Toronto Maple Leafs Prospect Depth: Forwards

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Sep 28, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Buffalo Sabres Goaltender Andrey Makarov (35) defends against Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander (62) in the second period at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Maple Leafs Prospect Depth: Forwards

The rebuild is underway and here at Tip of the Tower we’ve taken a look at the prospect depth the Toronto Maple Leafs have in the AHL, CHL and abroad. We’ve broken down all the top prospects in the Leafs system, looking at their projected ceiling, their body of work and how close to NHL ready each prospect is. Prospects are ranked by their overall ceiling, with tie breakers going to how close they are from contributing at the NHL level. Earlier we looked at the Maple Leafs goalie depth, and yesterday we examined the defence. Today the forwards get their shot.

Sep 23, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander (62) skates against the Philadelphia Flyers during the second period at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

William Nylander – C/RW
18 years old, 5’11”, 170 pounds
Drafted: Round 1, 8th overall, 2014 by Toronto Maple Leafs
Projected Ceiling: First Line

When the most common phrase used to describe you is ‘gifted’, that’s probably a good sign. Nylander has had a very good season thus far, putting up 20 points in 21 games for MODO in the Swedish Elite League. For perspective he’s still tied for second in scoring on that team despite playing 20 fewer games. He was the top scoring non-Canadian at the world juniors and has six points in 10 games with the Toronto Marlies, despite being only 18-years-old.

He’s been deployed as both a centre and winger this year, with signs pointing to him playing more centre when he fills out more. With the Marlies well out of the playoffs Nylander will have the time to add some weight, which is really the biggest thing holding him back at current.

Nylander already skates at an NHL level, with very good hands, offensive IQ and passing ability. His defensive game will need work but that will come with time. He could play in the NHL next season but if a full rebuild is on he may be better served playing one more year in the AHL where the Marlies will be a more competitive team and Nylander can get top powerplay minutes. That would also keep him out of the limelight on what could be another very negative season.

Andreas Johnson – LW/RW
20 years old, 5’10”, 183 pounds
Drafted: Round 7, 202nd overall, 2013 by Toronto Maple Leafs
Projected Ceiling: Possible Second Line, Likely Third

Johnson has continued to impress and looks like a steal with a 7th rounder two years ago. He was the Swedish Elite League rookie of the year last year with 24 points in 44 games and has improved this season, potting 30 in 48 games. He’s an all around offensive prospect, with a good shot, puck handling, passing ability and vision. He tends to be a shoot first player and could do extremely well one day with a centre with vision like Nylander of Nazem Kadri.

Johnson has really bulked up over the last year to year and a half, gaining roughly 25 pounds. Clearly the next step is to bring him to North America to play for the Toronto Marlies, which could happen as early as next year. So much of him is still unknown, but he’s handled himself well playing men in Sweden. If he can use his speed and agility to be elusive in the AHL it will go a long way to understanding just what his ceiling could be. I’ve ranked him as a possible second line player but keep in mind that’s a best case scenario, being an undersized third line scoring option is far more likely. Considering he was a very late draft pick (202nd out of 211) and how low his ceiling was thought to be two years ago, fans should be impressed with his climb up the rankings.

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Connor Brown – RW
21 years old, 5’11”, 170 pounds
Drafted: Round 6, 156th overall, 2012 by Toronto Maple Leafs
Projected Ceiling: Possible Second Line, Likely Third

In his first season in the AHL Brown has answered the biggest question, was his breakout season last year in the OHL all because of Connor McDavid? The answer is a good one for Leaf fans as it’s a simple no. After potting 128 point for the Erie Otters and winning the CHL top scorer and MVP awards, Brown has had a solid AHL rookie campaign with 39 points in 49 games and was named an All-Star. He’s third in rookie scoring and 17th overall, leading the Marlies by a 15 point margin. This is the exact kind of season the Maple Leafs management was hoping for.

On top of his considerable offensive skill, Brown has some grit to his game, playing a feisty game with a lot of determination. He’s been herald as a very hard working player who wants to improve. He has three obvious avenues to become a better player and first and foremost is to add some strength. While on the small size Brown’s weight isn’t nearly NHL level, where he’d get muscled off of too many pucks. He’ll need to improve his skating and his defensive ability to really nail down an NHL job, but that will come in time.

He has an early birthday in January, so he’s on the older side of things for his age group. Some scouts feel like he’s shown to be a better two-way forward in his first year than expected and his improvement there will be the key to his career, as he doesn’t have the speed to match his offensive abilities to be a top liner. Like Johnson though he appears to be a late round draft pick steal.