With the Leafs taking a few days off, we thought now might be a good time to check in on our recurring feature: the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Top 25 Under 25.
If you haven’t seen it before: each summer, voters from our masthead rank the top 25 players in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization who were younger than 25 years old as of July 1st. These can be players in the NHL, in the AHL, in European pro leagues, or in junior, who are signed to contracts with the Toronto Maple Leafs or are unsigned draft choices to whom the Leafs have rights. Basically, it’s an attempt to put the whole youth of the organization in one place where fans can get to know them.
Our final list from last summer is here, including the ballot for each individual voter. Stare in awe at our wisdom and/or laugh at our errors.
So where are we now?
Who’s risen up the rankings the most for you?
Fulemin: Rasmus Sandin, like a rocket. I don’t really regret ranking him where I did (16th) just because that’s always my attitude with new draft picks who aren’t obvious superstars. But Sandin has delivered on everything expected from him and more as a heady, dependable defenceman at the AHL level at the tender age of 18. He’s possibly the top prospect in the organization, and about the only regret for him right now is that he shoots left.
Arvind: Since Fulemin has mentioned Sandin, I’ll take the next easiest riser and choose Trevor Moore (15th). He’s had a strong AHL campaign, building off the momentum from last year’s Calder Cup run, and looked like an NHLer in his short callup this season. There’s an argument to be made that he should be on the Leafs playoff roster this season, and it seems almost certain that he’ll be on the big club in a fourth line role next year, with the chance to play his way higher than that depending on what happens in the offseason.
Hardev: I’ve really liked the play of Carl Grundstrom this season in the AHL. When he first came into the league last year, it was pretty clear someone just told him to skate in straight lines and don’t do anything stupid. This year, he looks a lot more polished. His shot, for one, has been a huge surprise. It genuinely terrifies me when he rips it from the faceoff circle. He’s not NHL-ready yet, but there might be more upside to his game than what I previously thought.
seldo: Ian Scott has shot right up for me. He’s really made me feel silly for leaving him off my list. One of the est junior hockey goalies this season, he's kept the Prince Albert Raiders the top team in the entire CHL for four months. It's amazing. AND he scored a goal.
Katya: Sandin is the obvious answer, but I’ll make no apologies for my ranking. The most knowledgeable person here for prospects, Kevin, had him ninth. I would instead say Kasperi Kapanen is who I had too low. I only had him seventh, and if you asked me now, I’d have him ahead of Travis Dermott, Timothy Liljegren and I’d have to consider long and hard about Sandin, but I’d have Kapanen ahead there too, I think.
Kevin: Ian Scott is in the midst of a great year, and he’s now a prospect who would be tough to part with in a trade. Trevor Moore is the runner up for me, as he picked up right where he left off last year, and it looks like he could be more than just a fourth line player. Sandin and Kapanen have been fantastic, and Calle Rosen, Pierre Engvall, and Mac Hollowell deserve recognition as well.
Brigstew: Everyone else has already said the guys I would have (Sandin, Kapanen) that I think are the most likely to have a real impact on the Leafs’ NHL future. But there’s one guy I want to give a special shout out to: Pontus Holmberg. He got no rankings after being drafted in the 6th round probably mostly due to ignorance than anything else, but what we (read: Katya) has seen of him has encouraged me enough that I would find room for him in the top 25 if I were to re-do my rankings now. He plays center, he plays it responsibly and well even if he doesn’t have a lot of flash. I think he could play on the Marlies now and already be one of their better centers. I hope we get a taste of him late in the year this season.
Species: Mason Marchment. I had him at 25, which at the time I thought was too low, but it was enough to place him in our overall ranking above Jordan Subban, whom I now think I overestimated. This doesn’t mean I think he’s a superstar-in-waiting, but ranking him at 25 was too low, especially considering I was talking him up for a long time even before the Calder Cup Playoffs last season.
Who’s fallen down the rankings the most for you?
Fulemin: Andreas Borgman (11th.) I kind of preferred Calle Rosen even at the time just because Rosen is a better skater, but Borgman seemed to have the eye of the organization on him. I expected him to either fight hard for a third-pair job again or really be at the high end in the AHL. But he’s not approaching any of Toronto’s eight defencemen, and Rosen has authoritatively taken the 1D job with the Marlies. That’s not to say Borgman has been bad, and it’s a little unfair given he’s been injured recently, but he’s 23, on the fringes, and getting passed by other players. Even when you’ve got the muscles of Atlas, that’s a tough situation.
Arvind: Eemeli Rasanen (19th) is in danger of falling off my list entirely due to a lost season thus far. He’s faced injury problems, but even before then, he wasn’t getting into the lineup of Jokerit in the KHL. This is perhaps not surprising... Rasanen is a 19 year old string bean, and was never likely to get minutes. However, the life of a prospect is such that you need to show progression just to maintain your relative rank, and a in year where you play less than 10 games by January, it’s very hard to show progression. After his injury, he’s back in the Mestis. We’ll see how he progresses there.
Hardev: It’s gotta be Adam Brooks for me. As the only center prospect in the North American pros right now, I was hopefully optimistic that Brooks would find a playmaking aspect to his game, but it’s simply not happened. He needs a play-driver like Moore or Michael Carcone on his wing at all times, which is discouraging to see in the AHL, where NHL-calibre prospects should be able to carry play themselves. Last year, I said Brooks plays a quiet, steady game. But as he gets older, those characteristics are turning into unimpressive and mediocre. It’s a shame because I genuinely like him as a person.
seldo: Connor Brown. I had him in my top 5 again, but at this rate I don’t know if he’d be in my top 10. He's a fine player but perhaps I expected too much? At first he was an integral part if the forwards corps but now hes being bumped down by Kapanen and Moore.
Katya: I ranked a couple of prospects higher than I thought was right, and that was me giving in a little to other opinions. I wish now I’d had the courage of my convictions and I’d have not ranked Adam Brooks at all and Connor Carrick would be near the bottom. But the one I was out and out wrong about — it seems now — was Andreas Borgman. He’s got half a year to improve the bad impression he’s made this year, but he needs to really shine to do it.
Kevin: William Nyl- just kidding, though a Nylander vs. Rielly debate could be fun right now. I was the lowest on Borgman, and I still probably had him too high on my list. I was low on both Brown and Brooks as well, but again, I still may have had them a little bit too high on my list.
Brigstew: A guy I was still holding out hopes for was Timashov, but he’s just getting passed by everyone who comes to the Marlies. What he’s good at he doesn’t do well enough, and he’s not good enough at other things to make up for it. Other guys I thought to mention are Borgman and maybe even Der-Arguchintsev.
Species: Dmytro Timashov. I ranked him at a respectable 15, still back of other wingers who have yet to make the league, but high enough to show I thought he had growth potential. The interesting part is he still looks like the same player he was last season where he took a step forward from the one before. He hasn’t gone backwards; he’s been passed by other talent in the organization. Even at 15th, my ranking still left him behind other wingers who had yet to make an appearance in the NHL at the time like Grundstrom.
Who are you most excited for going into next summer?
Fulemin: The real answer is my homeboy Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, but I’ve talked enough about him. So I’ll say Pierre Engvall, who I had 23rd. His production this year is unspectacular and he’s always been a faint hope, but he keeps showing glimmers that he could be something more and he’s outstripped expectations at other levels. Also he looks like a giraffe. The dude is seriously 50% neck.
Arvind: Mason Marchment (23rd) isn’t a terribly sexy name, but he has real skills and could be a guy we see a bit of as a 4th line player in the future. One thing that helps him is that he has a physical profile that is unique among Leafs prospects, and for the people who like to see a bit of physicality in the lower end of an NHL lineup while also being able to keep up with play, Marchment could be a guy you like.
Hardev: Pierre Engvall. Seriously. In the past calendar year, Engvall has shown the ability to be a very capable checker in the AHL with high-end offensive upside. He has a long, powerful stride that has helped him really excel as a forechecker in all three zones, including the offensive zone where he’s really been able to work hard down low to create chances for his team.
In the past few weeks, Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe has made an adjustment to his lineup, putting Engvall on the top line. He said in an interview that Engvall was always supposed to play a scoring role, but the depth for the roster always prohibited that. I’m really excited to see what Engvall can do in the second half of the year with some more ice time. He’s old enough and skilled enough that a good playoffs might be enough to give him a shot at a LW spot on the Leafs as soon as next season. That’s my bet.
seldo: Sean Durzi. I want to see him go far with Guelph, but I also want to see him at camp and with the Marlies next fall. He's a highly respected player in the OHL, and meets and exceeds what coaches are looking for when they want good in the room guys. Is there any way we can trade for Nick Suzuki, just to keep him with his lifelong hockey buddy?
Katya: I want to see the two goalies who never even made the list (Woll and Scott), and see if there’s really something there, but for the rest of this season, half of an eye is on Jeremy Bracco. I’m still not convinced he’s not just Brendan Leipsic all over again, but I’m really ready to be wrong on him.
Kevin: I’ll go with Timothy Liljegren. He’ll be 20, and I don’t think we’ve seen him put it all together yet. I’m excited to watch a more polished version of him, and see if he can provide some much needed help to the right-side of Toronto’s blueline. He’s a player who I want to watch closely.
Brigstew: For purely emotional reasons, Fedor Gordeev. He’s out of a bad situation in Flint, he’s on a good team in Guelph, and I hope we see him do well and get a shot on the Marlies. Sean Durzi or Ian Scott too as guys with more hype right now. It’s interesting how it seems like there is a potential for a lot of guys coming to the Marlies next year, which is good considering how many may wind up in the NHL filling a depth role (Rosen, Moore, Marchment, Engvall, Grundstrom) or cut from the organization (Timashov, Borgman, Subban), or maybe even as part of a trade at the deadline or in the off-season.
Species: Carl Grundstrom. Katya once said to me “he looks bored out there,” and I think she is correct. I want to see him get a bigger challenge this season. I think his personal development path needs it. Directionally, it’s like when the Leafs signed both Leo Komarov and Petri Kontiola: the reward is you find a third-liner an NHL team can use well situationally, like Komarov; the risk is you throw him to the wolves, gets eaten, and goes back to the SHL or KHL like Kontiola. In Grundstrom’s case, I see a higher chance he pans out and the possible reward is worth the risk of moving him up to the NHL.
Which prospect has had the biggest change in rankings for you?