05/31/2012 at 12:25pm EDT
This is the final article in a series looking at the Toronto Maple Leafs organizational depth by position. Thus far I have completed my review of goalies, defensemen, centermen, and left wingers, which leaves us with right wingers to finish things up. As I stated in my previous articles, most forwards can play multiple positions and often do throughout a season. I will do my best to categorize players as centers, left wingers or right wingers. For example, I am including Nazem Kadri in the right winger evaluation. Although Kadri plays center with the AHL Toronto Marlies, he has almost exclusively been a right winger in his stints with the Maple Leafs, which suggests that he will be a winger at the NHL level.
Right Wingers on 2011-12 roster:
Phil Kessel took his game to another level in 2011-12 scoring 37 goals and 82 points. Kessel was an all-star again and seemed to blossom alongside fellow winger Joffrey Lupul. Clarke McArthur struggled to equal the successes he had two seasons ago. McArthur seemed to struggle after missing time at the beginning of the season with a suspension. He still managed to score 20 goals, but he was well off the 62 point pace from 2010-11. Matt Frattin started the season with the big club after a great pre-season, but he struggled to find the back of the net. He didn’t score his first NHL goal until November 19th and had to endure a couple of stints with the Marlies. Frattin was dominant when he was down with the Marlies scoring 14 goals in 23 games and he seemed to carry that confidence with him at the end of the season with the Maple Leafs under new coach Randy Carlyle. Frattin is enjoying a great playoff with the Marlies leading the AHL in playoff scoring with 10 goals in 13 games. Colby Armstrong had another injury plagued season and was an utter disappointment.
Nazem Kadri was the Maple Leafs first round pick in 2009 and he has yet to crack the big club on a full time basis. Kadri was the seventh overall pick in the 2009 draft and the six players taken ahead of him have all become full time NHL players and have all made an impact at the top level. Kadri played 21 games with the Maple Leafs this past season, but only managed 5 goals and 7 points. At times he looked like he was a star in the making and at times he was invisible. Kadri continues to play center with the Marlies, but I think he is better suited as a winger at the NHL level. It will be interesting to see how Kadri fits in with new coach Randy Carlyle as it was pretty evident that Ron Wilson was not his biggest fan. I personally think Kadri has what it takes to be an impact forward at the NHL level and I would love to see him get an opportunity for a full time role in the top six with the big club next year.
Carter Ashton was acquired by the Maple Leafs in a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning for prospect, Keith Aulie. Ashton is a former first round pick of the Lightning and when he was acquired by the Maple Leafs he had the opportunity to play 15 games with the big club. In those games Ashton clearly looked over matched. Considering that he is in his first pro season, it’s reasonable to expect that he needs at least one more year at the AHL level before he is ready to make the jump to the NHL. Ashton has great size at 6’3”, but he still needs to add some muscle to his frame. Ashton has some offensive potential and projects as a power forward that can play in the top six in the future.
Tyler Biggs is another first round pick of the Maple Leafs taken with the 22nd overall pick in last year’s draft. Biggs is a big body (no pun intended) that plays a physical game. When you think of a Brian Burke player, you think of someone like Biggs. He just finished his first season of college hockey putting up decent numbers (9 goals, 17 points, in 37 games) at Miami (Ohio) University. Biggs recently informed Miami (Ohio) University that he would not be returning for a second season next year as he looks to sign with the Maple Leafs. He has not signed a contract as of yet, but if he does, the Leafs will have the option of keeping him, sending him to the Marlies or sending him to the Oshawa Generals (the OHL team which owns his rights). Biggs will most likely be in Oshawa next year and will need to prove that he can be an offensive threat while still being a physical presence at the Junior A level. The upside to be a top six power forward is there, but he is still a couple years away.
Josh Nicholls was a seventh round pick of the Maple Leafs in 2010 and he just might be a diamond in the rough. The year after he was drafted he broke out with 34 goals and 87 points in 71 games for the Saskatoon Blades in the WHL. He missed a good chunk of games this past season with an MCL injury, but still managed 30 goals and 68 points in only 56 games. Nicholls has yet to sign a pro contract with the Maple Leafs and with the deadline of June 1st fast approaching one has to wonder whether he is part of the organizations future plans. At 6’2” he has good size and after two good seasons in the WHL I find it odd that he has not been signed to this point.
Sondre Olden is another 2010 draft pick of the Maple Leafs, taken with the 79th overall pick. Olden came over from his native Norway to play for the Erie Otters in the OHL last season. His first season in North America was a struggle. He battled injuries in early in the year and he was stuck playing with the league’s worst team, the Erie Otters. He still managed 11 goals and 32 points in 48 games and will most definitely be heading back to the OHL next season. At 6’4” and 176 lbs, Olden is a lanky forward that needs to add size to his tall frame. Olden is definitely a project, but he seems to be highly regarded among the Maple Leafs organization and he might be a guy we see skating at the ACC a few years down the road.
Kenny Ryan, Greg Scott and Tyler Brenner are all lower level prospects in the organization. Of the three, Greg Scott might be the only one that finds his way up to the NHL level in the future. Scott was an undrafted player and is in his third season with the AHL’s Marlies. He finished the regular season with 21 goals and 44 points in mainly a checking role. Scott is a long shot to make the NHL, but he plays a good two way game, which bodes well for his chances as a possible role player at the top level.
The Leafs have some good prospects at the Right Wing position, but like their other positions, it is questionable whether they have a star in their group. In my opinion, Nazem Kadri is that star player they are looking for, but how he fits in with Randy Carlyle in training camp could go a long way in telling whether he will be a star for the Maple Leafs or for another organization.