Toronto Maple Leafs: Anatomy of a Bust: Tyler Biggs and Frederik Gauthier


Toronto Maple Leafs: Anatomy of a Bust: Tyler Biggs and Frederik Gauthier

With news coming yesterday that Tyler Biggs will be shut down for the season to undergo surgery for a partially torn achilles tendon, the former first round pick has finished his sophomore AHL season. Now four years removed from being drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs, it’s fair to say that Tyler Biggs is a complete and total bust.

Drafted 22nd overall, ahead of NHLers like Brandon Saad, Dmitrij Jaskin, Victor Rask, Nikita Kucherov, Boone Jenner and a host of others, Biggs now looks poised to never play an NHL game. To make matters worse, Toronto traded up to get him. They gave up the 30th pick (Rickard Rakell, 26 pts in 57 games this year for Anaheim) and the 39th pick (John Gibson, 9-5 with a 2.41 GAA and .924 SV% for Anaheim). That looks horrendous in hingsight, but even at the time seemed questionable. Biggs had the second worst +/- on the U.S. National Development Team, last among forwards. He had only put up decent offensive numbers, well below other members of the team. He was also the most penalized player at both the U18 world juniors and for the U.S. U18 Development Team. He was big – 6’3″ and 225 pounds, he was truculent, and he is thus far a bust.

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  • Think I’m overstating it?

    Biggs had only nine points in 57 games in his rookie AHL season while spending a lot of time as a healthy scratch. This year he was sent down to the ECHL, the only 2011 first rounder to spend any time in the ECHL, and before his injury managed four points in 47 AHL games. His points total went down, his +/- went down and his penalties went up. He’ll also be returning next year off of an achilles injury, not the kind of thing that increases your speed.

    The lone positive this year was when Biggs was shifted from wing to centre, where he showed he could play somewhat of a shutdown role on the fourth line. With that being said it’s worth noting that Sam Carrick, who’s a year older than Biggs, is far superior offensively and a better defensive forward than Biggs. Carrick played 10 games thus far for the Maple Leafs, but has 59 points over the last two AHL seasons (109 games). Biggs’ 14 points isn’t even in the same ballpark.

    Another checking centre who has latched onto the Leafs this season is the former Marlies captain Trevor Smith. While Smith has had very limited games for the Marlies over the last two years, his last full AHL seasons saw him score 54 points in 75 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and 69 points in 64 games for the Norfolk Admirals. Even fourth line centres for the Toronto Maple Leafs can clearly score at the AHL level, something Biggs can’t seem to do.

    So clearly Biggs will be in tough to ever break into the NHL, and will have an even tougher time securing a job — even if it was for a single season on a rebuilding team. He’ll only be pushed further down the depth chart as other players leave junior for the Marlies. That may happen as soon as next year as Frederik Gauthier and Carter Verhaeghe, both centres, are expected to play for the club. Biggs will have one more year left on his entry-level deal to prove he’s worth another deal. A big reason for all of this is that failure of Biggs to improve. As a professional hockey player you’re expected to continually get better until your prime, which should be about six years away for Biggs. That hasn’t happened.

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    So that brings us to Gauthier, the consensus next first round bust. Gauthier was drafted 21st overall in 2013, one spot behind Anthony Mantha (who Detroit reportedly refused to part with in the Phaneuf talks) but before current NHLers Jacob De La Rose (Montreal), Marko Dano (Columbus) and Andre Burakovsky (Washington) and highly valued prospects like Shea Theodore (Anaheim), Hunter Shinkaruk (Vancouver) and Adam Erne (Tampa Bay).

    Like Biggs, Gauthier is another big body, standing 6-foot-4 and weighing around 220 pounds. Gauthier had solid numbers in his draft year with 60 points in 62 games for the Rimouski Oceanic – good enough for fourth on the team in scoring, second among centres. The next year was more of the same, with 52 points in 54 games, fifth on the team in scoring and second among centres. Battling injuries this year, Gauthier has 29 points in 31 games, ninth on the team in scoring and fourth among centres, albeit it in between 20-30 less games than most of those above him.

    So the numbers aren’t bad for Gauthier, he’s a point a game player while at the same time being a very good faceoff centre and bordering on elite defensively in the QMJHL. The big problem is he was all of those things when he was drafted two years ago, he’s completely plateaued and that’s a huge red flag.

    When in comparison to the best around his age group, Gauthier has been a non-factor. In the last two years at the world juniors, Gauthier has two points in 14 games, playing as a fourth line centre that kills penalties and wins faceoffs. Those are valuable skills, but not the kind of skills you draft in the first round. Remember that Daniel Winnik and Mike Santorelli fill those roles and both were cheap and easy to acquire in the offseason. They replaced ex-Leaf Jay McClement, who filled the same role. Clearly fourth line centres are available as free agents.

    Among his world junior teammates, Gauthier was overshadowed. Fellow fourth liners Lawson Crouse (two years younger than Gauthier, 3 points) and Nick Ritchie (one year younger than Gauthier, 1 point) were moved throughout the lineup, while Gauthier remained nailed to the fourth line. His skating looked sub par, he appeared either unwilling or unable to use his sizable bulk in a meaningful way. To further link Gauthier and Biggs, during his last world juniors Biggs had the exact same statline Gauthier has had twice in a row, seven games, one point.

    So is Gauthier in line to become a bust just like Biggs? Gauthier has had better scoring numbers, albeit in the high scoring QMJHL, and has shown himself to be a better faceoff and defensive player than Biggs did at the same age, but the path looks possible. Gauthier has failed to improve over the past two seasons in a top six role with the Oceanic, eerily reminiscent of Biggs’ career trajectory. That doesn’t mean Gauthier is a bust though, his first AHL season will go a long way to showing exactly what he can be expected to do at an NHL level. If all goes well maybe he ends up as a defensive third line centre in the NHL, that’s probably his ceiling, but if he struggles he could find himself in the ECHL early, something Biggs can tell him all about.

    Next: Maple Leafs Prospect Depth: Forwards