With the conclusion of the preseason, the Toronto Maple Leafs already had a number of difficult decisions they needed to make. The top two lines looked to be pretty much a lock however there were some surprise showings made by their prospects who gave a number of veteran players a run for their money. This further exemplified how far along the Leafs prospect development had come and the impact that having a full cupboard and retaining your draft picks was having on the organization. Below are just some of those prospects who stood out at this years camp.
David Broll went out in his first preseason tilt and made you notice him. A feisty scrap, a scoring chance and some timely grinding almost forced his name to be mentioned in consideration for the fourth line of the Maple Leafs. He is a big man that has some ability, hockey sense and potentially more to offer than some of the other veteran players vying for the same role. Although he was already sent down for the Marlies start to camp, Broll left a lasting impression and appears to be ready to make great strides this year.
Viktor Loov has been nothing short of impressive not looking the least out of place with timely hits, solid gap control combined with great skating and an astute awareness of all things defense during camp. He has continued this trend in the first couple of games in the AHL and is definitely someone to keep your eye on as the season continues.
Antoine Bibeau was not a very familiar name to Leafs faithful until the last few pre-season games and although he appeared to come back down to Earth in a game against the Ottawa Senators, he has shown great patience and poise in net that is quite removed from what you would expect from a raw prospect who just graduated from the QMJHL. Although unlikely to usurp Reimer anytime soon, he will definitely be pushing for minutes with the Marlies, complicating things in a good way for the farm club.
It is hard to believe that Josh Leivo is still only a year removed from the beginning of his first year of pro with the Toronto Marlies and at 21 years old is making quite the case to stay with the big club on a full time basis. With a recent foot injury to David Booth who blocked a shot with his skate, it is quite possible that Leivo may be the first on managements list of call-ups this season, incredibly impressed with just how far he has come as a prospect.
Brandon Kozun left it all out on the ice. His stature had always been a source of focus on why teams might have passed on him, whether it be in junior, the draft or as a prospect. It is about the last thing you notice however these days, Kozun has absolutely blistering speed and a hard wrist shot with an innate ability to be in the right place at the right time. Seeing him being used on the penalty kill also creates a unique dynamic of a PK member that poses a very real threat of creating shorthanded shot attempts that could dial back how aggressive some teams are on the PP when facing the Leafs this year.
What can you say about Stuart Percy that hasn’t already been said. He has surpassed all expectations so far this season and has beat out competition from Tallinder, Granberg, Holzer, Loov and to a certain extent Gardiner becoming a trusted element on the Leafs back end. Probably the most impactful seventh defenseman the Leafs have had in quite some time and another first round draft pick that is starting to express just how important it has been for the club to stick with and develop draft picks.
Last but certainly not least is Sam Carrick who reinforced his stock as a legitimate prospect for the Maple Leafs as a dependable two way center that I hope the organization will reward with increased ice time this year given his camp and considerable impact during the playoffs last year. Carrick responded well during training camp, keeping up with the play, creating a number of scoring chances and showing the oft mentioned grit and character that sometimes separates some prospects from the pack. Expect to see a bit more of Carrick this year for the Marlies as a dependable two way forward who is responsible in his own end and has a penchant for scoring big goals.
So there you have it, a couple of drafted and/or acquired prospects that have had an effect on the main training camp and have shown legitimate development at becoming impact NHL players in the coming years. This really continues to highlight just how far the Leafs prospect development focus has come and the fruit it is finally starting to bare. For those who did not make the team it will still be interesting to watch their continued development with the Marlies, perhaps I will see you at the Ricoh! As always, puck for thought.