I put Riley Stotts at the end of my Toronto Maple Leafs Top 25 Under 25 ballot, right with a collection of other teenagers that are a step away from the AHL. The case I’m going to make for Stotts revolves around the flaw in the Top 25 Under 25 (yes, we know about that) and why just a little patience can really turn around a player’s perception among the community.
The Case Against Stotts
He’s not sexy.
Not in a personal sense, but as a prospect. He’s all the way off in Calgary (ew), playing in junior hockey but not as the superstar that’s near the top of all the scoring charts. He’s a year and a bit removed from being drafted, so he can’t be the new hotness. Furthermore, we as the community just don’t see news and videos of him on social media enough to make him a household name. He’s not in our repertoire of names we use on Twitter on even a semi-regular basis. I feel like that could change if the CHL’s video streaming services got their acts together. It’s just so hard to see these guys if they’re not on the national networks.
This is the flaw in the T25U25, it revolves around perception more than anything. The Leafs are a team that is covered massively and everyone online needs to share an opinion. As a result, everyone on the big team gets covered far more than they normally would in other markets (sorry for the humble brag). Same goes for the Toronto Marlies. PPP and a few other websites cover the Marlies on a full-time basis, providing GIFs, analysis, and up-to-the-minute news on transactions and injuries.
Those players are in our minds more so they tend to be very high in the rankings. For example, the first time a non-NHLer or AHLer shows up on my ranking is at 18, and I only have four in total. The reasoning, I suppose, we all use as a result of this bias is noting NHL closeness and who’s most likely to help the Leafs. But if we’re being honest, a player like Nick Robertson is far more likely to help the Leafs than a player like Dmytro Timashov, it just doesn’t seem so because the OHL seems so far away in the development timeline relative to the AHL.
And that brings us back to Stotts.
The Case For Stotts
Currently, no one is talking about putting Stotts on the third line of the Marlies and hoping to see positive steps in his development as he moves up the lineup. He’s still in the WHL for another season. That process will begin next season and I believe that we will see a significant rise in his stock as we start to understand where he lines up in the Leafs triad of pro teams.
Let us not forget that Stotts is a third-round pick that went 83rd overall, higher than Mikko Kokkonen who is in the T25U25, and one round ahead of former Soo defenseman Mac Hollowell. Hollowell did not get a vote last year, but was on all but one ballot this summer. That’s a big jump for a player who has only played nine pro games in his life, and yet it’s also a completely attainable result for Stotts.
Sure, both players I mentioned were defensemen, but Stotts is a 6’0” centre who put up a near-point-per-game pace on the second line of a middle of the pack junior team without power play time (Stotts was 97th in primary power play points with 10, while the centreman playing above him was 5th and had 28). If you rank WHLers by even-strength primary points (via Pick224.com), Stotts ranks 35th with 35. For a 22-team league, that’s solidly in the middle of a first-line rate. Among players in his draft class from the WHL, Stotts was third in EV primary points (also third in the rate stat).
If you compare Stotts’ season with the year before, it shows a player who improved significantly in his even-strength scoring. He went from 26 in 69 games with Swift Current and Calgary in his draft year as a middle-six player to 43 in 62 games. It’s expected that Stotts will take the reigns of first-line centre on the Hitmen in his age-20 season. That means better linemates, more minutes, and power play time.
The 2018 Case
I’m going to reference Brigstew’s “Case For” article for Stotts from last season because he spoke with a beat reporter that covered Stotts throughout his draft year. That, I feel, is a lot better than my guesswork.
In the article, Tyler Lowey references Stotts as a player who sees the ice well, which has almost become a staple among Kyle Dubas draft picks. I encourage you all to read the whole article again because the two of them really get into the nitty-gritty of Stotts’ game and why he can be so effective.
For a player that gets described more like a checking forward more than a top-line talent, seeing what Stotts’ ceiling is on offense should be a really good indicator for his potential when he plays in the pros. Currently, he’s been played as a faceoff guy who kills penaltiesand has a flash of scoring talent. Those don’t always display well on boxscores despite them being big pluses to a player’s toolbox.
The old adage with Sidney Crosby is that he carries the work ethic of a third liner but the skills of the best player in the world. I feel like my philosophy towards forwards, and especially centres, has grown from that mindset. Work hard and show that you can be in all the spots you need to be and offensive talent will move you up the lineup as far as you can go.
I think some people are fairly confident in his two-way play, which is something he’s had to focus on while not being the go-to guy on offense. Again, a full season where we can see Stotts’ offense on full display (if all things go well) should be a great springboard to propel him into the AHL by spring.
In conclusion, the case for Riley Stotts isn’t anything he’s done yet, but that his development curve is about to hit a spike where it jumps dramatically. He’s going to have the flash of being in a great position to put up points, show up to Coca-Cola Coliseum as the freshest influx of talent, at a position that is a premium in this league (don’t tell Mitch), and with all the hope that comes with not knowing just how good he’s going to be in the league.
Whether or not he meets all those expectations, he’s going to end the season with a lot more stock than he has right now.