When ranking players, you take a lot of time trying to find out who goes behind Auston Matthews. Is Mitchell Marner better than William Nylander? Can you really separate them? As you go down the list you tend to think a bit more with your heart, and turn to players you favour more than anything else. For me it’s the Ohio State Buckeyes centre Dakota Joshua.

A player I’ve had interest in since he was drafted, and following along each NCAA season, to see his production more than double in his sophomore year, but fall by 30% in his junior. He’s heading into his senior year with the challenge of upping his game to out perform his second season in college and impress enough scouts to either get a contract offer from the Toronto Maple Leafs or another NHL team if he becomes a free agent next August.

With a few years in the minors to adjust his game, Joshua could become a solid two-way centre in the professional ranks, having the skills to adapt his game to any situation. Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik had this to say about him in March:

Joshua, in particular, anchored the unit. A big 6-foot-3 junior center and draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs, he has the size and mobility to matchup with someone like Borgstrom.

”Obviously Borgstrom, his body of work speaks for itself, but Dakota is underrated,” Rohlik said. “He can play the game any way you want. He’s got great stick, great size and he competes, and you saw what he did in the defensive end tonight. He was all in. I said, ‘I need you here,’ and he was like, ‘Whatever you need.’ Even tonight, they were trying to get away from the matchup, and we kept matching back up and he was ready for the challenge.”

It is a challenge to find successful professional players who scored as Joshua did in their junior season:

Bobby Farnham, Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils
Farnham scored just 15 points in his junior year, but would make the NHL after two years in the minors, playing 64 games with the Penguins and Devils.

Alex Killorn, Tampa Bay Lightning
Killorn scored 29 points in his junior year, and stayed all four years at Harvard. He’s been a presence for the Lightning for the past six seasons, and is regularly scoring over 25 points a season.

Matt Frattin, Toronto Maple Leafs, Los Angeles Kings, Columbus Blue Jackets
Frattin only scored 19 points in his junior year before exploding to 60 points in his senior year. After four seasons of splitting time with the NHL/AHL he’s playing in Europe, but that wouldn’t be a bad return on a 5th round pick.

Of course it’s easy to find good comparisons when you cherry pick. All three of these players are exceptions to the rule, as the majority of players who go through four years of college never become regulars in the NHL. The top NCAA players rarely play past their sophomore season.

Every scouting reports focuses on one aspect of Joshua: His size. Just over six feet tall and approaching 200lbs, he’s cnstantly praised for the role his sized plays on the ice.

From The Athletic:

Why the Leafs like him:

He’s an athletic, big body that’s very difficult to defend against. Joshua would be one of the taller Leafs forwards if he were to crack the roster today.

“They said they like my style of play, being a bigger guy,” Joshua said of his conversations with the Leafs. “There’s always room, obviously, for big guys in the NHL with my skill set.”

From The Faceoff Circle:

Joshua has some of those power forward-like tendencies as well, as not afraid to use his body to crash to the net, absorb a hit, or throw his own. As you can see in the video above, he’s not afraid to mix it up either; one of his missed games this year was a suspension for an end-of-game line brawl that he participated in.

It’s not quite the driving force in his game, though; more like a complementary element. Realistically, he plays like more of a two-way forward that is comfortable with supporting in board battles and holding his fort in front of the net, should he choose to venture there.

Former Maple Leafs head of amateur scouting , Dave Morrison:

“He’s another swing at the fence for us. A real potential guy. He’s very raw in a lot of different ways. He’s tall, he’s a very athletic kid, and we saw some flashes of some real good skill toward the end of the year with that team. His coaches couldn’t say enough good things about him. He’s very diligent in his two-way game and he appears to have some offensive potential, so we’re really excited.”

Long shot potential: Third line power forward for the Maple Leafs, playing against top line sin defensive situations.

Realistic yet positive outlook: After his senior year of college, he’ll spend majority of the time spent with the Marlies if he chooses to continue playing.

Most likely outcome: Unsigned to an NHL deal next year, signs an AHL contract with the Marlies as a try out. Spends some time in Newfoundland.

So, why did I give him my 25th pick over high end goalie prospect Joseph Woll, Frederik Gauthier with his NHL games played, or Andrew Nielsen who loves taking penalties?

I don’t know aside from I want him to succeed. I’ve really felt like I’ve talked myself out of my vote researching this. We all have those prospects we want to see make the team in spite of the evidence, and Dakota’s my guy, for better or worse.