Team depth key to Maple Leafs' early success | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaTeam depth key to Maple Leafs' early success

Posted: Monday, October 28, 2013 | 05:40 PM

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Josh Leivo of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates his first NHL goal against the Carolina Hurricanes on October 17, 2013 in Toronto. (Abelimages/Getty Images) Josh Leivo of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates his first NHL goal against the Carolina Hurricanes on October 17, 2013 in Toronto. (Abelimages/Getty Images)

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There is no denying the Toronto Maple Leafs are off to a very good start to the season and big part of that success has been due to the the organization's depth and impressive performances by the the team's prospects, writes Mike Brophy.
There is no denying the Toronto Maple Leafs are off to a very good start to the season.

And given the fact the team has had to deal with injuries to veteran players Nikolai Kulemin, Joffrey Lupul, Tyler Bozak, Frazer McLaren and Mark Fraser, not to mention the 10-game suspension to newcomer David Clarkson, the organization's depth has been called into play. 

In fact, a quick scan of the players that have participated in games for Toronto this season show that 10 of them were either drafted or signed as free agents by the Maple Leafs.

The list begins with goaltender James Reimer (99th in 2006), defencemen Carl Gunnarsson (194th in '07) and Morgan Rielly (fifth in '12); and forwards Nazem Kadri (seventh in '09), Kulemin (44th in '06), Jamie Devane (68th in '09), David Broll (152nd in '11) and Josh Leivo (86th in '11). 

Tyler Bozak (2009) and Spencer Abbott ('11) were signed as free agents.

The reality is the Maple Leafs top five scorers -- Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, David Bolland, Lupul and Mason Raymond, along with No. 1 goalie Jonathan Bernier, were drafted by other teams and acquired through trades or free agency. 

However, it speaks volumes about the direction the organization has gone, starting under former general manager Brian Burke and carried on by current GM Dave Nonis, that the cupboards that were once bare, are now stocked with solid prospects.

Bright future

"We have a hard-working group of scouts and we have been able to produce some assets," said director of amateur scouting Dave Morrison. "That's the mandate. When I was hired by Brian Burke in 1999 with the Canucks it was clear to me that our job was to produce assets. I know that sounds a little business-like, but that's what it is; assets that will hopefully play for your team and help your team win, but at the end of the day if there is something in particular our general manager wants you hopefully have players that other teams are interested in."

The fact of the matter is, the Maple Leafs were once fairly criticized for their inability to build through the draft, even after the team have had a pretty decent drafting record in the past. 

Consider even some of the players drafted by Toronto that were traded away for other assets. From the 2005 draft, when Dave Morrison took over as the team's director of amateur scouting, and in subsequent drafts, the list includes the likes of Boston Bruins' No. 1 goalie Tuukka Rask, New York Rangers defenceman Anton Stralman, Nashville Predators left-winger Victor Stalberg, Carolina Hurricanes left-winger Jiri Tlusty and Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Luke Schenn.

Morrison said a scout should never feel bad about a player he drafted being traded away.

"Our job is to provide the general manager with players that are either going to play for us or are NHL-capable to help them do their job and make our team better," he said.

Rielly defied the odds by making the team out of training camp at 19 years old. He has played well enough, using his wonderful skating and offensive abilities, to convince the Maple Leafs it would be in their best interest to keep him even though it means burning a year off his entry level contract. In 10 games Rielly has four assists.

The rookie will be a solid NHLer one day; probably sooner rather than later. Some of the other kids that have received playing time in the NHL still need more time to develop although none of Devane, Broll or Leivo looked out of place in limited action with the Maple Leafs. Leivo in particular and, even though he is fresh out of junior hockey, looked like he has a bright future in the NHL based on the seven games he played with Toronto in which he scored a goal (a beautiful snap shot high to the glove side on Carolina's Cam Ward) and an assist.

Here is a look at some of the Maple Leafs (listed alphabetically) top prospects:

  • Tyler Biggs (RW, 6' 3", 225 lbs): Toronto's first pick, 22nd overall, in 2011, Biggs put up decent numbers in Oshawa of the OHL last season with 26 goals and 53 points in 60 games. But the Maple Leafs project him more as an up-and-down grinder that plays a physical game. "It may take a little bit longer than we had envisioned, but he has the size and the tools," Morrison said. "I think it's a matter of him finding his niche."

  • David Broll (LW, 6' 2", 216 lbs): Broll played on Canada's Under-18 team at the annual Ivan Hlinka Tournament in the Czech Republic indicating he was, at the time, considered one of the best 20 juniors in the country. He did not have a solid draft year, but the Maple Leafs felt he came out of his funk late in the 2010-11 season and took a chance on him in the sixth round.

  • Connor Brown (RW, 5' 11", 170 lbs): A linemate of rising star Connor McDavid with Erie, Brown leads the OHL in scoring with 11 goals and 31 points in 15 games. "He plays on a very offensive team and with a premier player, so he has some help putting points up, but if you look at his history he has always put points up," Morrison said.

  • Jamie Devane (LW, 6' 5", 220 lbs): When the Maple Leafs decided to get bigger and tough, Devane was one player that stood out from other prospects. The Leafs also believe he has some skill. He is a project, but the Leafs believe he has third to fourth-line potential.

  • Frederik Gauthier (C, 6' 5", 215 lbs): The Maple Leafs first pick, 21st overall, has had a slow start to the season, but was up to five goals and 16 points in 15 games with Rimouski of the QMJHL. What the Leafs really like about the big pivot, aside from his offensive upside, is his defensive instincts. "He is starting to impose himself and use his size a lot more," Morrison said. "He is still a work in progress because I don't think he realizes how big and strong he is."

  • Andreas Johnson (RW, 5' 9", 160 lbs): At 18 years old he is a top 10 scorer with Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League with nine goals and 15 points in 16 games. He was Toronto's seventh round pick in 2013 and was highly endored by European scout Thommie Bergman.

  • Josh Leivo (RW, 6' 2", 180 lbs): Leivo's junior coach, Trent Cull, planted a seed with the Maple Leafs in the player's rookie OHL season in 2010-11. "He said it might take a while, but this kid seems to have some skill so keep an eye on him," Morrison said. Toronto's skating coach assessed that while Leivo wasn't necessarily a pretty skater; he was quick in a short space. Leivo did not look intimidated in his two stints with the Maple Leafs.

  • Stuart Percy (D, 6' 1", 195 lbs): Percy is in his first full season with AHL's Toronto Marlies and has a massive upside. A first-round pick in 2011 (25th overall), he plays a similar game to current Leaf Carl Gunnarsson, but arguably has a bigger upside. "Intelligence is his game," Morrison said. "His stick is so good and he is deceptively strong on his stick in battles." When Percy gets the puck he nearly always makes the right play.

  • Dominic Toninato (C, 6' 1", 176 lbs): Playing in his first year with the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Toninato is a long-term project. He scored his first NCAA goal last weekend. "It was a third effort in front of the net whacking home a rebound," Morrison said. Toninato has a real competitive nature.

  • Carter Verhaeghe (C, 6' 1", 181 lbs): The third-year junior ranks third in OHL scoring with 11 goals and 28 points in 15 games with Mississauga. "We really like his skill level," Morrison said. "He's a smart, skilled centre that needs to get stronger."

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