At the end of August, when our staff's collective Top 25 Under 25 ranking began to wrap up, I chose to release my individual ranking and explain my reasoning.
With the All-Star Game come to a close, and February starting, I thought it would be prudent to update that ranking and justify the movement that has occurred.
In order to get a better understanding of how I ranked the players, here's an updated version of the criteria I included in my August ranking:
There were several ways in which I approached the ranking, but due to the age and established nature of some of the players, it was a decidedly different approach than the one I take when evaluating a draft class or pool of non-NHL prospects.
Not all voters used the organization's status as a criterion. I did. The Leafs rebuild factors into the value each player has to the organization moving forward. The present isn't nearly as important as the future, and that gives huge value to a Mitch Marner or a William Nylander over an established Nazem Kadri. Future star power will make or break the end result of this Leafs rebuild, and Kadri may well factor into it as a key player (he already is), but he's not a piece that changes a franchise.
I didn't approach the ranking as one that was strictly a meritocracy. As evidenced through my non-ranking of Byron Froese, a player's NHL status doesn't guarantee him value. Byron Froese is replaceable. The Marlies roster this season includes several players who could play a fourth line role in the NHL.
The lottery tickets that the players I ranked near the bottom of the T25U25 represent hold more value than a Byron Froese does. The chance that Martins Dzierkals can be more than a replacement level NHLer holds considerable value to a team like the Leafs. Nothing plagues NHL franchises more than the idea that picks are expendable. If you draft for upside, you will find real value, not Byron Froese value.
Dzierkals' footwork and skating ability, as well as the low kick to his release and his knack for getting it off in stride is a real, identifiable stylistic trait that translates well at the next level. And there's a very good chance he never becomes an NHL player, but the value in acquiring players like him is worth more than any value Byron Froese holds to the Leafs, at least for a rebuilding team.
The top 11 players remain unchanged. The prospects within the group have progressed as expected, Jake Gardiner has blossomed (yes, he's 26 but for continuity's sake I re-included him in the ranking), and after faltering out of the gate Peter Holland and Nazem Kadri have returned to form. I nearly moved Jeremy Bracco back a spot in favour of Dmytro Timashov (who has risen more than anyone except Garret Sparks) but Bracco elevated his play after being snubbed by Team USA and he's really beginning to find his game after leaving the NCAA for the OHL.
Sparks wasn't ranked in August in part because I regarded Chris Gibson as the Marlies starter, which would have limited Sparks' ability to get the starter's load he needs to really progress. Both were narrowly left off of my August list, though Gibson was ranked 25th on the overall PPP ranking.
Travis Dermott also rose substantially thanks to some impressive play as one of the OHL's best defensemen this year, though I still worry about his skating limiting his upside when he becomes a pro.
Rinat Valiyev also moves into the top 25 -- his skating has held up more than I expected it too as an AHL rookie -- and is joined by two players who weren't available to be ranked in August in AHL scorer Jeremy Morin and Frank Corrado (who should play more than he does).
Stuart Percy and Frederik Gauthier have fallen the furthest, but not because they haven't had good seasons. Gauthier has played really well defensively -- as expected -- and his results are the dividends. For Percy, it's just a matter of timing. The clock is ticking and despite up-ticks in his offensive production, Percy's window for establishing himself in the Leafs organization will come to a close before we know it. Mostly, for both Gauthier and Percy, the dip in their ranking speaks to some strong seasons and new faces.
Despite an excellent (surprisingly so) season from Andrew Nielsen, he remained unranked. Like with Dermott, I worry about how Nielsen's skating will translate as a pro (his shot and physicality aren't a problem). Still, his season has been extremely impressive and he doesn't seem to be slowing down as the WHL's highest-scoring defensemen. There's a good chance, if he keeps it up, that he climbs into next summer's ranking (though the Leafs could have 5+ picks in the first three rounds this summer that will factor into that discussion).
My February Ranking
|25||Martins Dzierkals (NR)||Travis Dermott|
|24||Viktor Loov (-5)||Jesper Lindgren|
|23||Frederik Gauthier (-8)||Dmytro Timashov|
|22||Rinat Valiyev (NR)||Nikita Korostelev|
|21||Stuart Percy (-8)|
|20||Jeremy Morin (NA)|
|19||Scott Harrington (-2)||Viktor Loov|
|18||Frank Corrado (NA)||Nikita Soshnikov|
|17||Martin Marincin (-1)||Scott Harrington|
|16||Travis Dermott (+9)||Martin Marincin|
|15||Nikita Soshnikov (+3)||Frederik Gauthier|
|14||Josh Leivo||Josh Leivo|
|13||Garret Sparks (NR)|
|12||Dmytro Timashov (+11)||Stuart Percy|
|11||Jeremy Bracco||Jeremy Bracco|
|10||Peter Holland||Peter Holland|
|9||Brendan Leipsic||Brendan Leipsic|
|8||Connor Brown||Connor Brown|
|7||Andreas Johnson||Andreas Johnson|
|6||Kasperi Kapanen||Kasperi Kapanen|
|5||Jake Gardiner||Jake Gardiner|
|4||Nazem Kadri||Nazem Kadri|
|3||Morgan Rielly||Morgan Rielly|
|2||Mitch Marner||Mitch Marner|
|1||William Nylander||William Nylander|
Just missed: Andrew Nielsen, Zach Hyman, Jesper Lindgren, Nikita Korostelev.
Remember: Neither of these rankings are the overall, conglomerated PPP ranking but simply my personal list. Morgan Rielly finished first on the overall list.