Three Toronto Maple Leafs prospects have made headlines recently—two for their scoring prowess, and the other as the victim of a vicious blindside hit.
Greg McKegg, Brad Ross and the now injured Josh Nicholls were prized picks by Brian Burke in the 2010 draft, and without a first or second-round selection due to the Phil Kessel trade, their development is integral for the club’s future.
McKegg, a skilled centre for the Erie Otters, is off to a flying start in the Ontario Hockey League and is tied for the lead in points with 16 in eight games.
As a result of his hot start, the newly minted Otters captain was named the OHL player of the week for the period ending Oct. 3.
The success of the St. Thomas, Ont., native is no surprise as he finished last season with 37 goals and 85 points, good for 11th in the league.
The Leafs’ third-round pick (62nd overall) had an impressive training camp and showed flashes of his deft puck skills and shifty skating in the annual rookie tournament.
While it might be too early to call McKegg a draft-day steal, his production to date should be cause for optimism in Leafs Nation.
Ross had the privilege of playing on a line with Nino Niederreiter (N.Y. Islanders) and Ryan Johansen (Columbus) —two top-five picks—with the Portland Winterhawks last season and took full advantage, notching 27 goals and 68 points.
He continued where he left off this season, scoring nine points through his first seven games en route to WHL player of the week honours for the same period as McKegg.
Until Ross pulls on the blue and white, Toronto fans might catch a glimpse of the team’s second-round pick (43rd overall) wearing a red and white Maple Leaf jersey instead.
While not a natural-born scorer, Ross’ offensive instincts, coupled with gritty determination, could be enough to land the rugged winger a spot on Canada’s junior team.
Unlike Nazem Kadri’s role last year, Ross would be slotted in a shutdown role, providing energy while getting under the opponent’s skin.
Although playing on Team Canada doesn’t guarantee NHL success, it’s certainly a notable achievement in any young player’s career.
Josh Nicholls is a relative unknown.
Drafted in the seventh round (182nd overall), the Saskatoon Blades right-winger started the season on a positive note, picking up five goals and 10 points in his first six games.
But in a game against the Tri-City Americans last week, Nicholls was hit from behind by Brendan Shinnimin and went headfirst into the end boards.
Shinnimin was slapped with a 12-game suspension and Nicholls will miss at least a week with a concussion and bruised back.
But Nicholls is just happy the injury wasn’t more damaging.
“If I wasn’t looking at where the puck was I think I would’ve had a broken neck or it would’ve been pretty serious,” Nicholls told The Star Phoenix. “You definitely don’t want to see things like that in the game of hockey.”
In a draft year highlighted by non-stop chatter about Tyler Seguin and the Phil Kessel trade, Burke and his scouts should be relieved their picks are healthy and producing.