Every year we rank the top Maple Leaf prospects under the age of 25. At 9:00 AM Monday we kick-off the 2016 list, but let's first take a look at how we did last year.
The tables below include a column for the players as ranked by the PPP commenters in our posts, the average PPP writers rank (the Hive Mind), and my own personal ranking. Last year we used the Ranker.com site to allow our commenters to vote in parallel with our Top 25. Your options for the Top 10 included our selection, plus your top 5 choices carried over from the previous round. We will do this again this year.
||PPP Writers||Species 1967|
|1||Morgan Rielly||William Nylander|
|2||William Nylander||William Nylander||Morgan Rielly|
|4||Nazem Kadri||Nazem Kadri||Mitch Marner|
|5||Mitch Marner||Jake Gardiner|
|6||Jake Gardiner||Kasperi Kapanen|
|7||Kasperi Kapanen||Peter Holland|
|8||Connor Brown||Richard Panik|
|9||Peter Holland||Richard Panik||Connor Brown|
|10||Martin Marinčin||Brendan Leipsic|
Last year's top 5 all received a rank of 1, 2, 3, or 4 by at least one of the PPP staff. That's a really large variance of views about the top talent on the team, especially in comparison to this year where there is an unsurprising consensus about who is number one.
Graduating from last year's list by turning 25 are Jake Gardiner, Nazem Kadri, and Peter Holland. All three had already cemented themselves as legitimate NHL players.
Richard Panik was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks in January for Jeremy Morin. Morin was subsequently traded with James Reimer to the San Jose Sharks. Suffice it to say we all ranked Panik too high. It's a good reminder of the need to challenge yourself on recency bias.
For many of the players continuing on to this year's ranking, 2015-16 was an eventful season.
Nylander started the season with the Marlies, tearing up the AHL and moving to the top of it's leading scorer list. In December he left to play for the Tre Kronor in the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship. Unfortunately, he sustained a serious head injury in the preliminary round, knocking him out of the tournament. Then he was hit with a sudden case of appendicitis. Nylander still made it up to play with the Leafs, scoring 6 goals in 22 games, notably in a season where the Leafs finished in last place in the league. Not bad! I stick with my choice to rank him first. I completely disagree with those who ranked him below Morgan Rielly.
Nylander's first NHL goal was against Ottawa. If you had any doubts that the kid isn't a keeper, just look at this shot.
There is no better word to describe Mitch Marner's last season in the OHL than domination. He destroyed the league. He set records all over. He was even named CHL player of the year.
With the benefit of hindsight I would have ranked him at least one position higher, where the community had him. It is a shocker to me looking back now and seeing the PPP Hive Mind had him two spots below Jake Gardiner.
By now you are all aware of Marner's peculiar situation. Because of an obscure agreement between the NHL and CHL, Marner will not be allowed to play for the Marlies this coming season. He either makes the Leafs, perhaps with some press-box time, or he returns to London and plays another season of junior hockey.
I'll let Scott Wheeler handle this one.
Mitch. Marner. Is. Done. With. Junior. Hockey.— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) May 24, 2016
Kapanen is the player everyone seems to think is older than he actually is. Perhaps it's because of how the Maple Leafs acquired him last year; in the infamous Phil Kessel trade. Since he wasn't drafted by the Leafs, and had no history with the Marlies, a lot of fans seemed to forget he was still a teenager; he turned 20 years old about two weeks ago. Kapanen has a few years of development ahead before we actually see the best of what he can do on the ice.
Many suggested Kapanen will be forever linked to the Kessel trade, but I have found fans have quickly forgotten that particular link. Indeed, Kapanen has already made himself far better known for something much more important: the golden goal at the 2015 World Junior Championship.
I'm happy with where I ranked Kapanen last season. For this season's rankings he was one of the toughest players to place. He's not top 5, but he is really good, and he hasn't yet reached his possible upside.
You'll see where he wound up in about three weeks!
Andreas Johnson played with Frolunda in the SHL through to their league championship in 2016. After that accomplishment Johnson was invited to North America to play with the Marlies in their AHL Calder Cup run. In only his second game with the team Johnson was hit with a disgusting check to his head by Dan Kelly from the Albany . Johnson did not return for the rest of the Marlies playoff run, which ended with a loss in the Conference final.
He was still difficult to rank. I actually make a point to watch a few SHL games each year for the chance to see some Leafs prospects. I did catch Johnson a few times, but probably not enough to draw any legitimate conclusions beyond he was among the best players on his particular SHL team. I ranked him at 14, behind Jeremy Bracco, Stuart Percy, and of course, Richard Panik. That was probably a bad ranking, but there's still the issue that we haven't seen him play here yet. I did move him up a few spots this year, and so did the Hive Mind, but some new players on the scene pushed him back down.
You'll find out more later this month!
Brown, a sixth round pick in 2012, had a breakout season. This year with the Marlies he picked up 29 points in 34 regular season games, and a crucial seven goals in 15 playoff games. He also played with the Maple Leafs for seven games, scoring his first NHL goal on a power play which tied up a game vs. the Ducks at 5-5, allowing the Leafs eventually to win in overtime.
Brown has proved he deserves a shot with the big club in 2016-17, but will he get it? There's a lot of traffic he has to navigate through, and he is still exempt from waivers.
I think the community ranked him fairly well and my rank was a bit too low.
So how did we do?
Have your say in the poll below and feel free to blast us in the comments for ranking someone too high or too low.