With a deep prospect pool, it might be wise to sell on hype

Photo Credit: Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY SPORTS

The transformation of the Leafs farm system is one of the most incredible things we’ve witnessed in a long time. In 2013 the talent pool was essentially “some guy we drafted in the first round, and I guess Connor Brown, Josh Leivo, and Andreas Johnsson all don’t look awful.” Since then, the team has hired an elite talent evaluator in Mark Hunter, scoured the world for free agents, and used their cap space and resources to take on players so their team can get out from a contract. There have also been possibly useful prospects included in larger deals, like the Dion Phaneuf trade. Every kind of opportunity has been exploited.

Look at the players added since then. Focus on the guys who look like they have a reasonable shot at being NHL contributors. They’ve drafted William Nylander, Rinat Valiev, Mitch Marner, Travis Dermott, Jeremy Bracco, Andrew Nielsen, Martins Dzierkals, Jesper Lindgren, Dmytro Timashov, Auston Matthews, Yegor Korshkov, Carl Grundstom, and Adam Brooks. In trades, they’ve brought in Kasperi Kapanen, Kerby Rychel, Connor Carrick, Zach Hyman, Brendan Leipsic, Tobias Lindberg, and if you’d like to count him, Martin Marincin. Via free agency, they’ve added Nikita Zaitsev, Nikita Soshnikov, and Trevor Moore. There are more, but those are just the guys who, to my eyes and with a bit of data, look like they could be players.

Many of them will not pan out, as we must always note when discussing prospects. The thing is, that’s still a lot of players. There are 12 forward spots and six defense spots in a lineup, and some receive little ice time. They’ve got several players already who are good players under long-term deals, and who should take up some of those spots. Many of them are not ever going to play for the Leafs. You’re used to hearing about Brad Boyes, Alex Steen, Freddy Modin, and Kenny Jonsson. Now at some point, the Leafs will have to move away from good young players because there isn’t room. Any given draft brings with it another seven shots at a player who might take another of those roster spots.

The lede is buried under three layers of inane prospect hype, but it’s something to consider. Another thing to consider is that if you’re drafting well, by definition you’re taking players other teams didn’t want. If other teams thought Adam Brooks was as good as the Leafs believe he is, they would’ve taken him. This means that getting something back for a lot of these kids is going to be impossible. Sure, we’ve all sat and watched Q games and browsed Youtube to see Dmytro Timashov move, but most teams decided against him four times. Hell, most teams took two or three guys who will never play in the NHL over him.

This is why it’s important to identify not just the undervalued players, but your own overvalued ones. I’ve thought for a while now that James van Riemsdyk will probably leave Toronto after his contract ends. It’s a shame because I like him, but why pay that money when he’s 30 when you have Timashov, Leipsic, or Johnsson to take his spot? Two years in advance, we see a glut of 21 to 23-year-old players who have earned a shot at playing in the NHL but are punished because of the depth in the organization. It’s about time the Leafs try to decide who is going to have to be sacrificed.

That brings me to Kasperi Kapanen. In his professional career, Kapanen hasn’t done a whole heck of a lot. Granted, he’s only 20, and the AHL is hard. Once you factor in how many minutes he lost on a loaded team, and his injuries, 25 points in 44 games isn’t so bad. But he’s not a can’t-miss star on the level of Matthews, Marner, and Nylander. Other than his draft position, there’s not much reason to assume he’s any better than Brown, Leipsic, Johnsson, or any of a bunch of other kids. But thanks to that draft position, and possibly his tournament-winning goal for Finland at the World Juniors, he carries a much greater reputation.

Now, I like Kapanen, even if it’s mostly because I liked his dad. It’s hard not to remember, though, that he was the most valued asset in a package for an elite winger just over a year ago. That was a complicated situation, and we can’t expect to trade Kapanen, a first, and a slow defenseman for say, Max Pacioretty. But as people underrate this Leafs team (as they have) and overrate Kapanen, it makes one wonder what the first round pick and a top prospect could bring back.

Star players are mostly traded only during extenuating circumstances. These are often things like a difficult salary cap situation, a trade demand, or the gross incompetence of a General Manager. The options are limited, but it’s easy to imagine that the next time a star player becomes available, the Leafs could offer the most enticing package. While we all might like Kapanen, and see him as a part of the future, trading that package for someone like Jacob Trouba or Nikita Kucherov makes a lot more sense than waking up to realize that it’s time to cash in and grab a third round pick for Connor Brown. It doesn’t make sense to hoard the value of the third best right winger in the organization that can’t drink on road trips.

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  • Marcel DePass

    I would rid Leipsic, Smith, Piccinch, and even Bracco before Kappy. He has what the others lack or don’t have as much, Grit. When Kapanen is in a sour mood, he will hit everything. He’s not a typical skilled forward, drifting and waiting for the puck (not anymore), he can hold his own physically. With his flat out speed, he would at least make a good penalty killer and 3rd line scoring winger. Sure, you might get something small for him, but his value is heavily weighted towards keeping him.

  • Brent Wisken

    Too soon to trade Kapanen. He just started his professional career, and last year he played as a 19 year old in the AHL, earlier than most players. Can’t say he is all hype or not since he just turned 20 years old a couple of months ago. He played really well in the pre-season, looks like he is improving already.

  • LukeDaDrifter

    Hunter has done so well on evaluating prospects with better than average chance of playing in the NHL, it has created an unexpected problem. What do you do with this many top prospects? These players and their agents all want to see them in the NHL. You can’t bury these guys in the AHL indefinitely, any more.

    • Brent Wisken

      For the past decade Detroit has been burying their prospects in the AHL until they are 23 or 24 years old. Our prospects for the most part aren’t that old. Our better prospects are 20 to 22 years old on the Marlies, or are younger in the CHL or the KHL. We just recently started the rebuild.

      • LukeDaDrifter

        I agree in the past a lot of teams used that strategy. Today the salary cap is slowly changing it. Players are now being pushed out of the NHL around age 30. Younger less expensive guys taking their jobs. Lately there have been a of young guys not willing to stay put in the minors for years. The difference in NHL salary and AHL is quite large. I think agents and players feel if there is no room on the main club, then they wish to be traded to an NHL club that can use them. Even guys like Trouba are unhappy playing on their weak side. When one stops to think about it this will have an effect on their earning potential. I will also mention here that a lot of fans feel it is very disloyal for a young prospect to request a trade. At the same time when management decides to trade a player it is not considered disloyal, just good business. Here is an exaggerated example: If the Leafs were to send Matthews to the Marlies there is no doubt he would be an even better player next year at 20 year old. How do you think Matthews and his agent would view that move?

        • Brent Wisken

          Agents still don’t have much power for B-level prospects who don’t have any arbitration rights. I’m not talking about Matthews, Marner and Nylander (or Trouba, or Drouin, who, by the way, the teams didn’t cave in for and have not yet traded). I’m talking about the rest of our prospects, who are very good and i am happy to have, but are still for the most part B-level prospects. They aren’t star prospects. As such, i wouldn’t worry about the agents having much power and influence.

      • Tigon

        The point of the article is that the Leafs have a lot of value in the prospect pool and not enough room, speaking of Detroit they just lost Frk on waivers, a good second round pick from 2013 for nothing.

        So rather than potentially lose people for nothing by letting them walk (Percy), to waivers like Frk as mentioned or shipping them out for pennies on the dollar because you just want something (Joe Colbourne) the article is saying why not package that value to get something you know you can use and has higher actually value like Trouba or Kucherov. I’m in favour of that because I certainly would be disappointed if we lost Leivo to waivers because of a situation where we simply cannot fit on the roster.

        I favour spending “prospect dollars” for greater returns, but not like we saw in the 90s and early 2000s like the Nolan type trades.

        • Brent Wisken

          But which Marlies players are the Leafs going to lose if they send them down to the AHL? The vast majority do not have to clear waivers – for instance, not Kapanen, not Brown, not Nielsen, Timashov, Dermott, Leipsic, not Carrick, not Soshnikov, etc. They are too young, it’s not an issue yet. You are worrying way too soon. For the couple that do have to clear waivers, it’s not much of an issue. I like Leivo, but every team has a Leivo. The issue of Corrado is not an issue of having too many prospects, but rather an issue of the Leafs deciding to keep an ineffective veteran (Hunwick) instead. The fact is, every team has to deal with waivers, but that doesn’t mean a rebuilding team suddenly unloads their prospects before there is any real issue to worry about. As for Percy, the Leafs lost interest in him. He simply isn’t that good of a prospect. And if you think we can unload our B-level prospects (not Matthews, Marner and Nylander) for Trouba or Kucherov, well then you are sadly mistaken.

          • Randy J

            No one said we were going to lose anyone today, but you plan ahead. If you think players are just going to sit in the minors until they`re 25 or 26 to play for us you`re crazy. The whole point of the article is to maximize your assets. If you have enough quantity to trade for better quality – do it.

          • Brent Wisken

            Our best prospects on the Marlies are 20 to 22 years old and do not have to clear waivers. Not even close to 25 or 26 years old. Way to soon to worry about waivers, and way to soon to know what kind of prospects we have given they are very young. And you seem to forget that we still have to ice a Marlies team. The team is in a developmental league, and the better the AHL team the better the ability to sufficiently develop the prospects. Hence, don’t start unloading prospects due to panicking about some future date a couple of years from now. We don’t have “too many” prospects on the Marlies, rather we have a full team of very good prospects on our developmental team, which is great, especially since they are still young and developing so we have time to ascertain what we have in them. Too soon to deem any of them “all hype” given we just acquired them.

  • Brent Wisken

    I have no issue with trading a prospect for a prospect (e.g., a forward for a d-man). What I do have issue with in this article and some of the comments is the following: (1) we can ascertain already which players are “hyped” (e.g., article mentions Kapanen). Not true. Our best prospects on the Marlies are only 20-22 years old. Too early to tell. Kapanen just played in the AHL as a 19 year old and just turned twenty. (2) we have “too many” prospects on the Marlies. Nope, rather we have a full team of very young players in our developmental system that we are still judging what they consist of. We still have to ice a Marlies team, and the better the team is, the better our ability to sufficiently develop our prospects. (3) we will lose our players to waivers. Not true – our best prospects do not have to clear waivers for a while. Every team has a Leivo and Froese, and regarding Corrado, this isn’t a waiver issue but rather an issue of management keeping an incompetent veteran (Hunwick). (4) we can trade a quantity of B-prospects for a quality star prospect. Nope. That is not how star prospects get traded. Most of our prospects are very good and i am happy to have them, but they are nevertheless B-level prospects who will not get us Trouba. Not talking about Matthews, Marner, or Nylander.