05/07/2012 at 11:12pm EDT
I will be posting a series of articles looking at the Toronto Maple Leafs organizational depth by position. I started the series last week with goaltenders and I am continuing from the net out and going with defensemen next.
Defensemen on 2011-12 roster:
Cody Franson (RFA)
The defense group continued to be an issue for the Maple Leafs in 2011-12 as they were one of the worst teams in the league in terms of goals allowed per game. That result doesn’t fall exclusively on the defense groups shoulders as goals allowed is a function of the entire team, but clearly the defense was not good enough. Luke Schenn was a complete disaster after signing a big deal in the off-season. He looked slow and lacked confidence. Schenn is still very young and could develop into a good player but I don’t see much upside especially with the cap hit he is carrying. John-Michael Liles started the season well but struggled to get back on track after suffering a concussion. Mike Komisarek was better than his previous seasons with the Maple Leafs but will always have the weight of his contract hanging around his neck. Cody Franson was impressive when got the chance to play but he never seemed to find his way out of Coach Ron Wilson’s doghouse. Carl Gunnarsson was steady for most of the year but in my opinion he is in over his head as a top pair defenseman. The Captain, Dion Phaneuf, had a very good season. He was voted in as an All-Star and posted good offensive numbers. He also led the Maple Leafs in ice time. Jake Gardiner was the surprise of training camp and he seemed to flourish with the departure of Ron Wilson. Gardiner brings a glimmer of hope for the Maple Leafs heading into next season as he looks like he could turn into a legitimate star.
Korbinian Holzer was drafted by the Maple Leafs in the 2006 NHL draft with the 111th pick. Holzer has spent the last 2 seasons with the Toronto Marlies after playing three seasons in the German Elite League (DEL). Holzer is regarded by many, including Brian Burke and Dallas Eakins (head coach of the Toronto Marlies), as a guy that can step into the NHL right now. Holzer has very good size at 6’3” and 206 pounds and he uses it well on the ice. Holzer has the type of shut down game that the Maple Leafs lacked on the back end this year. It is uncertain if any jobs will be up for grabs on the blue line with the big club next season but Holzer is the most likely of all the prospects to make the jump. Although he has the potential to be a shutdown defenseman, it is my opinion that he will be a depth defenseman at the NHL and he be playing at the ACC as early as next season.
Jesse Blacker was the Maple Leafs second round pick in 2009 and from all accounts he has been developing nicely. Blacker impressed the Leafs brass in training camp but like many young defenseman he needed time to refine his defensive game. After a full year in the American Hockey League the focus on his play in his own end is evident. However, it appears to have come at the expense of his offensive game. Blacker only had one goal and sixteen points in 58 AHL games which is a far cry from the 54 points he put up in his final OHL season. Blacker’s strongest asset is his skating ability and he has drawn some comparisons to fellow Maple Leaf defenseman, Jake Gardiner. Blacker needs at least one more year in the AHL but he surely has the talent to be playing at the NHL level in the future.
Stuart Percy was taken in the first round of last season’s NHL entry draft and he has similar characteristics to fellow Maple Leafs prospects, Gardiner and Blacker. Percy is a mobile defenseman that is known as a very intelligent player. After an injury plagued season in the OHL, Percy joined the Marlies for the end of their season. Percy was able to get into the last regular season game for the Marlies and impressed the coaching staff so much that they used him in their first round playoff series against the Rochester Americans. Percy still has another year of junior eligibility and will most likely be back with the St. Michael’s Majors next season. It is still very early but it looks like the Maple Leafs have done well with the 25th overall pick in the 2011 draft.
Simon Gysbers was signed as an unrestricted free agent after four years at Lake Superior State University. Gysbers has transitioned well to the AHL game as he has led the Marlies defensemen in scoring in both seasons that he has played. Gysbers has great size at 6’4” and 201 pounds but he doesn’t play a physical game. That along with questions about his mobility could be what prevents him from making the leap to the NHL level. Gysbers will be a restricted free agent at the end of this season and it is questionable whether he will be back with the Maple Leafs organization.
Matt Lashoff is a very interesting player on the Maple Leafs depth chart. Lashoff was drafted in the first round by the Boston Bruins back in 2005. He joined the Maple Leafs organization in the 2010-11 season and played well with the Marlies and earned himself 11 games with the big club. Lashoff has the blend of skills that scouts dream about. He has size (6’2” and 205 pounds), he is a great skater and he moves the puck extremely well, however, he has yet to put it all together at the NHL level. Unfortunately for Lashoff he suffered a knee injury early in the season and only played in 9 games for the Marlies. Lashoff is an unrestricted free agent this off-season and it is questionable whether he will be back with the Maple Leafs or Marlies. Although he probably doesn’t fit in with the Maple Leafs future plans I would love to see him get a shot somewhere in the NHL.
Out of the remaining defense prospects in the organization Petter Granberg is the one that interests me the most. Granberg was drafted by the Maple Leafs in the fourth round of the 2010 entry draft and has spent the last two seasons with Skelleftea of the Swedish Elite League. His game has been compared to fellow Maple Leaf Carl Gunnarsson except he plays with more of an edge. At 6’3” and 190 pounds he still needs some work to fill out his frame which could help him be even more of a physical presence on the blue line. Granberg was a member of Sweden’s 2012 World Junior Championship squad and performed very well at the top junior hockey tournament. It is questionable whether Granberg will be coming over to North America to play with the Marlies next season but I’m sure the Maple Leaf brass would love for him to make the jump and follow the path of Carl Gunnarsson.
The Maple Leafs have done a good job in stocking the cupboard with some pretty good defense prospects both via the draft and by signing undrafted free agents. However, they appear to have a quantity of defense prospects and they may be lacking in some quality. Of all the prospects Korbinian Holzer looks to be the most likely to make the big squad next season while Stuart Percy looks to have the biggest upside of the group.