. After 169 AHL games where his playmaking talents were very in evident, he did not get one single NHL game, not even as a gift on his lone callup to the Leafs.

He left North American hockey when he couldn’t crack the Carolina lineup and is on his third team in three years in three leagues. He chose to play in the KHL this year. Not a Russian team, but nonetheless, that’s a choice he made that he gets to live with. A lot of fans believed he was more than a cut-rate Mitch Marner, and they may call him another very close call. I think it’s hard to tell, given his adult history, who he could have been.

Matt Finn is the third player who never made it on that list. He had 124 ECHL games, 79 AHL games, and then moved, just in 2019, to Europe where he plays in the fringe leagues in Austria and Slovakia. Sidelined by injuries repeatedly in his career dating back to junior hockey, he has never played a full season in North America as a pro. He succeeded at the ECHL level, and likely could have made the move to Europe sooner (he’s 28 now) but I’m unconvinced he was an NHLer but for the chance of injuries.

In 2016, the misses fall shorter of that NHL cup of coffee measure of success. Lindberg, Nielsen and Dzierkals were never close while Korshkov got a very brief trial.  Every year after that, the vote swells with players that can’t move beyond the AHL, and that’s not just a factor of time, but of the draft pick depth the Leafs had each summer. There’s some names higher up the 2020 and 2021 lists who will make it, but not many. We won’t see a sea of colour on those years in five year’s time.

This is the cycle of maturity, where the 2022 team is even more a team focused on the NHL roster of today that those teams ten years ago were. It looks like that focus is justified this time, but so far, the Leafs haven’t survived outside laboratory conditions. That’s October’s worry. For now, for the T25, the questions are all about ranking that sea of untested players and guessing about their futures.

When updating this summary this year, I noticed a few things. First: very little changed. A few players moved to blue for 100 games, but no one new cracked 500. Not even Auston Matthews will do that before he ages out. I checked Mason Marchment’s games played three times because I was more than a little amazed he got that contract on less than 100 games played, even if some of those he did play looked fantastic.

And to point out that blue doesn’t mean you stick in the NHL, Frederik Gauthier signed in the Swiss league. The real takeaway here is that having a real NHL career is exceedingly difficult and very few players ever do it. Our view of draft pick success is usually calculated on a bar lower than blue on this chart, and that should remine us that true success is rarer than we think.

Time comes for the truly successful eventually. The Flyers were trying to trade James Van Riemsdyk, Phil Kessel is unemployed, Jake Gardiner is possibly healthy enough to play, but will he? You have to make the most of your very few stars while they’re young. Or you can hope there’s another Marchment lurking here somewhere in the bottom of the list.