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Winter T25U25: Gone but not forgotten

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Not after you read this list, at least.

NHL: SEP 10 Rookie Tournament - Maple Leafs v Senators

Today, as we gear up slowly for our second Top 25 Under 25 vote, it’s a chance to pay homage to the names gone off this list. We used to love them, but now they’re on another team, and if history is anything to go by, we’ll forget they existed until they show up when they’re 35 for one season on the bottom six.

Max Veronneau

One of the oldest players on our summer list, he turns 25 in about a month. He’s also gone, technically, but he’s one of many NHL-contracted AHL players of some ability without a contract in this weird offseason. As many teams take their time assembling an AHL roster, he’s yet to settle on a deal for next season. There are a lot of players above his level who moved to Europe and are doing very well, so when they return, and the AHL has a date to start, there will be a rush for players to sign deals. It’s fairly likely Veronneau will sign an AHL deal, or perhaps a two-way NHL deal.

He played only three games for the Marlies before the season was cancelled and after he was swapped for ECHLer Aaron Luchuk. His AHL career prior was spent in his home town organization, the Ottawa Senators, where he also has 16 NHL games played. He did four years in Princeton before turning pro as an undrafted free agent, and his college hockey and half of one AHL season look good enough to find someone giving him another shot. Maybe the Marlies.

Jesper Lindgren

Unranked in 2019, this 2015 Maple Leafs draft pick (95th) overall, was surprisingly ranked in our summer list in spot 24. A combination of a year on the Marlies giving him name recognition and the passion for defenceman may be the explanation.

Lindgren, from the north of Sweden, grew up in the same organizations as Carl Grundstrom. They both played for MODO in the SHL in the last year before that team was relegated to Allsvenskan. The next year, Grundstrom moved to Frölunda in the SHL, and Lindgren stayed behind in the lower-level league. That was a big clue to his relative place in the pantheon of Leafs prospects.

Lindgren, looking for more opportunity to play higher in the lineup and to get some power play time, moved to Finland to play for Liiga team HPK. After one bad year and one good year there, he came to the Marlies. He was a top-pairing defenceman in his final season in Finland, and his team won the Championship, again a clue about the relative strength, this time of leagues. The Liiga is not the SHL.

With one half season on the Marlies, shortened by the pandemic and his injuries, he played in the bottom four most of the time, and wasn’t in the same dimension as Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren. At 23 years old, he was very much a surplus prospect, and he was traded to Pittsburgh in a multi-player deal for no clear reason other than the Penguins may think he was hitting a logjam on the Marlies and may have hidden depths to his game.

With no AHL so far, he’s gone back to MODO in the Allsvenskan — it’s impossible to get a short term SHL loan unless the player’s rights are held by the team, so nothing should be read into that choice. He’s adding points (all assists) at about double the rate he did on the Marlies, which seems very plausible, and little different from his numbers of four years ago there.

Jeremy Bracco

One of the most divisive players ever on the T25 lists, Bracco (61st overall in 2015) tumbled down to 21st on the summer list this year. Arguments about Bracco are a classic case of points that are all assists vs more robust analysis of player value. He’s also a demonstration of the belief that every second round pick (by the Leafs) should be an NHLer of high value. See also: Grundstrom, Carl. The reality is the outcome for both Grundstrom and Bracco, which is still to be fully realized, is normal and expected for a player taken where they were selected. Just because a player is short, doesn’t mean they’re a star.

Because the pick used to select Bracco was acquired by Kyle Dubas in a set of clever pick trades, that somehow raised the expectation even higher.

Bracco, who is only 23, went unqualified as an expired RFA meaning the Leafs let him walk away a free agent. It seems likely they tried to trade him when his extremely poor third AHL season kept on being bad, but there’s not a lot of market for a player who has dug himself a deep hole and isn’t interested in climbing out of it.

Bracco was signed by the Carolina Hurricanes in the offseason, and that led a lot of people to make dire predictions of his future piles of goals scored against the Leafs. Considering he’s managed 32 goals in 169 AHL games played, I think we’re safe. His contract with Carolina is a two-way for one year for league minimum and with a minors salary of $100,000, which counts as generous from a team as cash-strapped as them. The contract says they expect Bracco to play the entire season in the AHL, but anything is possible.

Kasperi Kapanen

The only player gone off the eligibility list we’ll truly miss, Kapanen went back to the team that drafted him 22nd overall in 2014 in a deal that gave the Leafs two of the new additions to the T25 eligibles list. One of the most intriguing questions of this winter T25 is where will the two players Kapanen was split into fall on our ranking?

Kapanen himself was sixth last year, stuck behind the two top wingers on the team on the list, like in life. Now, it’s said he’ll be playing with Sidney Crosby, and the moaning and carrying on when he inevitably gets points doing that will be epic. Imagine the headlines in the Sun!

Meanwhile, one of the more recent hooks Sid hung his coat on, Conor Sheary, is an unsigned UFA now that he’s just out of his prime years at 28. The Leafs really should sign him to make up for losing Evan Rodrigues. Sheary was the man shuffled off to make room for the younger model in Kapanen, and when Sheary was 25, he had 53 points in 61 games on the Penguins. The race is on to see if Kapanen can best that, and how long he can keep it up. I give him to at least age 30.

And that’s the short list of players who are leaving the list. Also gone are four draft picks who turned into more than four players, so they’re best discussed next time on the list of new arrivals. That’s coming up soon to help us all remember who these guys are that were drafted in October, which feels like it was months ago.

Find the full list of eligible players tucked in at the bottom of this post: