The Leafs carry a big prospect pool. They use more of their 90-man reserve limit than a lot of teams. We saw that play out when one of last year’s unranked prospects, out of 46 players under 25, was traded to the Edmonton Oilers and immediately given an NHL contract.
Okay, you might think the Oilers are bit dumb for signing Nolan Vesey, but the reality for that team is that they only have 66 names on their reserve list and only 43 NHL contracts used, and that includes Vesey. For them, they have lots of space to sign a guy they’ll almost certainly play in the AHL to an NHL deal.
For the Leafs, who have made it a priority to keep the total volume of draft picks high for several years, they have a lot of players like Vesey who are long shots to make the NHL.
For the T25 list each year, some of those long shots get ranked from around 15 to 25. Where you draw the line each year to separate the chancers from the unlikelies is illuminating about the overall depth of the prospect pool. But the line between 25 and all the rest is imaginary.
We could pick any number to cut off the list. And between number 25 and the totally unranked is a set of players someone voted for, but just not enough to crack the top 25.
We’ll talk about the near misses in more detail over this week, but first: Here is the totally unranked — as varied a group as you’d find if you asked for any random set of 14 hockey players.
The Unranked for the 2018 T25U25
|Name||Position||Age||Draft Year||Draft Rank||NHL Sigining Year||Last Year's T25|
Everyone on this list is either a 2018 late-round draft pick or was unranked on last year’s list. The surprise is that two of them are under NHL contracts. It’s highly likely that several prospects on this list very nearly got a vote from someone, and I could likely flip my lowest votes to any of Jesper Lindgren, Vladislav Kara, or Mac Hollowell and be happy with the choice.
There are some, however, who no one believes are players with a chance. The less we know about one of them, the more likely we are to be guessing wrong (Connor Brown went unranked in his post-draft T25), but for some of these players, they’re old enough to have revealed themselves.
The Russians: known and unknown
The recent draft picks are where our men of mystery come in. We don’t know much about them, or in Semyon Kizimov’s case, anything at all. Like with Kara last year, we’re left staring at some basic stats from time spent on Russian teams and trying to guess what it all means.
There was a time where that’s where we were with Nikolai Chebykin and Vladimir Bobylyov, as well, although Bobylyov started out with some Canadian junior results that still never convinced enough people to vote him onto the list. We have a much better handle on both of those players now, and I can tell you with certainty that Chebykin is the better player. He turns 21 soon, so they’re almost the same age, but even Chebykin is unlikely to manage an AHL job of note.
The New Guys
Mac Hollowell is a really big question mark for me. He’s almost 20, which means he’s about a year away from the age where most prospects, barring some unusual extenuating circumstances, show what they are. Or at least, strongly hint at it. Players improve from 21 to 22 and so on, but not with the same shocking and revelatory changes that a teenager goes through.
Filip Kral is an interesting player, who, if he plays pro hockey somewhere this season instead of junior hockey, might be someone we understand a lot better next year.
Zackary Bouthillier — well, goalies, what can you do? There’s scouting reports, most of them from people who will tell you your guy lunges around making saves like that’s a good thing, or will tell you he’s poised while you’re meant to think that means something. Looking at junior hockey save percentages always makes me long for a fortune cookie to tell me what to think. That way, you at least get a cookie for your trouble.
We don’t claim great understanding of these players, but so far, there’s no real indication they will blossom into future stars.
As for last year’s unranked who are making a second appearance, the Leafs seem to really disagree with us about Jesper Lindgren. They gave him a contract, and beyond the obvious fact that he’s a right-shooting defender, he has a game that works at the European pro level in the offensive zone, but it’s so deeply one-sided that it’s not enough right now. All I’m saying is that Stephane Robidas would need to be a miracle worker there, and yet, maybe he is. He played very nearly 1,000 NHL games, and he was a very good player in his time. Just not his time on the Leafs.
The other man on an NHL deal is Frederik Gauthier, of course, and he has proven to be an accomplished bottom six AHL centre. And it’s not like there’s a queue for his job. But it’s also not like he can claim to have given Chris Mueller any pause last season about the security of his own job as the Marlies 2C. So again this year, we don’t think Gauthier has a future in the NHL, and no one even thinks he’s better than the rest of the faint hope players at the bottom of the list.
He is 24 years old this spring, and that’s the fish or cut bait age for most players. There’s a reason why 24 and 25 are the ages at which North American players start showing up on European teams, and it isn’t just that they’re old enough to cope with a different culture. But because Gauthier is very good at what he does in the AHL, and the list of replacements is non-existent, he got a new NHL contract of exactly the sort a career AHLer gets.
JD Greenway has had some personal and on-ice setbacks, and he’s got a big hill to climb to get back to where we thought he was last year when we still didn’t rank him.
Martins Dzierkals had a good but not great year playing in the ECHL, and I will be very surprised if he hangs around North America for the remaining year the Leafs hold his rights. I half expected him to go to the KHL last year, and I’m surprised it hasn’t happened already this summer. We might be all wrong about him, and the Leafs may offer him an NHL deal and play him in the AHL, but it doesn’t seem like that’s the case right now.
That leaves us with the two Ryans — two mysterious players from last year’s draft we don’t know much about. They seem like players who haven’t shown their draft position was anything but correct so far, but they’re both only 19, so who knows?
If I were to bet on who we are most likely wrong about, I’d pick Jesper Lindgren. Who do you think is the most likely player to outperform this lack of ranking in years to come?
Who will surprise us?