Toronto Maple Leafs Prospect Depth: Forwards

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Feb 17, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Florida Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo (1) clears the puck as Toronto Maple Leafs forward Brandon Kozun (67) forechecks during the second period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Kozun – RW
24 years old, 5’8″, 167 pounds
Drafted: Round 6, 179th overall, 2009 by L.A. Kings
Projected Ceiling: Possible Third Line, Likely Fourth

Leaf fans fell in love with Kozun when he made the team out of training camp as a very high energy able body penalty killer. Though he was felled by injury and hasn’t really gotten back on track, Kozun will get another opportunity to prove himself and is currently up with the Maple Leafs.

Kozun’s entire game hinges on his speed. He uses it not just offensively but defensively, covering lanes on the penalty kill and back checking to help his defence. He’s been a solid AHL scorer and may be able to chip in at the NHL level, but the job he’ll most likely be able to earn is as a hard working fourth liner.

He leads by example and inspires teammates as he battles players who routinely outweigh him by as much as 50 pounds. He’s going to have to stay healthy to prove that even as his size he belongs, but he’ll get his chance and will help keep the penalty kill stable, particularly when and if Daniel Winnik gets traded.

Tyler Biggs – C/RW
21 years old, 6’3″, 224 pounds
Drafted: Round 1, 22nd overall, 2011 by Toronto Maple Leafs
Projected Ceiling: Fourth Line

Tyler Biggs gets a lot of wrath from Leaf fans mostly because of what his future looks like compared to where he was taken. He was the first of two Leafs draft picks in 2011 (Stuart Percy went at 25). The Leafs originally had the 30th pick and the 39th pick which they traded to Anaheim at the draft for the right to take Biggs. The reason a lot of Leaf fans get upset is the 30th pick was used on Rickard Rakell and the 39th was used on John Gibson, both of whom look to be big pieces for the Ducks moving forward. If you don’t want those players the Leafs could have also taken Ty Rattie at 30 (he went 32nd) and Brandon Saad at 39 (he went 43rd and is one of only five players from this draft to already have 100 NHL points, the others being Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog, Sean Couturier, Saad and Ondrej Palat). Now while that’s hardly Biggs fault, he simply fit the mold of what Brian Burke wanted, his lack of production thus far is.

When he was drafted in 2011 Biggs had compiled 31 points in 55 games for the U.S. National Under 18 team where he served as captain. He also had 11 points in 20 games with the U.S. National Development Program Juniors and three points in six games for the U.S. Under 18 team at the world juniors. Since then he’s completely trailed off. He had only nine points in 57 games as a rookie in the AHL. This season he’s spent time in the ECHL (six points in eight games) and been ineffective for the Marlies, with four points in 40 games. While it’s early to bail out on a prospect, Biggs currently looks unlikely to ever play an NHL game.

He was shifted to centre recently for the Marlies, playing with Jamie Devane and Troy Bodie on a big and rough fourth line, and he’s killing penalties. At a recent game I attended where he played centre, he actually looked like one of the best Marlies on the ice. It’s possible that the reduced role and pressure is helping to rebuild his confidence, and the simpler game of hammering the other team while playing responsible defensively may help resuscitate his career.

Biggs does move well for a big man, though his agility needs work, and his defensive game is good for a 21-year-old. He could project into a Brandon Kozun type role as a grinder fourth liner who throws the body and uses his speed to keep NHL offences off-balance. In that role he could kill penalties and block shots. Again that’s not what you want to draft with a first rounder but that ship has sailed and the Leafs should be looking to get the most out of Biggs that they can. He could translate to an NHL player if he works hard enough, but with the plethora of third or fourth line talent already in the system, I wouldn’t put money on it.

Brad Ross – LW
22 years old, 6’1″, 190 pounds
Drafted: Round 2, 43rd overall, 2010 by Toronto Maple Leafs
Projected Ceiling: Fourth Line

Ross is a lot like Biggs, in that most Leaf fans view him as a bust. Since we played the hindsight game with Biggs, it’s only fair to point out that Tyler Toffoli, much coveted by the Maple Leafs, went four slots below Ross in 2010. Ross, who once scored 82 points in 68 games for the Portland Winterhawks, has failed to produce much offensively in the AHL. his first two AHL seasons saw 21 points in 93 games with 133 PIMs and a combined -10 rating.

If possible this year has been worse, he started in the ECHL with the Orlando Solar Bears where he did have six points in seven games. He was recalled to the Marlies but has played only limited minutes, just 21 games with only seven points and another 40 PIMs. Ross tries to walk the line as an agitator but he averages 1.5 PIM a game, not exactly walking the line. Unlike Biggs, Ross is considered slow in the AHL, he’s smaller, he takes more penalties and appears to have less leadership qualities. He also was a later draft pick and if there’s only room to try to salvage one of them, it’s much more likely to be Biggs.

Ross would need to step up to fill an injury void and take a bottom six AHL job to really improve himself as a prospect. If he can do that, demonstrate he can kill penalties and play defensively and play a safer game where he takes less penalties but continues to draw them, then he could one day find himself on the Leafs fourth line, but again, I wouldn’t bet on it.

Next: Toronto Maple Leafs Depth: Defence