After breaking down the best Toronto Maple Leafs’ forward prospects here and defense/goalie prospects here, I want to highlight four more young players who are likely to make their mark with the Leafs one day. That is, unless Dave Nonis packages any of them with a 4th round pick to acquire the older, more expensive version of them (read: Carl Gunnarsson for Roman Polak).
Frederik Gauthier – Centre
Already a polished prospect, Gauthier combines great size with a mature game at both ends of the ice. The same on-ice vision and hockey sense that makes him a dangerous contributor at the offensive side of the game also serves him well in breaking up opposing plays in his own zone – he has too many tools to ignore.
At 6-5, 215 pounds, Gauthier is an intimidating force in the mold of Ryan Kesler. He has cycle skills and is tough to move off of the puck. Though his offensive upside is limited, he’s likely to rise to a second or third line centre role. This is the type of safe, low-maintenance prospect that teams love to have.
Carter Ashton – Right Wing
Ashton has good size and solid scoring instincts down low, but needs to make better use of his frame off the rush. He moves well up and down the ice, and is a willing physical combatant.
Ashton is just barely a prospect as he logged 32 games in the NHL last season. Though his role has been small with the Maple Leafs so far, Ashton scored at a point-per-game pace for the Toronto Marlies in the AHL. Like Gauthier, Ashton’s offensive ceiling is limited, but he’s willing to play hard at both ends of the ice. As long as Carlyle is in town, this playing style should earn Ashton a full NHL season soon – although a starring role for the Marlies this season might be best for his confidence long-term.
Comparable Leafs Player: Mike Foligno (with better skating)
Matt Finn – Defense
A heady player, Finn is described as a solid all-round threat. He is a strong defensive player that can handle tough assignments… Finn’s offensive game is also taking steps forward… He’s also not considered a high-end skater.
Matt Finn is likely a full season away from time with the Leafs after completing his junior eligibility last season. As captain of the Guelph Storm, he scored at a point-per-game pace and has displayed all around capabilities. Finn is undersized at 6-0, 185 pounds so improved skating and defensive positioning will make or break his NHL career.
Comparable Leafs Player: Ian White
Sam Carrick – Centre
A stocky, hard nose player with an offensive touch, Carrick can be a pain to play against. He is a capable player at both ends of the ice and is a very willing physical combatant. Skating requires attention, but his hockey smarts allow him to get in good position on the ice. All these qualities make him a very desirable option for coaches as Carrick is adaptable.
Sam Carrick is sure to endear himself to Leafs fans when he eventually makes the jump to the NHL. Though he doesn’t have elite talent on offense or defense, he is an all around forward who irritates, plays with energy, leads, and improves the level of play of his teammates. Long-term, it’s possible to imagine Carrick with a letter on his jersey.
Comparable Leafs Player: Darcy Tucker
With some depth at all positions, this is probably the deepest group of prospects the Leafs have enjoyed in a long time. Sure, there may not be a ton of elite prospects, but there is organizational depth to draw on for the Leafs. As long as management remains committed to developing these youngsters, the future is bright… maybe not “bright as the sun” bright, but at least “nightlight in the hallway” bright.