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Bracco eager to show Maple Leafs he's ready for NHL

Skilled, speedy forward hoping to break into talented lineup in first pro season

by Dave McCarthy / Correspondent

TORONTO -- Jeremy Bracco knows it won't be easy to crack the Toronto Maple Leafs' roster now that they're flush with high-end young talent. That doesn't mean he's letting the limited number of available roster spots discourage him.


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"You have to play to your strengths. If you do that, your strengths will come out and if the coach sees something that he likes, you're going to get a chance," Bracco said Monday at the NHLPA Rookie Showcase. "It's going to come down to what you can bring and what you can do and really, how much the coach trusts you. I'm looking forward to that challenge."

Bracco, a 20-year-old right wing, is preparing for his first professional season after finishing his junior career last season with Windsor of the Ontario Hockey League.

"I think my two years in junior really did a lot for me. I was fortunate enough to play for great coaches and great people," Bracco said. "I'm really excited to make the jump to the professional level this year."

Bracco had 32 points (eight goals, 24 assists) in 30 games with Windsor after a midseason trade from Kitchener, where he had 51 points (17 goals, 34 assists) in 27 games. He also had eight points (three goals, five assists) in four games to help Windsor win the Memorial Cup tournament.

Coach Mike Babcock told recently that there will be competition for roster spots in training camp. But realistically, Bracco, who's 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, figures to begin the season with the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League.

"They've just stressed about playing a 200-foot game and continuing to work hard every day," Bracco said of his discussions with Maple Leafs management during the summer.


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But at some point, Bracco's skills could be a good fit with the Maple Leafs, who selected him in the second round (No. 31) of the 2015 NHL Draft, because of his high-end offensive talent and elite speed. He had 147 points (46 goals, 101 assists) in 106 OHL games from 2015-17. Earlier this year, Babcock said Bracco is one of the few players he has seen who is faster when he has the puck than when he doesn't.

"I think my eyes get a little wider [when I have it]. When you have the puck, you get a little more hungry to go to the net," Bracco said. "I don't know, I think it's just a case of where I enjoy having the puck and enjoy making plays and trying to make guys around me better. Playing with the puck, playing in the offensive zone, is what works well for me and where I can really shine."

Bracco's summer training was interrupted by a case of mononucleosis that limited his participation in Toronto's development camp in early July. He is fully recovered and is included on the Maple Leafs 26-man roster for the 2017 Rookie Tournament to be held at Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto from Sept. 8-10.

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Bracco has been working out in Toronto with several current Maple Leafs, including Connor Brown and Zach Hyman, who went from prospects last summer to full-time roles last season. Bracco said he has learned a lot from the two players, each of whom was in a similar position last summer.

"Their inner drive every day is unbelievable," Bracco said. "They're always among the first guys there and the last guys to leave. To watch those guys and to have them take the time to help a guy like myself out, it just shows what kind of guys they are. Their inner drive is second to none, absolutely. I've just tried to pick up little things from the older guys, they've been through it, they've done it and they know what it takes. I really just try to keep my mouth shut and learn."

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