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Nylander Leads Maple Leafs' Top 10 Prospects

by Adam Kimelman / Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan had a message for players at the team's prospect development camp last month: There are NHL jobs available, but it's up to them to step up and win them.

"He made it crystal clear to the people in the room that some of these kids are going to be vital pieces and impact pieces to our team moving forward," Maple Leafs director of player development Jim Hughes said. "We want to develop from within. We want to build our own players and build our own foundation. We've been doing that the last couple years. But for Brendan to make that statement and for the kids to hear his thoughts, his philosophies, his theories, it's important and it's a very positive message and it worked out well."

Now those players will come to training camp next month and attempt to put those thoughts into action.

Here's a look at the Maple Leafs' top 10 prospects, according to

1. William Nylander, C

How acquired: 1st round (No. 8), 2014 draft

Last season: 22 GP, 1-6-7, MODO, SWE

Hughes got his first look at Nylander during prospect camp and came away highly impressed by the 5-foot-11, 169-pound forward.

"He's a dynamic player with a high-end skill set," Hughes said. "His edges, his explosion, his acceleration, along with his hand speed. He's a really talented kid. During the prospect camp week we got the opportunity to know him as a person. He's very detailed, he's very motivated. And he's a wonderful kid that's been parented correctly. He's an impressive hockey player, but he's an impressive person as well."

Where Nylander, 18, starts the season remains to be seen.

"We'll watch the process now that he's gone through development camp," Hughes said. "Then we'll watch the rookie tournament, then we'll watch the NHL camp and then we'll have a better idea of where he belongs for this coming year. It could be a variety of options, and obviously one would be the National Hockey League. A second could be the American Hockey League, or maybe he stays in Sweden and plays in the elite league for another year."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

2. Stuart Percy, D

How acquired: 1st round (No. 25), 2011 draft

Last season: 71 GP, 4-21-25, Toronto, AHL

The 6-1, 187-pound defenseman had a strong first season in the AHL in 2013-14, and Hughes believes all the indicators with Percy are pointing in the right direction.

"What makes Stuart special is the ability to distribute the puck and make the four players around him better," Hughes said of the 21-year-old. "He's got terrific hockey sense, he's got a great feel for the game and he moves the puck very intelligently and to the right places. He had a very strong year for us. And he's moving in the right direction. I don't know what the timetable is for him, but he's certainly working on his trade. He continues to get better, he continues to get stronger and he's becoming a dominant player at the AHL level, which is a great sign. Usually when that occurs, he's getting close to graduating that league."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

3. Frederik Gauthier, C

How acquired: 1st round (No. 21), 2013 draft

Last season: 54 GP, 18-34-52, Rimouski, QMJHL

The 19-year-old forward already was well-regarded for his defensive skill, but his all-around game continued to improve last season, which included a stint with Canada at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship.

"When we drafted him he was a boy, and now he's getting physically stronger," Hughes said. "He's stronger on his skates, he's got more power and separation speed. We knew this was going to take a few years, but he's made some great strides. But what he brings is glue all over the ice. He's always supporting the puck, he's always in the right places. He supports the puck so well and he's a good outlet to our defensemen. And he plays all three zones intelligently. He angles well, he blocks shots, he wins faceoffs, he's a good penalty killer, he goes to the front of the offensive net, he's detailed, he stops and starts on loose pucks.

"He's just a big, big person (6-5, 214). He's moving along real well. His faceoffs continue to improve. He's got a lot of good things in his game. Over time he's just going to continue to get better and better. He's going to be a really good National Hockey League player."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

4. Connor Brown, RW

How acquired: 6th round (No. 156), 2012 draft

Last season: 68 GP, 45-83-128, plus-44, Erie, OHL

The 20-year-old had a stellar 2013-14 season, leading the Ontario Hockey League in scoring and winning the league MVP award. The 5-11, 160-pound forward followed that with 18 points in 14 OHL playoff games.

Some of Brown's success can be credited to playing with top 2015 NHL Draft prospect Connor McDavid, but Brown was a 20-goal scorer before McDavid arrived.

"Connor is a motivated kid," Hughes said of Brown. "Connor creates his own opportunities. Connor has a dog-on-a-bone mentality. He's not waiting around for somebody else to make him better. He was on a very good team and he had a great year, but his work load and his work ethic is superior. He loves the game. … He's not ready yet; give him a couple more years and we might have a real good player on our hands."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

5. Matthew Finn, D

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 35), 2012 draft

Last season: 66 GP, 14-47-61, plus-57, Guelph, OHL

The 20-year-old was second among Ontario Hockey League defensemen in scoring last season and he had the best plus/minus rating in the league. His strong play carried into the postseason, as his five goals tied for the lead among OHL defensemen and he had four assists and a plus-5 rating in the Memorial Cup. The 6-0, 199-pound defenseman also was captain of arguably the best team in the Canadian Hockey League last season, and it's that character, as well as his play, that have the Maple Leafs excited.

"He's a high-character kid with great leadership skills," Hughes said. "He did a great job helping to lead that team. And he's a kid that has such great desire and determination, and that's why he's at where he's at right now. He's got a workload and he works at it every single day. In a lot of ways he's probably an overachiever. Now it's time to graduate that league and move onto the American Hockey League. It's another opportunity for him to keep moving up the ladder and push himself and improve in different areas."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

6. Andreas Johnson, LW

How acquired: 7th round (No. 202), 2013 draft

Last season: 44 GP, 15-9-24, Frolunda, SWE

Johnson, 19, moved his development along last season as the 5-10, 183-pound forward led all junior-age players in the Swedish Hockey League in points and won the SHL rookie of the year award. He also had three goals and six points in seven games to help Sweden win the silver medal at the 2014 WJC. He'll play one more season in Frolunda, but the Maple Leafs have high hopes for Johnson.

"He's a real gifted player with great offensive instincts," Hughes said. "His father [Jonas Johnson] is a professional coach, and Andreas was taught well. He plays inside out; everything comes from the front of the net. He stands out in the offensive zone. He's always around the front of the net. … When he does get the puck, he knows how to protect it and keep it. He buys time and he buys space. He's a pretty good player right now.

"He's in a very good spot [in Frolunda] with good coaches. He plays in all situations. He plays real good, quality minutes for Frolunda. It's a great spot for him right now in a very good league. We'll leave him alone and let him keep developing. He's got top-six type abilities. We project him down the road to be an effective second-line player someday."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

7. Viktor Loov, D

How acquired: 7th round (No. 209), 2012 draft

Last season: 42 GP, 5-7-12, MODO, SWE

For the 6-1, 187-pound defenseman, the move to the smaller rinks in North America could be advantageous. The 21-year-old doesn't seem to shy away from physical play.

"He likes to come up and look for a smack in the neutral zone. He's got good size and he's every well-conditioned," Hughes said. "But what makes him effective is his skating. He's an elite skater; he skates above the ice. He generates tremendous power. He almost skates effortlessly so he can really get up the ice and he can really close on people. He can get to areas of the rink quickly."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

8. Josh Leivo, LW

How acquired: 3rd round (No. 86), 2011 draft

Last season: 59 GP, 23-19-42, Toronto, AHL

In his first full professional season, the 21-year-old forward was second on the team in goals and was rewarded with seven games in the NHL. The 6-1, 173-pound forward had one goal and one assist for the Maple Leafs last season and will have a chance to compete for full-time NHL employment at training camp.

"Josh has worked extremely hard at the physical conditioning part to go along with his offensive instincts and his skill set," Hughes said. "He's a stronger player that believes in his body. He's got more confidence in his body. He's got good instincts around the net, he's got good hand/eye coordination and his thoughts are very quick. … He knows when he gets the puck exactly where it needs to go. And that's something that some guys have and others have to work at."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

9. Antoine Bibeau, G

How acquired: 6th round (No. 172), 2013 draft

Last season: 48 GP, 21-18-6, 3.17 GAA, .907 save percentage, Charlottetown/Val-d'Or, QMJHL

The 6-3, 207-pound goalie was a big part of Val-d'Or's run to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League championship, as his 2.80 goals-against average and .913 save percentage earned him the league playoff MVP trophy. He was just as good in the Memorial Cup; he had a 51-save shutout of the host London Knights on the first night of the tournament, and his 2.76 GAA and .932 save percentage were the best at the tournament.

"He had a tremendous year," Hughes said. "He was tested from all angles and areas. He sees a lot of action, and it seems like the more action he gets, the more he excels and the better he plays."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

10. Tom Nilsson, D

How acquired: 4th round (No. 100), 2011 draft

Last season: 50 GP, 2-2-4, Frolunda, SWE

The 20-year-old capped a strong season in the Swedish Hockey League by being named a finalist for its rookie of the year award. That convinced the Maple Leafs the 6-foot, 176-pound defenseman needed to be in North America.

"He's a real good, solid right-shot defenseman that can be physical," Hughes said. "High compete level, tremendous character and a heavy work ethic. It's time for him to come over and really start to experience the North American game. He had a good prospect camp. He can skate, he moves the puck effectively and he's got a personality that's hard to play against."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

Follow Adam Kimelman on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

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Author: Adam Kimelman | Deputy Managing Editor

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