Last season could not have gone better for Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Jeremy Bracco.
In his second year in the OHL, the right winger put up 83 points in 57 games, split between Kitchener and Windsor, before leading the Spitfires in scoring at the Memorial Cup en route to their championship.
Stepping into professional hockey this season, likely with the Toronto Marlies, of the American Hockey League, Bracco is grateful for the success he found last year and optimistic about the coming challenge.
“I think there was a lot of confidence last year for me,” said Bracco, standing outside the Marlies’ dressing room on Thursday in Ricoh Coliseum. “I had two great teams who I won championships with, great coaches who have prepared me to make the jump to pro this year, and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
After playing in the Leafs rookie tournament a year ago, Bracco knows the value it brings for those lucky enough to participate in it.
“It’s a great jumping off point going into training camp,” said the 20-year-old, who will play in his second tournament this weekend. “We’re fortunate to get a couple games in before other guys and get your feet under you before we get started.”
— Brandon Jodouin (@BrandonJodouin) September 7, 2017
Originally taken 61st overall by the Maple Leafs in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Bracco is more comfortable this time around.
“Obviously being my second year in the tournament I know the system, so I’m trying to get better at it than I was last year,” said Bracco. “We have a real good team, and a real good staff, we’re hoping to do well this weekend”
Following the rookie tournament, Bracco will head off with the rest of the Maple Leafs to Niagara Falls for his second full training camp, hoping to replicate some of the experience he had last year in Halifax.
“It was fast. It was my first training camp and the veterans really took me and the other young guys under their wings,” said the Freeport, New York native. “I learned a lot and I’m hoping to learn a lot more this year.”
A potential obstacle standing between Bracco and the NHL, is that the Maple Leafs are currently loaded with offensive talent at right wing. William Nylander, Mitch Marner, and Connor Brown are projected to be the Leafs top three right wingers heading into the year, and are all only entering their sophomore seasons.
But rather than getting discouraged by the situation, Bracco sees his future teammate’s triumphs as motivational.
“You watch guys like Marner, and I played on the same line as Auston (Matthews) a couple years back (with the U.S. National Development Team),” said Bracco. “So to see guys like that have the success that they’re having, it obviously inspires the guys who are trying to do that in the future.”
Despite the major accomplishments of the Leafs’ rookies last season, Bracco says it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s any additional pressure on the next group coming up.
“I think what they did is pretty remarkable, and obviously you wanna follow in those footsteps,” he said. “But you just get better everyday and push yourself to be the best you can be, and hopefully it all works out.”
All-in-all, no matter how successful last year may have been for him, Bracco is focused on making the upcoming year just as significant.
“I think all of us here are all fortunate to wear this sweater, fortunate to have this staff, to do something special in the American League and in the NHL.”