The Impressiveness of the Leafs Depth Chart and Prospect Pool

Oct 22, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs center Tyler Bozak (42) celebrates with teammates after his goal against the Chicago Blackhawks in the first period at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 22, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs center Tyler Bozak (42) celebrates with teammates after his goal against the Chicago Blackhawks in the first period at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports /

After a weekend of watching hockey, I find myself in the mood to applaud the brilliant assembly of the Leafs depth chart and prospect pool.

As Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock sorts out his power play units from a roster featuring a  bevy of rookies and new faces, what we have witnessed so far this season should be encouraging.

To truly appreciate the uplifting signs, it is all a matter of looking at a broader picture than the mildly disappointing results seen at this early juncture. Game outcomes will inevitably improve as this mostly young crew learns some hard lessons about life in the NHL and especially, how to protect a lead.

The most encouraging aspect of this year’s version of the Toronto Maple Leafs is the current state of the organizational depth chart, which has not looked this good or has been this deep since I can remember.

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Not only are we seeing logjams at virtually all skating positions, the Leafs franchise as a whole is quickly arriving at a point where any number of NHL ready prospects will be forced to “over-ripen” in the minors, simply because there are, or soon will be, too many of them.

This sounds like a nice problem to have and it surely can be if it is managed properly, if player assets are treated like “chips” and cashed in occasionally via trades, for positional upgrades or draft picks.

It is an astonishingly short time ago that this was not the case – it was only a few years back that the prospect cupboard was almost barren. A quick rear view mirror look to the 2013-14 season before Peter Holland became an NHL regular, the prospect pool was comprised of a number of hopefuls that never quite panned out.

Tyler Biggs, Sam Carrick and Stuart Percy were being touted as the Leafs future back then, we attempted to wait patiently as they developed into the full time major leaguers that many of us were certain they would be. All of these players have since moved on with both Carrick and Percy signing as free agents with their second AHL teams, while Biggs of course was involved in the Phil Kessel trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Not so surprisingly, Biggs, a Leafs 2011 first round, 22nd overall draft pick, failed to stick with the Penguins AHL affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. He finished last season with the ECHL affiliate the Wheeling Nailers before being released by the Penguins organization.

None of these players have made their mark in the NHL as many of us expected and likely will never do so.

There were other players that could be mentioned such as Jerry D’Amigo or Greg McKegg  – their potential intrigued the Leafs/Marlies fan base as well. These latter two players were our best dark horses, at least amongst those of us who think we see untapped potential further down in the depth chart.

Such was the state of the Leafs depth chart and prospect pool just three years ago!

The saddest realization from the beginning of that era and all eras prior, is that we as fans simply did not know what a decent prospect pool looked like. Instead of utilizing all 50 Standard Player Contracts to the team’s best advantage and using all of the remaining 40 spots on the reserve list wisely, simply put, these things never seemed to happen.

Prior Leafs management didn’t do much of what the current ultra professional regime regards as perfunctory, or does as a matter of course. Draft picks were routinely wasted back then, veteran player reclamation projects were quite often approached with free agent contracts instead of professional tryout contracts, while prospects in the system were almost always given up on too soon.

Many of us clamored for changes, but what changes? We knew something had to be done but without ever witnessing how it should be done, we didn’t know what we wanted.

All we knew for sure as Leafs fans is that we had endured enough.

Spare us the excuses and show us the results -was the frustrated theme of our collective mood not too long ago.

This incredibly competent administration, put together what we see today in the Leafs depth chart in just two and a half years. Around 30 months if you prefer, an era which began immediately upon the arrival of team president Brendan Shanahan. The ultimate success of assembling this first-rate prospect pool was recently lauded by an ESPN panel voting it number one in all of the NHL.

Leafs depth chart
Apr 13, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan talks to the press during a press conference at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports /

Are you as impressed as I am with this progress?….so this is what a real Leafs depth chart with a widely talented and emerging prospect pool should look like….who knew?

Probably the most impressive aspect being that the course was set and adhered to even while Shanahan was still cleaning house and cobbling together his management dream team.

We were immediately sold on the path of pain and despair that we must all endure if the Leafs were to become competitive again in the NHL and we bought into it. Many of us acquiescing with the cautious reserve that comes instinctively from being fooled too many times before.

Now here we are with both the Leafs and the Marlies approaching a half dozen games played and the on ice product is excellent. There is no other way to describe it when speaking in comparison to previous years. With an impressive Leafs depth chart beginning to materialize as a foundation for organization-wide success, the ability to maintain this level of hockey quality is greatly enhanced.

Next: Leafs Roundtable - Marlies, Matthews vs. Laine & More

The Leafs will figure it out, the Marlies are already looking good….this is one of the most exciting beginnings to a season that I can remember.

Have you enjoyed the beginning of this season as much as I have?  . . . tell us why?