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Comparing Steve Dangle’s Prospect Pyramid to PPP’s Top 25 Under 25

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There are only three types of players in this list: good players, players with upside, and hidden gems.

Friends Travis Dermott and Andrew Nielsen congratulate Adam Brooks on his first AHL goal.
Credit: Christian Bonin

For the past three seasons, Sportsnet’s NHL Insider Steve Dangle looks at the prospects the Toronto Maple Leafs have in their system and categorizes them into groups. It started as a response to the First Blog War that saw friends fight over where Leafs prospects should be ranked in article series that included PPP’s own Top 25 Under 25.

Coincidentally, ever since the Leafs’ upward swing into the top of the league, people haven’t been as angry about where Connor Carrick should be ranked relative to Andreas Borgman. People are still mad at us about Andrew Nielsen, though, but that’s a story for another time.

In this article, we will compare PPP’s T25U25 with Steve’s tiered model, and see how the two are in agreement and where they differ. Obviously, the T25U25 contains more than just the prospects in the system; it contains every player under the age of 25-years-old. This means players like Matthews, Morgan Rielly, William Nylander, Mitchell Marner, Carrick, and more were not placed in Dangle’s Prospect Pyramid.

You can read the full T25 list (along with each writer’s rankings) in the link below. Mine are a little out there, I must admit, but I stand by what I say!

Tier 1

  • No One

Tier 1 in the Prospect Pyramid was initially created when Auston Matthews was a prospect in the Leafs organization and any player being considered for that box will forever be compared to Matthews. He may still be younger than a lot of the prospects in the system, but he is very much not a prospect anymore. Chances are, the Leafs won’t have a player of his calibre playing outside the NHL for a very long time, and until then, this tier will be left blank. In other news, look at how thicc Auston has gotten!

Tier 2

  • Timothy Liljegren

Nylander, Marner, Rielly, Dermott, and Kapanen would all be in this tier along with Liljegren, but they have all graduated from being a prospect in Steve Dangle’s eyes. There is a debate about whether or not to include Dermott and Kapanen as prospects. Judging my Mike Babcock’s most recent quotes, neither are guaranteed a spot.

Kapanen is 22-years-old and played 45 games last year (including playoffs). Dermott doesn’t have as many total games under his belt, but he played 44 games for the Leafs, only one less than Kapanen. Both are on the verge of losing prospect status, but if there is a shock at training camp and one finds themselves in the AHL, they might have to be re-added to this list.

Liljegren has the most upside among anyone in the Leafs organization who isn’t already in the show. SDA and Bracco truthers come at me. Corey Pronman of The Athletic rates Liljegren as the 32nd prospect in the NHL, and under the tier of a “Very Good Prospect” who “Projects as a top-six forward/top-four defenseman/starting goaltender.”

Liljegren will play a big role on the Marlies next year, and hopefully after that, see some time on the Maple Leafs sometime in 2020. He is very young, but the upside is there.

Tier 3

  • Andreas Johnsson
  • Rasmus Sandin
  • Sean Durzi
  • Jeremy Bracco
  • Semyon Der-Arguchintsev
  • Carl Grundstrom
  • Borgman

This tier feels like a list of the same kinds of players at different stages in development; lots of promise, but also lots of room to grow. But Johnsson stands out at the top.

Johnsson will be on the opening night roster. The Marlies best forward from the start of the regular season until the moment Ben Smith hoisted the Calder Cup, Johnsson has the speed, tenacity, and offensive upside needed to crack Mike Babcock’s roster.

Bracco and SDA could be clones of one another in terms of the pros and cons to their game. Both have great vision and offensive awareness, but lack the defensive prowess needed to really dominate at the pros. Also it would be good if one of them could hit puberty anytime soon.

For now, PPP ranked Bracco and SDA fairly low (17th and 20th). Bracco is a little older (21-years-old) and hasn’t shown an all-around game at the pros yet, which hurt his stock compared to guys like Trevor Moore and Grundstrom. PPP made the T25 before SDA’s rise to fame, so I think this placement has a lot to do with early hype. He’s great offensively, but there’s a lot he needs to show before he can really be in the same tier as Johnsson and Sandin.

Durzi is a mid-second round pick from this past draft, so most fans don’t really know what they have in him. In my rankings I was pretty bullish on Durzi (and Trevor Moore, but that’s a conversation for Tier 4) because I saw a lot of Dermott in him. Both defensemen were touted as being smart, skilled players, but with a slight deficiency in terms of foot speed and general physical development.

The Marlies development staff is frankly mind blowing in terms of their ability to take relatively mediocre athletes with great secondary abilities and turn them into prime athletes. Not only Dermott, but Zach Hyman, Connor Brown, T. Moore, Mason Marchment, Frederik Gauthier and Martin Marincin have all shown significant improvement in their speed, strength, and ability to handle the puck at speed. Not all will turn into NHLers, but Durzi is young enough and smart enough to have it translate.

Grundstrom and Borgman are another two players who are close to the NHL, but not quite there. The forward and defenseman are both as strong as a Roman Polak, and contain within them the raw ability to turn into real difference makers.

At this point in their development, Borgman is going to need some time in the AHL to better develop the defensive side of the game, as well as learn penalty killing. Grundstrom is going to need to find a defensive aspect to his game; he looks pretty useless on the ice in the defensive zone in the AHL playoffs.

For a first-round pick, no one really bothers to talk about Sandin at all. I think, for the most part, fans and analysts are resigned to the fact that Sandin is going to spend some time in the OHL for the Soo Greyhounds or play for Rogle on loan. There’s no need to rush him or ask anything more than to have a good, healthy, competitive season wherever he goes. I think we’ll have a lot more to say about him next Fall.

Personally, I would’ve split this tier into two. One with Johnsson, Sandin, Grundstrom, and Borgman, and another with Bracco, SDA, Durzi, and Yegor Korshkov, who comes up from the tier below.

Tier 4

  • Yegor Korshkov
  • Adam Brooks
  • T. Moore
  • Pierre Engvall
  • Calle Rosen
  • Dmytro Timashov
  • Eemeli Rasanen

Tier 4 is like Tier 3, but with players that don’t have the same kind of upside and are a little further away (literally and figuratively). They were also all in the 14-22 range on the T25, where there was a lot of variance between voters who value upside more or less than NHL readiness.

Katya still insists that Korshkov going to come to North America and kick names and take ass. I am inclined to believe her, but the only thing holding me back is the fact that we haven’t had a chance to see him at all. Same with Rasanen, who has flown the coop and has landed in Finland. Rasanen wasn’t your typical Mark Hunter big defenseman taken in the draft because, for one, he can actually put up points. Hopefully he can get some games in and come back a little older and a little better.

Rosen is in the same boat as Borgman, but I believe the main reason for him being in the lower tier is age. Rosen is entering his second year in Canada at the ripe old age of 24. He improved all season and by the time the playoffs rolled in, Rosen was looking pretty impressive in his second-pairing role. I, along with some in the PPP masthead, have a small worry that Rosen will fly back to the other side of the Atlantic if he feels like the NHL isn’t going to ever happen for him. I can’t really blame him for thinking that way, he had a pretty good gig in Vaxjo.

The jury is split on their judgement of Timashov. One side sees his production at the AHL level and is set in thinking that he’s going to be something. On the other hand, when I watch Timashov play, I just don’t see a player that will ever be too good for the AHL. He’s a good scorer, is effective on the second line with the Marlies, and he has the ability to beat defenders with his speed. When I look at skills needed to make the NHL, Timashov doesn’t really have the upside to play on a team’s top six or top nine, and he isn’t strong enough defensively for a coach to trust him in the bottom six. I feel like with his skillset, he’s going to be stuck in the AHL. Time’s starting to run out on Timashov, who will be 22 in October.

This will be Brooks’ first full season as a center in the AHL; he was on Chris Mueller’s wing for a portion of last season and transitioned to the middle after the second half. Brooks has always been described as a late-bloomer, and at 22-years-old, he will be starting only his second year in the pros following five in the WHL. For Brooks, there is still a lot of teaching that needs to go on in his game, ie. in terms of defensive awareness, positioning, and work in the dirty areas of the ice. He’s added muscle over the summer and is working hard to transition into more of a responsible, checking center than a speedy, offensive one. This will be the year where a lot of questions get answered with him.

Tier 5

  • Marchment
  • Jesper Lindgren
  • Nielsen
  • Jordan Subban
  • Fedor Gordeev
  • Freddy the Goat
  • Riley Stotts
  • Mac Hollowell
  • Filip Kral
  • Pontus Holmberg

Okay, let’s speed things up a bit. To put it into a word, these guys are all projects. They might have the same kind of upside as players in Tier 4, but a lot more has to go right for them to make it. That may seem harsh for the newly minted prospects at the bottom of the list, but that’s life for a late-round pick (but I will say Stotts and Hollowell could be a tier higher). In the T25, these players got one or two votes, but for the most part, were left off the majority of ballots.

Marchment has been the poster boy for the Marlies’ player development program. He’s grown a lot but there’s still a lot of ground to cover before he knocks on the NHL’s door.

The same goes for Freddy the Goat 2.0. There was a time where he was almost cut from the Leafs organization altogether, but he’s found himself a great niche as the Marlies’ shutdown center. It’s a good job for him, he does it well, don’t expect anything more.

PK’s little brother Jordan is a long shot at this point to be anything, but he’s a project with great skills that Dubas believes is worth spending time on. Welcome aboard!

People aren’t happy with Nielsen at the moment. He takes lots of dumb penalties, he can’t pivot at his own blueline, and he hasn’t shown skill beyond a good point shot to warrant a role any bigger than 3LD/4LD on a AHL team. Steve says there is still time for him — his contract has two seasons left on it — but patience is wearing thin.

I think the Leafs were hoping Lindgren would stay in Canada following his arrival last spring, but lack of opportunity and an underwhelming performance in four AHL games for the 21-year-old saw him head back to HPK. He’s right-handed so we still hold out hope!

Gordeev isn’t eactly a Rasanen-type player, but he’s also not a Keaton Middleton. He put up decent points in the OHL for a bad Flint Firebirds team, and will spend his 20-year-old season with the same club. There’s not much upside to the fifth-round pick’s play, but he’s big and can skate, so hopefully there’s a good third-pair NHL defenseman in him.

Stotts and Hollowell should probably be in a higher tier than in the last before the field. Both put up good numbers in the CHL, and both have shown to be smart players with all the skills, minus the physical attributes. Whether they actually grow into better players is the question. Stotts is also a center, so we better hope he turns out. I recommend reading “The case for Riley Stotts” that Brigstew put together. If you want to learn about a brand new player to the organization, this is a good first step.

The Field

The disrespect for Vladimir Bobylev here is simply unacceptable.

And there you have it. The Steve Dangle Prospect Pyramid has been examined, and honestly, it was pretty close to the Top 25 Under 25 in terms of general groupings of players based on votes. I hope you liked reading this, and hope it was worth your time. There’s a good mix of talented prospects, potential cheap NHLers, and great names in this organization and it’ll be interesting to see where everyone ends up in the end. I’m glad the Leafs are good so we don’t have to argue the merits of the Pyramid versus the Rankings.

But while we’re here:

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