Toronto Maple Leafs Prospect Depth: Forwards

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Sep 16, 2013; Sunrise, FL, USA; Nashville Predators left wing Brendan Leipsic (40) during a game against the Florida Panthers in the third period at the BB&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Brendan Leipsic – C/LW
20 years old, 5’10”, 177 pounds
Drafted: Round 3, 89th overall, 2012 by Nashville Predators
Projected Ceiling: Possible Second Line, Likely Third

You’ve probably read a lot about Leipsic recently after coming over in the Cody Franson trade, so we’ll examine more how he’ll fit into the Leafs rebuild. Leipsic is a high scoring centre/winger who is small in stature but has decent strength and weight for a 20-year-old. While Connor Brown was the CHL top scorer last year, Brendan Leipsic was tied for that honour the year before. He’s fourth in AHL rookie scoring and 39th overall.

Despite his high scoring ability Leipsic’s game is based on that of a small pest, somewhat like the Bruins Brad Marchand (who is slightly smaller but slightly heavier). That means the key for Leipsic is being able to walk the line between pest who draws penalties and teamkiller who gives up penalties. Thus far he’s done an excellent job in the AHL, with only 16 PIMs in 47 games. He had 111 PIMs in 60 games for the Portland Winterhawks last year.

Described as a buzzsaw who hits everything that moves, Leipsic is an energy character who could translate to a very valuable NHLer. His shot needs work as he’s primarily been a playmaker thus far in the AHL and he’ll need to put on some size, but if it all comes together he could be a second line agitator with good vision. Worst case he’s a top nine two way checker with offensive upside. If Leipsic, Nylander and Brown are all in the AHL next year the Marlies may experiment with putting them together long-term to see how they work together.

Sep 22, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Josh Leivo (32) celebrates his goal against the Buffalo Sabres during the second period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Leivo – LW/RW
21 years old, 6’2”, 180 pounds
Drafted: Round 3, 86th overall, 2011 by Toronto Maple Leafs
Projected Ceiling: Possible Third Line, Likely Fourth

The right shooting left winger has seen only 16 NHL games but remains right on track compared to other third round picks from 2011. The biggest thing going for Leivo as a prospect is his versatility. He can play either wing, can play on an energy, checking, grinding or scoring line and fill any role.

He’s got a chance to be a top nine power forward who can park in front of the net on the powerplay if he can score, otherwise he seems best suited as a two-way forward who will need to be strong defensively and an able penalty killer to succeed. While he had 42 points in 59 games for .71 ppg in his rookie year, he’s battled injuries and been on the Maple Leafs roster for part of the season and only has 15 points in 26 AHL games for .58 ppg.

With the Marlies beginning to build up their offensive prospect pool Leivo could easily fall to a second or third line role for them next season, but as long as he can improve defensively and establish himself as a top-tier penalty killer he’ll earn a spot in the bottom six for the Maple Leafs.

Jun 30, 2013; Newark, NJ, USA; Frederik Gauthier poses for a photo with team officials after being introduced as the number twenty-one overall pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 2013 NHL Draft at the Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Frederik Gauthier – C
19 years old, 6’5”, 215 pounds
Drafted: Round 1, 21st overall, 2013 by Toronto Maple Leafs
Projected Ceiling: Possible Third Line, Likely Fourth

Simply put Gauthier has not developed on the pace the Leafs wanted. It seems pretty clear the Maple Leafs were hoping they were drafting a Sean Couturier type defensive centre who can chip in offensively at the NHL level (in four seasons Couturier’s career high is 39 points). When you consider Couturier twice put up 96 points in the QMJHL and Gauthier’s career high is only 60 points, you start to see the problem.

Gauthier had a good draft year, 60 points in 62 games for the Rimouski Oceanic. He was fourth in points despite being a 17-year-old and had already taken the second line centre role. He was already very good defensively and has a ton of size.

The next year though saw no real improvement. He had 52 points in 54 games, was again the second line centre and didn’t seem to elevate his game. He had one point in seven world junior games that year.

This year has been more of the same, he’s battled injuries and has 27 points in 28 games and again put up one point in seven games as the fourth line centre for Team Canada at the world juniors.

So it’s safe to say he’s completely plateaued, which is very dangerous at this age. His first year in the AHL will go a long way to showing what kind of prospect he is. If his production falls off, which is likely, he may only have a ceiling as a defensive fourth line centre. While that’s valuable, you don’t draft a fourth line centre in the first round, especially when Andrew Burakovsky, Hunter Shinkaruk, Shea Theodore, Adam Erne and Jacob De La Rose were all drafted after him.

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  • Gauthier does excel defensively and is very good in the faceoff circle, he kills penalties and has a strong cycle game. He’s slow and needs work on his skating, doesn’t have great puck skills and doesn’t use his size like he should. He’s got a very good shot though and a playmaking winger could go a long way to furthering his development. Like Connor Brown this year though, his first year in the AHL will go a long way to answering just what kind of prospect he could be.

    Carter Verhaeghe – C
    19 years old, 6’1”, 181 pounds
    Drafted: Round 3, 82nd overall, 2013 by Toronto Maple Leafs
    Projected Ceiling: Possible Third Line, Likely Fourth

    The captain of the Niagara IceDogs projects as a two-way centre who can contribute in all situations. He’s got solid offensive instincts and is a good puckhandler and passer, with 64 points in 54 games for the IceDogs in the OHL. He had 82 in 65 games last year. He’ll need to work on his skating and bulk up more for the AHL next year, but those are common concerns for teenagers.

    The good news for Leaf fans is Verhaeghe has looked good the last two years and has shown some leadership at the helm of the IceDogs. A concern though is scouts touting a perceived lack of effort at times.

    Development in all areas will be the key for Verhaeghe going forward. His offence is the most polished aspect of his game and should translate well to the AHL. With several other prospects ahead of him on the depth chart in his first season it seems likely Verhaeghe will be playing a third line role either at centre or on the wing. If he can develop his defensive ability he could see himself battling for an NHL job as soon as 2017.