It’s interesting, how a quibble over the team name is going to distract us from the fact that the 9th highest point-getter in the NHL during the last four years and perpetually healthy elite forward in the prime of his career is ranked just 20th. Even nuttier, ‘retired’ forward Ilya Kovalchuk made the list along with Calgary Flames’ Sven Baertschi, a player with exactly 13 points and 25 games in his career.
Joffrey Lupul, James van Riemsdyk, David Clarkson and Nazem Kadri, ranked 51st, 54th, 64th and 78th on the list respectively, are all listed as playing for the “Maple Leafs” which makes the copy-editing error up top more amusing. As a writer pumping out more than 3000 words a day, I understand a typoe or two in a post, but “Maple Leafs” is one of sports most enduring and recognizeable team names.
Also in the ESPN ranking, Dion Phaneuf was 17th in the defenceman rankings, which is tough to quibble with given the quality of players at that position coming into the NHL recently. He was tied with Kimmo Timonen and Brian Campbell, which is fairly good company. The goalie rankings were a tad more suspect. James Reimer was 17th, despite having a higher save rate in the last three seasons as higher ranked Jonathan Quick, Craig Anderson, Corey Crawford, Carey Price, Ryan Miller and Cam Ward. Nobody would accuse the Maple Leafs of having an all-world defence over those seasons, and given how well he’s played in the NHL, and in two AHL seasons prior to making the Leafs full-time, I find it immensely surprising he isn’t talked about more often.
Jonathan Bernier was also ranked 25th. Without the trade this summer, I doubt he’d have been mentioned on the list, but voters apparently like the potential that comes with presumably being a starter in the NHL. I’m more bullish on Bernier than several statistical junkies paying attention to a relatively low save rate in the early part of his career, but history shows that goalies with his statistics up til age 24 that keep at it tend to regress to the mean. He should be a fine goaltender, and the Leafs are plenty deep in goal this season, regardless of what the Leafs gave up to get Bernier.
And another ranking
Speaking of ESPN rankings… new ESPN prospectus guru and former Hockey Prospectus prospects guru Corey Pronman released his Leafs’ Top 10 rankings last week. Given that we wrapped up our own prospect series on Saturday, I think it’s worth pointing out the similarities in our lists.
Our top five was nearly identical: Morgan Rielly, Joe Colborne, Frederik Gauthier were 1, 2 and 3 on both lists, with Pronman putting Matt Finn 4th and Stuart Percy 5th, while we had the opposite. There’s a definite consensus here. The Leafs have just one high-end prospect in Rielly, and lowering levels of quality with a lot of depth in the system. Pronman ranked the Leafs’ organization 24th and it’s tough to disagree it should be higher. There are some NHL-ready players in the system, but behind Rielly, which players are going to become stars at the NHL-level unless something unexpected happens? That’s the issue you run into by making the safe picks. Brian Burke took a risk last season by drafting a defenceman that sat out much of the season thanks to an ACL injury, and he’s become one of the top defensive prospects in the game.