#10 – Rinat Valiev
Rinat Valiev was an interesting pick for the Leafs. Drafted at a time when many recognizable names were still available, going with a 19 year old defender seemed like a strange decision. Fortunately, it looks like the move is paying off, as Valiev continues to be one of the better offensive defencemen in the Western Hockey League (17th in scoring by defencemen, was 49th last year), and his all around game is solid to boot.
Having watched a fair number of Kootenay games last season, due to Sam Reinhart and their frequency of play in Edmonton, I can’t say that Valiev was a player that stood out to me, and I’ll choose to believe this as a good thing, because that style is also one of my favourite things about Stuart Percy. Going again this year to actually see what Valiev is like, I can say he doesn’t have the flash of a Jake Gardiner, but he’s not a lifeless rock like Korbinian Holzer either. Being a few years older than most of the league gives him an advantage, so while his play appears solid, that is often the case of players in their second season after first being draft eligible.
#9 – Viktor Loov
When Viktor Loov was assigned to the Toronto Marlies, the expectation was that he would be a stay at home defenceman who would use his foot speed to break people’s bodies and souls. To an extent, that has been the case, but perhaps most surprisingly, Loov has been one of Toronto’s best offensive defenceman this year.
#8 – Greg McKegg
While Greg McKegg isn’t producing at the same clip as he was with the Toronto Marlies last year, the same could honestly be said about the entire team. A roster that had four point per game players (two of which were full timers) now has a scoring leader that’s hanging out at 0.75, and has largely relied on big nights out of their young goaltenders to win games.
Amongst this group, McKegg has fared pretty well. In 32 games, he has eight goals and ten assists, good for third on the team in scoring behind Spencer Abbott and Connor Brown. McKegg has spent most of the season as one of Toronto’s go to centres. His winger cast is ever-rotating; his most frequent teammates have been Spencer Abbott and Matt Frattin, though Gord Dineen has experimented with playing him with William Nylander since the young Swede joined the team.
#7 – Matt Finn
Matt Finn ranks seventh on our midterm rankings, I imagine, largely due to a successful Junior career in the past, and on his top-four future potential. That is to say, Finn is doing pretty much nothing in the present to earn this spot among his prospect peers.
After being a near point-per-game player with Guelph of the OHL last season, Finn made the jump to professional hockey this year with the Toronto Marlies. A strong two-way prospect with a nice point shot, Finn has appeared in 22 games and has scored exactly one goal and one assist. As the youngest member of the Marlies’ defence, it’s not surprising that Finn doesn’t get prime opportunities to shine, but he certainly hasn’t forced anyone’s hand either.
During the month of December, Finn also spent some time with the Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL, where he picked up another two points in eight games. This might be chalked up to a transition year for the 20-year old, but Finn will need to establish himself down the stretch and through next season. With another wave of draft prospects set to join the organization this summer, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Finn – formerly one of the organization’s top prospects – to drop right out of our top ten. – Justin Fisher
#6 – Frederik Gauthier
By now, the list of things that Frederik Gauthier doesn’t do is pretty well established – he doesn’t score a lot of goals, and he doesn’t set them up very often either. That was a sticking point for fans when Gauthier was drafted by the Leafs in the first round, 21st overall, back in 2013. Since then, he’s been about a point-per-game player in the QMJHL, a junior league known for its gaudy offensive numbers. It’s almost as if a point-per-game pace isn’t good enough, which seems ludicrous, but Gauthier is a 6’5, 215lb beast of a man and should be able to walk all over the competition.
On the other hand, what Gauthier does well is also pretty well established. He’s a defensive machine, able to win faceoffs and shut down the opposition’s best players. Is that something you look for in a first round pick? No, but the Leafs have him now, so we might as well start focusing on his play, and less on when or where he was drafted.
Even Gauthier’s biggest detractors were impressed with his play at the most recent World Juniors tournament, where he anchored a very effective fourth line shutdown and penalty kill group. He skated well for a big man, forechecked effectively, and caused problems for his opponents in both ends of the ice. Though, not so much when the puck was on his stick – he finished the tournament with one assist in seven games.
This season, his third junior campaign and draft +2 year, Gauthier has 13 goals and 25 points in 24 games. He’s scoring more (ever so slightly) than he ever has before, so at least there’s some progress. He might not have the flash of some of the Leafs’ other prospects, but Gauthier very much looks like he could find a role in the NHL based on his size and defensive acumen. That’s fine – just stop talking about him being a first round pick. – Justin Fisher