After a very exciting draft where the Leafs were able to select Timothy Liljegren #17th overall, a lot of fans have forgotten about the prospects that the Leafs already have. That being said, here is a list of the top five Leafs prospects, not including Liljegren. If things pan out the right way, we could see some of these players playing for the Buds as soon as next year.
5. Kerby Rychel
June 25th, 2016, the Leafs fleeced Kerby Rychel from Columbus in exchange for Scott Harington and a conditional 5th round pick. I’ve been excited about the former 2013 first rounder ever since he came to Toronto. Rychel came over coming off of a Calder Cup championship he won with the Lake Erie Monsters, where Rychel played a pivotal role for Lake Erie. It was reported that earlier in that season, Rychel had requested a trade, which is ultimately how Toronto got such a young, talented forward for so cheap.
Rychel is a big, gritty forward who excels in tight, net front areas. Another key attribute to Rychel’s game is his shot. Opposing teams do not want to let him get too close because of his great close quarters skillset, but you also can’t let him shoot either because he has a close to lethal shot. This past season with the Marlies in the AHL, Rychel posted 19 goals and 52 points right before posting another 5 points in 11 games during the playoffs. At 22 years old, Rychel is getting a little older when being considered a prospect, his full time NHL role will ultimately come when the Leafs move on from JVR. Rychel has a lot of the same skills that Van Riemsdyk does, and will end up being his replacement in the long run.
Projected NHL Starter: 2017-18 call up, 2018-19 starter.
4. Travis Dermott
Dermott looks like the type of defenceman that Leafs fans have been hoping they had for years. A smart defenceman who can read the play great, capitalize on offensive chances, doesn’t take many chances, and just play an overall simple game. He is exactly the type of defenceman that the Leafs have been searching for over the years. Although many said that Dermott’s OHL numbers were bolstered by playing with Connor McDavid, Dermott having the chance to play with that high caliber of player at such a young age was fantastic for his development. Dermott graduated from the OHL and proved any doubters wrong, putting up very respectable stat’s as a rookie d-man in the AHL. He was an absolute force for the Marlies in the playoffs this past season, proving he’s a big time player in big time situations. With the spots that are currently available on the roster, I would be surprised to not see Dermott make the team out of training camp. Even at the worst case you have to send him back down for half the season, I think it would be super beneficial for both Dermott and the Leafs to have him starting on the 3rd pairing this upcoming season.
Projected NHL Starter: 2017-18.
3. Dmytro Timashov
Dmytro Timashov will end up being the biggest steal in the 2015 draft. In the 5th round at 125th overall, Toronto selected Ukrainian/Swedish forward Dmytro Timashov from the Quebec Ramparts of the QMJHL. Timashov has always been criticized for his size, or lack of for that matter, which is why he fell so far in his draft year. Although he is small, standing only at 5’10” and weighing 195 pounds, Timashov seems to use his small frame to his advantage. He is usually seen flying around defenceman and sliding past what would have been a bone crushing hit. Where Timashov really shines is his playmaking abilities. Timashov knows where every single one of his teammates are on the ice at times and knows how to manipulate other teams players and goalies to set up one of his linemates. In Timashov’s draft year, he put up an incredible 71 assists in 66 games for the Ramparts. In fact, Dmytro finished his QMJHL career with more assists than he had games played.
Some of the best hockey I’ve seen Timashov play was in the World Juniors a couple years ago where Timashov really shined after Swedish star William Nylander was injured very early in the tournament. Speaking of Nylander, Timashov has displayed instant chemistry when playing with Nylander in both the World Juniors and the rookie tournament. Timashov and Nylander could end up being a very dynamic duo in years to come. Although he had some trouble cracking the AHL line-up full time this year, he was a rookie coming onto quite a deep team at the forward position, I wouldn’t let this hold Timashov back at all. Even though the Leafs are very deep at the winger position, Timashov is due for a breakout year and will soon earn the respect he deserves.
Projected NHL Starter: 2018-19 call up, 2019-20 starter.
2. Andrew Nielsen
Although it’s even a very good argument between who’s better between Nielsen and Dermott, fans kind of know what they’re getting in Dermott. I believe Nielsen and his skill will surprise most people. When the Leafs drafted him, they didn’t even know what they were getting. Nielsen’s draft year he put up 24 points in 59 games in the WHL. He followed that year up by exploding for a very impressive 70 points in 71 games. Nielsen’s scoring touch has also translated into the pro level where this past season he had 39 points in 74 games for the Marlies. Nielsen has a big body and isn’t afraid to use it, playing a very mature and physical game compared to his peers.
What really excites me about him as a player is his ability to quarterback the power play. The Leafs current power play isn’t an issue as it was among the top of the league last year, although it is lacking that true offensive touch on defence to drive the play. Yes, Gardiner, Rielly, and even Zaitsev have all been asked to do such in the past, but none of them have the power play skills or bomb of a slapshot that Nielsen possesses. The Leafs could certainly use more simple type defenceman like Dermott, but a player with the potential of Nielsen is a very nice addition to have on the blue line. Even though I think Dermott will crack the roster full time before Nielsen does, once Nielsen takes the extra time to develop on grow his game, he will surpass Dermott on the depth chart.
Projected NHL Starter: 2018-19.
1. Jeremy Bracco
Yet another exceptional pick from the 2015 draft, Jeremy Bracco takes #1 on the list. Chosen at #61st overall in the draft, Bracco was definitely a sleeper. Bracco broke Patrick Kane’s all-time assists record for the NTDP, any player who breaks any record of Kane’s is definitely a special player. Bracco plays an absolutely electrifying offencive game and has proven to be clutch in key situations. Two of the most recent times being when he helped lead Team U.S.A. to gold at the 2017 World Junior Championship and when he took the hosting Spitfires to win the Memorial Cup. Bracco was fantastic in both of those tournaments. His skating and playmaking abilities are beyond great, paired with his above average hands and shot, teams never know to take away the pass or the shot. If he doesn’t score the highlight reel goal, than he makes the highlight reel assist.
Although Bracco has had some controversy throughout his career, he has done nothing but prove the doubters wrong. Following him leaving Boston College to play in the OHL, many people were skeptical of his commitment and work ethic. He then went on to tear up the league leading everyone to forget about his departure from Boston. Many fans didn’t like Bracco right from him being drafted as it costed the Leafs the pick used to select promising prospect Travis Konecny. Ultimately trading that 1st round pick used to select Konecny was worth trading, as the picks the Leafs received for it were used to select Dermott and Bracco respectively, which are more valuable than Konecny. Although there are many prospects similar to Bracco in the Leafs pool, Bracco has always seemed to thrive an extra step above all peers he’s ever played, as well as makes everyone around him better. In a few years, I see Bracco filling out as a very promising top 6 forward for many years to come in the Leafs organization.
Projected NHL Starter: 2018-19.
Honourable Mentions: Calle Rosen, Andreas Borgman, Miro Aaltonen, Andreas Johnsson, Carl Grundstrum, Adam Brooks.