For years the Maple Leafs farm system was looked at in two very conflicting regards. One, by Leafs nation, as always having a superstar talent waiting in the ranks to help the team “get over the hump”. The other, a widely held perspective, that the Leafs were not a serious competitor and their best prospect would become a mediocre talent at most. In hindsight, it is quite easy to see which party was right. Leafs fans were forced to watch other teams, with strong farm systems, go deep into the playoffs and raise Lord Stanley’s prize above their heads.
Hopefully, in following teams like the Chicago Blackhawks, a team which this Leafs iteration is commonly compared to, Leafs Nation has learned their lesson and are not overvaluing our prospects all over again. Hopefully, we know what a good farm system looks like and what it takes to build a perennial contender.
I say hopefully because if you were to take a scroll through Twitter there is no shortage of high praise over several names in the Leafs system, and high hopes for the team next year. It begs the question: Is the Leafs farm system THIS good, or is Leafs Nation falling into their old mindset of believing what’s ours is the best? There’s reason to believe either is possible.
Let’s face it, the minor leagues are hard to follow for the average fan and historical comparisons can often be difficult to find. The Leafs cupboard is stocked with players who have spent time in almost every league across the world. It would not be indefensible to not have a context of each leagues rate of scoring. This makes it very difficult to project who some of the prospects could become.
In an attempt to find comparable players, I compiled a list of several players. I put emphasis on players of similar size, who played in the same leagues as the Leafs prospects. I also tried to include both elite players in the NHL and players who were elite in other leagues but never translated to the NHL. For each player, I recorded their statistics in their last three to four years before completing their rookie season from HockeyDB (http://www.hockeydb.com).
Using this limited database, I sorted both prospects and the sampled players into their respective leagues. From there, using a simple points-per-game calculation and observing players ages, it became easier to find an NHL comparable. However, it is very important to consider the ever changing dynamics of several of the development leagues year over year and that the database is very far from all encompassing. This exercise is far from scientific.
The criteria for prospects was not necessarily defined by any set criteria. However, there were a few players who I would no longer consider prospects including Nikita Soshnikov, Josh Leivo, and Frederik Gauthier. Soshnikov and Leivo have both spent time in the NHL and proven that they are capable of playing an effective role. Their ceiling? Unknown, but with limited roster spots on the wing perhaps it’s time to move on from these 23 and 24-year-olds.
Gauthier is another beast entirely, and a beast may be an understatement at 6’5, 235LBs. Unfortunately, even on his draft day, Gauthier’s ceiling was not very high. He projected as a third line center at best, and with players like Andre Burakovsky and Shea Theodore going shortly after Gauthier has never been in favor with many Leafs fans. Perhaps Gauthier can still pull out a respectable career as a fourth line center. Albeit, Brian Boyle, the Leafs fourth line center on their latest playoff run was a career .728 points-per-game in the AHL versus Gauthier’s .304.
So who did I look at?
- Kasperi Kapanen
- Dmytro Timashov
- Adam Brooks
- Jeremy Bracco
- Carl Grundstrom
- Yegor Korshkov
- Kirby Rychel
- Andreas Jonsson
Currently regarded as the Leafs top prospect, not in the NHL and rightfully so. The main piece in the Kessel trade has bounced back nicely after hiding in Nylander’s shadow in his AHL rookie season. Kapanen’s promotion to the big leagues was put on hold last year given a lack of injuries to the NHL roster and an injury of his own. When he finally got called up to the big leagues he had no shortage of big moments playing in a very sheltered role.
Comparable: Mikael Granlund
After scoring at a slower pace in the SM-Liiga, Kapanen reduced the gap and surpassed Granlund’s 20-year-old pace. As 20-year-olds, Kapanen and Granlund scored 1.000 and .966 points per game respectively. To say the comparison ended at points-per-game for these two Finns would be an understatement. Kapanen and Granlund sit at 5’11, 180 and 5’10, 185 respectively and possess game breaking speed.
Granlund technically played his rookie season as a 20-year-old playing two games over the rookie maximum (27). In his latest season (Age 25) he was able to rack up 69 points in 81 games and a Hero Chart that would place him no lower than a second line winger.
Timashov is a player that I feel a personal bias towards. Outside the big three, there is not a player within the organization who looked more impressive at the World Junior Championships and in my live viewing of the Marlies last season, no player stood out more. Unfortunately, his numbers as a Marlie don’t exactly reflect his play. Timashov had a very slow start with the Marlies this season before breaking out and completing a strong second half. For Timashov I looked back to his last season in the QMJHL to find his comparable.
Comparable: Brad Marchand
As AHL players there is simply no comparison between Timashov and Marchand – yet. However, their point production at the QMJHL level makes this comparison much more believable. Timashov put up a very impressive 85 points in 57 games (1.491 PPG) in his 19-year-old season, split between Quebec and Shawinigan. While Marchand totaled 73 points in two extra games (1.237) also playing with two teams.Timashov sits two inches taller and ten pounds heavier than Marchand at 5’10, 192 which leads to his similar blend of physicality and skill.
Marchand played his rookie season at 23, leaving Timashov three years to make the NHL. As a 29-year-old Marchand really took off as being a complete elite first line winger and scoring at over a point-per-game pace (80GP, 39G, 46A, 85P).
Brooks has been one of the two most fun Leafs prospects to follow over the last year. He played every year of WHL eligibility, including his overage year, and found an absolutely torrid scoring pace for his final two. Watching a player put up nearly two points-per-game is enjoyable, to say the least. It rarely happens, barring video games. A prospect like this always begs the question of whether or not they will be able to translate their skills to the next level. Luckily, there is a diminutive WHL alumni who has looked quite good since breaking into the NHL.
Comparable: Tyler Johnson
Tyler Johnson took the league by storm as part of the triplets line in Tampa Bay. Centering second round pick, Nikita Kucherov, and seventh round pick, Ondrej Palat, the three rookies looked nothing like rookies. Johnson’s 1.620 points-per-game as a 20-year-old in the WHL is very impressive in a vacuum. However, in comparison with Brooks’ 1.970, the TJ comparison may turn out to be an understatement. Brooks sits at 5’10, 175 versus Johnson who is 5’8, 185.
Johnson broke into the league as a 23-year-old giving Brooks plenty of time to dominate the AHL before making an immediate impact in the show. As a 26-year-old Johnson had somewhat of an unimpressive season marred by injuries. He fell just short of 20 goals with 19 and added 26 assists in 66 games.
The second of the two most fun prospects to follow was 2017 WJC and Memorial Cup champion, Jeremy Bracco. Not only was Bracco’s season filled with team success but the Windsor Spitfire was able to score at an exceptional pace as well. The second round pick spent time this season being loosely compared to Leafs rookie Mitch Marner. Unfortunately, I don’t think we have another phenom on our hand. Fortunately, we should have a very good player.
Comparable: Logan Couture
Out of the four comparables in this article, this may be the most unlikely simply based on “old man mentality”. As many Leafs, fans know the two players don’t exactly stack up size wise. Couture is 6’1, three inches taller than Bracco, and weighs 200 pounds, ten heavier than Bracco. However, their point production in the OHL as centers is quite similar as 19-year-olds. Bracco put up 1.456 PPG versus Couture’s 1.403 at the same age.
Couture made the NHL as a 21-year-old with the San Jose Sharks. Now, 28, Couture is a first line center with below average shot suppression and put up 25 goals, and 27 assists for a total of 52 points over 73 games.