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Biggs Hopes To Develop Into Force For Leafs

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs

Try to envision the prototypical Randy Carlyle hockey player and the image of Tyler Biggs immediately springs to mind.

Biggs, the Toronto Maple Leafs' first pick (No. 22) in the 2011 NHL Draft, is a chiseled 6-foot-3 and 224 pounds, knows his way around the offensive zone and plays with an edge.

After leaving the University of Miami, where he scored nine goals and 17 points in 37 games as a freshman in 2011-12, Biggs made his mark in the Ontario Hockey League last season, scoring 26 goals and 53 points in 60 games with the Oshawa Generals. He concluded the season scoring a goal in four games with the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League.

Few doubt the 20-year-old native of Loveland, Ohio, has what it takes to play in the NHL. Rather, it seems only to be a question of how badly does he want it, and what is he prepared to do to make the dream come true as quickly as possible.

Biggs said he believes having Carlyle as coach of the Maple Leafs gives him a bit of an edge moving forward.

"I definitely hope so," Biggs said, adding that he sees himself as a top-six forward in the NHL one day. "It is pretty obvious Toronto is trying to be a bigger, stronger and more powerful team. You can see that by the signing of free agent David Clarkson this summer. To one day be a part of that is the dream and my goal, and if Randy Carlyle thinks I'm ready, that would be great."

The Maple Leafs will have hit a home run if Biggs develops into a player like Clarkson. The feeling is Biggs will require some time in the AHL before earning steady employment in the NHL. Those who watched him play last season feel he is at his best when he keeps his game simple and doesn't try to do too much.

There is no denying Biggs has a significant skill level, and when coupled with his physical attributes, he has a very good upside. Though he didn't necessarily separate himself from the pack during two days of scrimmages in Toronto during the team's prospect camp this week, it is evident he has an opportunity to be an impact player down the road.

Biggs made the decision to join the OHL after a season in the NCAA and made no secret of the fact college hockey did not suit his game, which tends to be on the robust side. He said joining the Generals allowed him to compete against players in his own age group, and that was a plus.

"I thought there was a little bit more individual talent in the OHL, guys that will be franchise-type players," Biggs said. "At the same time, in the college game guys are a little older and bigger, and that can make it difficult for a young player to beat them down low sometimes. In the OHL I was able to be more of an impact player down low and create space for my linemates. I was also put in a position with Oshawa to have more offensive opportunities. It allowed me to try to do things more on my own from time to time, especially being a big body-player -- a power forward."

Biggs' numbers were decent, but not overwhelming. Perhaps because he wasn't used to such a long and demanding schedule coupled with the fact he played for the United States at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship, it appeared he ran out of gas late in the season. Biggs does not buy into that theory, even though he managed one assist in nine playoff games with Oshawa.

"There are times in a long season when you are going to go through a little bit of a slump in terms of scoring, but I think you could ask anybody that watched me play and they would say I had the opportunities and I just didn't capitalize on them," Biggs said. "I was still doing great on the penalty kill and defensively. I was shutting down top lines."

Biggs' time in Oshawa was special if only because his father, Don, also played for the Generals, from 1982-85, before launching a professional career during which he scored two goals in 12 games with the Minnesota North Stars and Philadelphia Flyers.

"It was definitely pretty special," Biggs said. "It really kicked in early when, during a barbecue at the beginning of the year, somebody handed me the same jersey they had my dad sign when he played with the Generals. That was definitely something that meant a lot to me."

The Maple Leafs have been careful not to rush their prospects in recent seasons. Though they believe Biggs has NHL potential, they know there is plenty of growing in his game to come.

"He finished up with the Marlies and he'll have to continue to grow as a hockey player," said Jim Hughes, Maple Leafs director of player development. "I assume he'll start with the Marlies and he'll grow some ownership in the group. He has to grab the bull by the horns and make his presence felt early. He has to establish a significant spot on the team in all situations and grow as a hockey player."

For Biggs, getting a taste of the AHL last season gave him an idea where he stands moving forward.

"You jump to the pro game and now you're playing against the elite of the guys you just played with, to a certain extent," Biggs said. "Things are quicker and you have to be thinking quicker. The AHL was kind of like a mix of where I came from in terms of having the talent that I saw in the OHL and the bigger, stronger and older players that I played against in the NCAA.

"I thought I fared pretty well. Being a bigger guy myself, it was an opportunity for me to be challenged and it was good. I had to use different parts of my game, and I became very steady defensively and was able to kill penalties."

Nevertheless, making it to the NHL is what motivates Biggs. He proved last winter when he played a significant role in helping the United States win gold at the World Juniors that he can compete with the best players in the world.

"That has to be the mindset," Biggs said. "You can't go in thinking you won't be able to do it, because that would mess with your confidence. My mindset is that I am here to make the Maple Leafs."

Author: Mike Brophy | Correspondent

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