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Marner, Kapanen among Maple Leafs' top 5 prospects

by Mike Brophy / Toronto Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs are committed to building through the draft, so when they traded forward Phil Kessel this summer, it was important to get a first-round pick and a quality prospect (Kasperi Kapanen) from the Pittsburgh Penguins in return.

That trade came days after the Maple Leafs selected center Mitchell Marner in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft, and one year after they selected another center, William Nylander, with their top pick.

Marner, Nylander and Kapanen are smaller players who are highly skilled. The Maple Leafs, traditionally one of the NHL's bigger teams, have put an emphasis on skill over size in recent drafts.

Despite missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past two seasons, Toronto is committed to not rushing its top prospects.

"We want our prospects to be ready for full-time employment when we call them up," assistant general manager Kyle Dubas said. "We don't want them to be going back and forth from the Maple Leafs to the minors."

Here are the Maple Leafs' top five prospects, according to NHL.com:

1. Mitchell Marner, C

How acquired: First round (No. 4), 2015 NHL Draft

Last season: London, OHL: 63 GP, 44-82-126

The Maple Leafs believe they have a player similar to the Chicago Blackhawks' Patrick Kane in Marner, right down to the fact Kane also played junior with the London Knights. Like Kane, Marner is a highly skilled player who's gifted with the puck.

Toronto signed the 18-year-old to a three-year contract July 28. In two seasons with the Knights, the 5-foot-11, 160-pound center had 57 goals and 185 points in 127 games. Marner is considered a solid two-way player who does not shirk his defensive responsibilities and is aggressive with his stick.

Projected NHL arrival: 2017-18

2. Kasperi Kapanen, RW

How acquired: Trade with Pittsburgh Penguins, July 1, 2015

Last season: KalPa Kuopio, Liiga (Finland): 41 GP, 11-10-21; Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, AHL: 4 GP, 1-1-2

The son of retired NHL forward Sami Kapanen is another of the Maple Leafs' small, skilled players; he's 5-foot-10 and 178 pounds. After playing most of last season in his native Finland, he joined the Penguins' American Hockey League affiliate to get a taste of North American hockey. Kapanen scored a goal and had an assist in four regular-season games, then had two goals and five points in five playoff games.

Goal-scoring is Kapanen's strong suit, but the 19-year-old is also a gifted playmaker who makes those around him better. He is a high-end skater with a quick release.

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

3. William Nylander, C

How acquired: First round (No. 8), 2014 NHL Draft

Last season: Modo, Sweden: 21 GP, 8-12-20; Toronto Marlies, AHL: 37 GP, 18-14-32

The 19-year-old Canadian-born son of former NHL forward Michael Nylander is a speedy center with excellent offensive skills. Like Kapanen, Nylander started last season playing in Europe but came to North America to play in the AHL.

Nylander (5-foot-11, 174 pounds) has above-average speed, good hands and likes to shoot the puck. He performed well for Sweden at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship, scoring three goals and 10 points in seven games. The Maple Leafs hope he will become more engaged physically as he fills out and matures.

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

4. Stuart Percy, D

How acquired: First round (No. 25), 2011 NHL Draft

Last season: Maple Leafs: 9 GP, 0-3-3; Toronto Marlies, AHL; 43 GP, 1-10-11

Percy's greatest strength might be going unnoticed; for the type of game he plays, which is being smart with the puck, that's a good thing. The 22-year-old is a smooth-skating defender who makes few mistakes. He isn't overly physical but doesn't shy away from contact.

The 6-foot-1, 186-pound native of Oakville, Ontario, did not look out of place during a short stint with the Maple Leafs last season. He stays calm under pressure and is dependable at getting the puck out of the defensive zone.

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

5. Frederik Gauthier, C

How acquired: First round (No. 21), 2013 NHL Draft

Last season: Rimouski, QMJHL; 37 GP, 16-16-32

Gauthier stands out from Toronto's other top prospects because of his size; he's 6-foot-5, 215 pounds. The 20-year-old center is not considered to have top-six potential, but his defensive skills and ability in the faceoff circle suggest he'll be a dependable third-liner.

Gauthier represented Canada in the past two WJC tournaments. His game has been described as mature, and his offense has potential. Gauthier skates well and uses his size to win puck battles.

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

Author: Mike Brophy | NHL.com Correspondent

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