When the Toronto Maple Leafs lured Mark Hunter -
financier architect of the London Knights - to the NHL and named him Director of Player Personnel, he was given control of the Leafs scouting network and ultimately, their draft table.
This proved a promising development for the Leafs, as they sorely needed a change from the regime under Dave Morrison (now reassigned to Pro Scouting) and because while far from perfect, Hunter's penchant for drafting for skill in the OHL (
and paying for the rest) was as good an indication as any that the Leafs would not shy away from taking skill players.
In this countdown, we've already examined two of those picks; Travis Dermott, a talented defenceman taken in the 2nd round and Dmytro Timashov, an electric winger inexplicably available in the 5th. At the end of the 2nd round, the Leafs opted to select an immensely gifted scorer from the US National Team Development Program, tabbing forward Jeremy Bracco with the 61st overall pick. Bracco's offensive potential lands him at #14 on our list in his debut.
While not exactly big (listed at 5'10" and 165 lbs on EliteProspects webpage), Bracco is elusive and exceptionally dangerous with the puck on his stick, either through his accurate shot or his ability to bring others into the play. While consensus 2016 1st overall pick Auston Matthews garnered headlines for setting a USNTDP record for most points in a season, Bracco (3rd in team scoring) also managed to break Patrick Kane's record for most assists in a season.
As we touched on in the post-draft podcast, Bracco's team schedule runs across various level of competition, including the USHL and NAHL, NCAA teams and international tournaments. Bracco registered 32 points in 24 games in the USHL and capped his season with 13 points in 7 games for the United States in the IIHF Under-18 World Championships.
We talked with Jeff Cox of SBNCollegeHockey about what Leaf fans can look forward to with Bracco.
PPP: Given the unique schedule the USNDTP plays, it's sometimes hard to put into context their results. So just how good was Bracco's past season?
JC: When looking at Bracco's stats with the USNTDP, it's imperative to remember his teams were playing some of the elite teams in the USHL as well as some college programs. His assist numbers broke records held by some guys who had terrific college careers. His numbers were fabulous, but having seen him play, his ability to make plays happen and find the score sheet was simply brilliant.
PPP: There's rumours flying that Bracco will be de-committing from Boston College to play in the CHL for the Kitchener Rangers. If you were advising Bracco, which path would you recommend?
JC: Bracco did reaffirm his commitment to BC back on July 24, but until he actually sets foot on campus and plays a game for the Eagles, there will be rumors. His family has a college hockey background, with uncle and father having played at Dartmouth and St. Lawrence. The Kitchener (OHL) whispers have always followed him so it's hard to think there isn't a little to it.
PPP: Assuming Bracco attends BC, what sort of role would he play as an 18 year-old freshman?
JC: Bracco's style of play fits in well at BC. Jerry York has always had a spot for undersized, skilled forwards. While his speed isn't high end, his hands and play-making abilities are second to none among NCAA freshmen. He will likely find himself on the ice for power play and top six minutes. BC returns some solid players, but very few outside of Alex Tuch who would keep Bracco off the ice - in terms of power play and top six scoring minutes.
Bracco's potential shone through in his rankings, with a number of voters being swayed by his potential to immediately move him into the top half of the countdown (or higher, as two top 10 votes show), while others may be exercising a bit more caution when looking at a player who is a ways from factoring into the Maple Leafs plans.
As it stands right now, it looks as if Bracco is intent on heading to Boston College. Without passing judgment on the relative merits of the OHL (or other CHL leagues for that matter) vs. the American system, the fact is that Bracco's already proved his merits at the junior hockey level and in an environment designed to produce future success.
Graduating to one of the best hockey factories in the United States, Bracco will get a significant chance to test himself and grow his game, playing in an ultra-competitive Hockey East conference, playing for one of the best coaches the United States has to offer, and almost certainly being given a chance to shine at the World Junior Championships. That's not to say that he wouldn't succeed going to the OHL to play for the Kitchener Rangers, but the questions about Bracco's future will revolve around his ability to succeed against bigger and more physically mature competition, a question he won't be able to answer in Kitchener.
The other factor that bears consideration is that the new Maple Leafs development plan will likely call for minor league seasoning for all but the bluest of blue-chip prospects. For Bracco, staying the college route opens up possibilities of playing in the AHL at age 19, something he wouldn't be able to do if he were to leave for the Canadian Hockey League. The merits of that progression could be debated (Jerry D'Amigo being a good counter-example), but Bracco and the Leafs can revisit that particular decision in a year's time.
Read more PPP coverage of Jeremy Bracco from after the draft.