Leafs prospects in action this week

The Canadian under-18 camp is live at Etobicoke’s MasterCard Centre. If you’re reading this early enough in the morning and are in the area, it may be worth getting out to the rink to catch a free hockey game with some top-tiered talent in an air conditioned building in August.

None of those players have been drafted, however. There are a couple of Maple Leafs draftees at the Team USA National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, NY. The White and the Blue teams will play exhibition games against rosters sent in from Sweden and Finland this week, kicking that off today.

Tyler Biggs and Garrett Sparks, Leafs’ draft picks by way of the Guelph Storm and the Oshawa Generals, were each in action.

Biggs didn’t have a particularly good offensive season at the University of Miami Ohio as a freshman. He scored just nine times and added eight assists, but freshmen scoring isn’t a ritual at the NCAA level unless the specimen is elite. Biggs isn’t. Even though he’s a first-round pick, guys taken in the 20s have about between a 33 per cent to 50 per cent chance of making the show and performing well.

Here’s what Corey Pronman said about Biggs when he looked at the Leafs’ top 10 prospects in late July, ranking him 10th among Leafs prospects:

The Good: Biggs is a high-end if not bordering on elite physical player due to his big frame and the high amount of physical presence he brings to every game. He loves to lay out big hits, but he’s also a good player to put in front of the net and I saw at times Miami would use him in that role on their top PP unit. He’s an above-average skater who moves very well for a bigger player. Biggs also has a pretty hard shot and projects to be a moderately effective finisher.

The Bad: Biggs lacks in the skill and puck possession department. While on occasion he’ll flash a decent hands play or pass, for the most part he’s pretty uncreative and not a good starting point for offense. He has a chance to be a complementary scorer if his development goes well, but he’s a ways off from being that.

Projection: He could be an above-average third-line winger.

I think a lot of teams looking for “the next Milan Lucic” by way of the entry draft may be significantly disappointed. Here’s what Pronman said about Biggs after the first game. Keep in mind that Biggs’ first goal was taken off the board:

There’s not much there without actually watching these games, but it sounds, from following this game via Twitter more than anything else, that Biggs was a lot more involved offensively that I’d figure. He’s leaving the NCAA to join the Oshawa Generals so we should get a lot of chances to watch him play this season in the OHL and get a better sense of where his offensive game is.

As for Sparks, he has stopped 25 of 29 shots. That’s not particularly encouraging, but we’re dealing with a very small sample and often teams will select goaltenders for the upcoming competition based on their play on three or four scrimmage games at these camps.

Sparks was 15th in save percentage with the OHL’s Guelph Storm this past season putting up a .907. That was among 29 regular goaltenders. Goaltending performance is entirely impossible to predict and particularly at the junior level, but the Leafs’ 7th overall pick in 2011 will be looking for a much higher ranking this upcoming season if he hopes to create enough buzz to make the Toronto Marlies once he hits his overage season.

Finally, a third Toronto prospect will be in action this August. Morgan Rielly, the No. 5 pick from June’s draft, will suit up for Team Canada at the Canada-Russia challenge (although no Stuart Percy). Those games run Thursday, Friday, Monday and Tuesday, with the latter two games being broadcast on TSN from Halifax. The first two games in Yaroslavl will be on TSN2.

If you’re looking for hockey in August, there is some around in the right places. The Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament roster for Team Canada ought to have several OHL representatives, but that tournament won’t be broadcast anywhere, unfortunately.

We’ll update you on Biggs’ performances this week, as well as Rielly’s later.

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