Monday, April 03, 2006

THN's Future Watch

The latest print issue of The Hockey News features the annual Future Watch – a list of the top NHL prospects/impact players under the age of 25. (Is it just me, or can you still be considered an NHL prospect when you’re 25 years old?)

The Leafs prospects/impact players are ranked 25th overall. That may seem low given the hype the Leaf kiddie-corps has garnered this year, but as the Toronto Star aptly notes:

The Leafs have played 11 players who qualify as NHL rookies this season and all have displayed some potential, particularly the young defencemen who have come up from the Toronto Marlies. But even some of the players themselves know the Leafs are a long way from turning potential into impact at the NHL level.
To be fair, part of the reason the Leafs’ are ranked in the bottom third of THN’s feature is that, by setting the age limit at 25 instead of some lower (admittedly arbitrary age), Leafs players like Wellwood, Stajan, Steen and Poinkarovsky find themselves standing beside some pretty elite company, like Kovalchuk, Heatly, Richards, Lecalvier and Nash.

Digression #1: it’s going to be fascinating to see how reducing the age for free agency down to 27 will affect teams, salary structures, and player movement, especially as this next crop of impact players hits that magic number.

Digression #2: Considering that the cornerstone of JFJ’s Plan (the first rule of JFJ’s plan is - you do not talk about the plan. The second rule of JFJ’s plan is - you do not talk about the plan) is a build not buy strategy, you have to wonder how the suits at MLSE feel having their prospects ranked in the bottom third of the league? (A safe guess is it's the same feeling they get when they look at the standings and see the Leafs ranked 21st.)
It could also be said THN’s rankings are right on the money as the Leafs, the media and the fans seem to over-hype or over-estimate the potential of the Leafs’ junior core. Case in point, today’s Sun article “Young Leafs a Bright Spot” and the Globe’s near identical piece “Toronto Rookies Showcase Junior Class” (a tip o’ the hat to the Leafs PR dept for the fine timing and placement of this trope).

Digression #3: Despite these pieces (or should I say in light of the Hockey News article) any neutral bystander or hockey fan should be able to chip in with the observation that with the Leafs all but mathematically eliminated from the post-season, with the Stanley Cup drought one season away from it’s 40th anniversary and with apparent/alleged disarray among coaches and management “bright spot” might mean drastically different things if you cheer for the Leafs instead of say the Senators or Flames.
So where do the Leafs actually stand? Not surprisingly in the land of leaf-centric media saturation, it’s not as bright nor as dire as the media might portray it.

In terms of impact players (under or over 25) I think the Leafs have to rank pretty low and 25th certainly sounds about right. But in terms of actual prospects – that is young players who are likely to succeed in the NHL – I can’t recall a time when the Leafs had this much raw talent to draw upon. Let's just hope they don't trade it away for a veteran defenceman in decline...(Mr. Kurvers meet Mr. Leetch)

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