Jun 26, 2015; Sunrise, FL, USA; Mitchell Marner heads to the stage after being selected as the number four overall pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Toronto Maple Leafs Forwards
The new crop of forwards the Leafs drafted have exceptional skill, which they have needed for a long time. There are a lot of great forward prospects that Toronto have brought in, who will have their chance to make the team somewhere down the line.
The fourth overall selection in the 2015 draft will have a tough time making the team out of camp, but he might make that decision hard on the coaching staff. He draws a lot of comparison to former Leafs great Doug Gilmour for his dynamic two way game. He is a gifted scorer, with 126 points in 63 games last season for the London Knights. He will probably be on the Team Canada World Juniors roster and another season with Dale Hunter could benefit him, as he is considered undersized for the NHL. At this tournament a lot of eyes will be on Marner, as he will have to show people why he was chosen instead of Noah Hanifin.
Nylander started his season in Sweden with Modo, before the Leafs decided to have him join the Toronto Marlies. He got off to a slow start with the Marlies, but after he got accustomed to the North American style he finished with 32 points in 37 games, all at the age of 18. He has a distinct advantage over some of his fellow teammates, but it does not mean we can expect to see him with the Leafs this season. Like Marner, Nylander will make it a tough choice for the coaching staff but the team is in no rush with their prospects, especially Nylander, who went eighth overall in 2014. Look for Nylander to be one of the leaders for the Leafs team in scoring, and hopefully show some improved defensive play.
Kapanen was a target of Kyle Dubas in the Phil Kessel trade and apparently the deal would have been nixed if he was not included. The Finnish forward has a great shot and is able to elude defenders easily with his skating. There are some questions about his desire to go to take the puck the net and be accountable defensively. Like Nylander, Kapanen started his season in Europe, before the Penguins had him join the AHL. In four regular season games he had two points, but in seven playoff games he had five. He will probably get another shot with Finland at the World Juniors after a poor showing last season. However, his time in the AHL was enough for Assistant GM Dubas to want the Finnish forward in a deal for the Leafs best goal scorer in recent memory. Obviously, hopes are that Kapanen can become a perennial top six winger, and this tournament will give us a better indication of what he can bring.
Gauthier, or Freddy “the Goat” as TSN Leafs Lunch call him, is an intriguing prospect. Ever since the Leafs drafted him the ceiling has been low for the 6’4″, 215 pound center, who is known as a reliable center on the penalty kill and in late-game situations. However, this tournament could be a perfect time for Gauthier to prove he is more than that. He had 16 points in 20 playoff games for Rimouski, but is not considered an elite goal scorer. Even if he can provide 50-60 points in the NHL, it would be enough to call him a capable second line center.
Hyman was acquired from the Florida Panthers for forward Greg McKegg, after failing to reach a deal on an entry level contract. The 22 year-old forward had a great season with Michigan in the NCAA, scoring 54 points in 37 games. Obviously, the expectation is that Hyman will be with the Marlies this season but being among the top four in NCAA scoring is not bad company to be with. Again, it is too early to say how this will translate to the NHL, but hopefully the rookie tournament gives Leafs fans something to look forward to in Hyman.
A fourth round pick in last year’s draft, Piccinich had a tough time with Boston University as he did not play a lot, so he decided to make a change. He left Boston to join the London Knights, who will give him the ice-time that will help him develop. He had 58 points in 60 games as a 17 year-old with Youngstown, but playing with the Knights will be a challenge for him, especially with Dale Hunter as his coach. Early reports out of Knights camp have been favourable for Piccinich, as he has found time on the powerplay unit and has made his speed his most useful weapon. This will be a player to keep your eye on during camp, but expectations should be tempered.
Next: Turning to the defencemen