Toronto Maple Leafs Prospect Depth: Defence


Toronto Maple Leafs Prospect Depth: Defence

With the rebuild underway and rumours circulating that anyone is available for the right price, now is a good time to take a look at the prospect depth the Toronto Maple Leafs have in the AHL, CHL and abroad. We’ll break down all the top prospects in the Leafs system, looking at their projected ceiling, their body of work and how close to NHL ready they are. Prospects are ranked by their overall ceiling, with tie breakers going to how close they are from contributing at the NHL level. Yesterday we looked at the Maple Leafs goalie depth, today we look at defence.

Oct 17, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Stuart Percy (50) skates with the puck against Detroit Red Wings right wing Tomas Jurco (26) at Air Canada Centre. The Red Wings beat the Maple Leafs 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Stuart Percy
21 years old, 6’1”, 193 pounds
Drafted: Round 1, 25 overall, 2011 by Toronto Maple Leafs
Projected Ceiling: Top Four

A lot of Toronto Maple Leaf fans were impressed with Percy when he jumped into the lineup and showed some real offensive flare and vision. Though he’s only played nine games in the NHL, the future looks bright for the former first rounder. He often gets compared to Carl Gunnarson in that he doesn’t draw a lot of attention on the ice, the kind of player who may not rush through an entire team like Morgan Rielly, but isn’t prone to defensive miscues either.

Percy has faced injury issues this year, as with his few NHL games he’s seen action in only 20 AHL games. He’s been solid defensively and able to chip in with offense, six points in 20 AHL games and three points in nine NHL games. Despite the injuries Percy is clearly the next man up should the Maple Leafs find themselves with injuries to the back-end, or should another defender be traded. It’s just a matter of Percy being healthy and able to contribute.

In terms of development, other 2011 drafted defencemen drafted near Percy include Oscar Klefbom (Edmonton, 19th overall, 51 GP), Connor Murphy (Phoenix, 20th overall, 79 GP), Joe Morrow (Pittsburgh, 23rd overall, 15 GP) and David Musil (Edmonton, 31st overall, yet to debut in NHL) so Percy looks to be right on target.

Percy can be considered a very balanced prospect, as he’s good at everything but not great at anything. He’s calm under pressure, can move the puck and chip in on offense and plays a good positional defensive game. His skating could use improvement and he’s on the lighter end for a 6’1” defender but the next step seems to clearly be playing for the Leafs down the stretch and securing a top six role for next season, particularly if the Leafs move another defender.

Sep 24, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Viktor Loov (65) tries to control the puck against Ottawa Senators forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau (44) during the first period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Viktor Loov
22 years old, 6’2”, 194 pounds
Drafted: Round 7, 209 overall, 2012 by Toronto Maple Leafs
Projected Ceiling: Top Four

Loov (pronounced love) holds a decent comparison to Percy as a complete defenceman who’s good at everything but not great at anything. In Percy’s rookie AHL season (as a 20-year-old) he had 25 points in 71 games for .35 ppg with 30 PIM and a +4 rating. Loov thus far (as a 22-year-old) has 16 points in 48 games for .33 ppg, 18 PIM and is +5.

Live Feed

Toronto Maple Leafs Get $4 Million Cap Bonus: Klingberg to LTIR
Toronto Maple Leafs Get $4 Million Cap Bonus: Klingberg to LTIR /

Editor In Leaf

  • Toronto Maple Leafs Need to Cut Ryan Reaves, Fix Blue-LineEditor In Leaf
  • Toronto Maple Leafs: So Far, Joseph Woll Is Vezina and Calder CandidateEditor In Leaf
  • Why the Toronto Marlies Will Win the Calder Cup This SeasonEditor In Leaf
  • Toronto Maple Leafs Seeking Right Shot Defenseman with EdgeEditor In Leaf
  • Toronto Maple Leafs Make Three Minor Roster MovesEditor In Leaf
  • Despite being an AHL rookie, Loov leads the Marlies in scoring by a defenceman and has the second best +/- behind Andrew MacWilliam. Loov has shown the ability to skate the puck out of trouble and rush up ice as well as making crisp breakout passes and the ability to deliver bone jarring hits. He’s also shown the ability to make solid passes on the powerplay when given the chance.

    It’ll be interesting to see if Loov can adapt to playing the game on his off side. He’s a left-handed shot but below Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, Stuart Percy and for now Dion Phaneuf on the left-handed depth chart. He also has Valiev nipping at his heels, only three years younger and with far higher offensive upside. Eventually someone is going to have to move to his off side and that may be Loov. For now he’s had a solid rookie season and should plan to be either a top pairing AHL defender next year or a possible injury callup.

    Rinat Valiev
    19 years old, 6’2”, 208 pounds
    Drafted: Round 3, 68 overall, 2014 by Toronto Maple Leafs
    Projected Ceiling: Top Four

    The Maple Leafs have to be happy with picking the Russian up in the third round in last years draft. The native of Nizhnekamsk, Russia has had a solid second season in the WHL with 36 points (eight goals and 28 assists) in 38 games. That’s a very good improvement on 28 points in 55 games last year. He’s been more consistent, taken less penalties, chipped in more offense and played a bigger role in shutting down the other teams top players. Not a lot more you can ask from a youngster.

    Valiev, who has good size, has also bulked up this year, putting on somewhere between 10-20 pounds depending on who you ask. He’s a good skater, stickhandler and puck mover who has real offensive potential. He’s also gritty, willing to drop the gloves and deliver big hits and win battles in the corners.

    The Maple Leafs brass has been impressed with Valiev thus far, with Steve Staios comparing him to a Roman Polak type rearguard. Truth be told Valiev has far more offensive potential than the steady Czech defender, as his (thus far) .95 ppg compares favourably to Morgan Rielly’s .9 ppg as a 19-year-old in the WHL with Moose Jaw. Valiev doesn’t have the offensive ceiling Rielly does but certainly looks like a very solid pickup.

    Sep 16, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Petter Granberg (8) defends against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Air Canada Centre. Philadelphia defeated Toronto 3-2 in an overtime shoot out. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

    Petter Granberg
    22 years old, 6’3”, 205 pounds
    Drafted: Round 4, 116 overall, 2010 by Toronto Maple Leafs
    Projected Ceiling: Possible Top Four, Likely Top Six

    The biggest thing going for Granberg is that he’s a right-handed defender, something the Leafs lack in their top defensive prospects. He’s a big defensive defender with very limited offensive ability, his rookie AHL season saw him get seven points in 73 games (though he has seven in 30 games this season). The key to Granberg’s game though is his mind, as his ability to read the play from a defensive standpoint is very high and he is rarely caught out of position despite his average speed.

    More from Tip of the Tower

    Granberg uses his wingspan and stick well, and has the strength to move forwards into the corners and out of the slot. He wins puck battles and some feel he may become a dominant defensive force. While that’s certainly hopeful, the more likely truth is that Granberg will become a solid defensive defender for the third line, one you can play on the penalty kill and who you can rely on without worrying, but not one who will change the game for you.

    To succeed in the NHL he’s going to have to fill out some more and really establish himself physically in the defensive zone. If paired in the future with a defender with some more offensive upside (most likely Percy or Rielly in the immediate future) he can be the stay at home defender every good rushing defencemen needs.

    Matt Finn
    20 years old, 6’, 197 pounds
    Drafted Round 2: 35 overall, 2012 by Toronto Maple Leafs
    Projected Ceiling: Possible Top Four, Likely Top Six

    In 2012 Toronto loaded up with defencemen, picking up Morgan Rielly at #5, Matt Finn at #35 and Viktor Loov at #209. This year Rielly has come into his own in the NHL and Loov has established himself as a top defender for the Marlies while Finn has become lost in the shuffle.

    Finn was touted as an offensive defenceman, with 48 points in 61 games in his draft year for .79 ppg. Since then he hasn’t improved offensively as some have hoped, potting 31 points in 41 games for .76 ppg in 2012-13 and 61 in 66 games last year for .92 ppg. While those are all respectable to very good scoring rates, especially for a defender, this season has simply not panned out.

    Finn has two points in 25 games for the Marlies (.08 ppg) and two more points in eight games for the Orlando Solar Bears in the ECHL (.25 ppg). Part of that has been transitioning to the AHL game and injuries, but that’s a disappointing start to his professional career.

    That being said, it may be wiser to view Finn as a more balanced defender like Percy or Loov than to compare him to an offensive threat like Rielly or Jake Gardiner. When he’s been healthy Finn has been solid defensively, showcasing an ability to move the puck well and create chances by passing. He hasn’t looked nearly as undersized as some worried, he looks to have bulked up this year and will need to continue to do so to be effective.

    The biggest concern with Finn though has always been his skating. He’s had knee injuries before, tearing his MCL and ACL, and while a crisp skater he doesn’t have the top gear of other players. If he can’t improve his skating he may have to transition into a more defensive defender, hanging back so he doesn’t get caught up ice. That will limit his offensive game but that may be the price he has to pay.

    Finn still has plenty of time to develop and his struggles in the AHL aren’t a huge concern, being a young and below average sized defender with limited speed meant this was always likely to be a bit of a rough year. He should see consistent playing time over the end of the season and into next year as the Maple Leafs have moved out Franson, and may move out others, which will signal Granberg or Percy sticking with the team long-term. If by the end of next year Finn has been able to transition into a .32-.4 ppg player (25-30 points over a full AHL season) and his positional play and speed have improved, Finn will be looking much more like a possible top four and less like a top six or fringe defender. If he continues to struggle the Maple Leafs brass will become much more concerned.

    Sep 24, 2014; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Tom Nilsson (63) removes the net from goalie Antoine Bibeau (30) after it was knocked over during play against the Ottawa Senators in the second period at the Canadian Tire Centre. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

    Tom Nilsson
    21 years old, 6’, 183 pounds
    Drafted: Round 4, 100 overall, 2011 by Toronto Maple Leafs
    Projected Ceiling: Possible Top Six

    The young Swede was billed as a heavy hitting pest who gets under opponents skin before he made his way to North America and thus far has had a solid if unspectacular transition. As a right-handed shot he’ll be given plenty of time to develop.

    Thus far he has six points in 36 AHL games, while landing in the box for 24 PIMs. The penalties are a small concern, as Nilsson is second among defencemen trailing only Andrew MacWilliam who has 32 PIMs in 42 games. That being said that comes with his style of play. Nilsson will remind Leaf fans of a Tie Domi or Darcy Tucker, always looking to hit and agitate and the key to that style is to draw penalties and not take them.

    From a defensive standpoint, Nilsson keeps it very simple. Win the battle and get the puck and get it as far from your goalie as you can. He’s a good passer and has a decent enough shot but will never chip in much offensively. To continue to grow he has to establish himself as a shutdown penalty killer for the Marlies and put on some mass, as despite his rough style of play he’s still on the light side. Nilsson could become a solid impact player sometime down the line but likely looks like a more late developing defender who may see spot duty, similar to how Korbinian Holzer has been deployed.

    Next: Toronto Maple Leafs Prospect Depth: Goalies