The Toronto Maple Leafs prospect pool is lacking in players that will make an overwhelming impact on the organization today, a byproduct of recent conservatism at the draft table. That may change now that Brendan Shanahan is working as the team’s president, but for what the team has in stock currently, it may be a few years before the top picks pan-out.
A player that could make a leap this year is Matt Finn. The 6’0” 185 pound defenseman was selected 35th overall in the 2012 draft. He has been playing with the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) the past four seasons and has shown vast improvement in his overall game and leadership skills. He was captain of a Guelph team that won the OHL championship trophy and were one win away from claiming the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Memorial Cup.
His contribution to Guelph’s success was unmistakable. He scored 61 points (14 goals, 47 assists) while being a plus-57, leading them to a 52-12-2 regular season record. He did not slow down once postseason play arrived either, putting up 5 goals and 9 assists in 20 games played.
His offensive ability is evident and could possibly translate to the NHL, but the thing to like most about this young rearguard is how responsible he is in his own zone. He is not the fastest skater and he is a bit undersized for an NHL defenseman (although Torey Krug, 5’9” 180, has done just fine), but he shrouds those physical inabilities with a blanket of heady play and the will to win.
The Maple Leafs see Finn as their best defensive prospect because of his hockey IQ and his leadership ability. He was given the Mickey Renaud Trophy for Leadership which is given to the best team captain in the ultra-competitive OHL. He does not shy away from taking the toughest defensive assignment or putting his body on the line to block a shot. He is very intelligent when it comes to where to be on the ice, the appropriate time to join the rush, and knowing how to play faster skaters, and he also has a great shot from the point. That all should translate seamlessly to the pros.
Something Finn needs to improve on is his physicality. He got away with being a bit soft in juniors, but that is something that will be exposed at the professional level. Becoming physical is all mental, which is where Finn excels, but adding on a few pounds of muscle won’t hurt.
The Leafs are pretty set on the blue line for the next couple of years, and the Marlies even have a good core of rearguards that led them to the Calder Cup finals, but do not expect that to hinder Finn’s potential call-up. Expect to see him competing in Maple Leafs camp for a spot and wowing the Leafs’ brass with his hockey skill and demeanor.
Right now he projects to be a third-pairing defenseman, but has the potential to be a top pairing guy. The Maple Leafs are in dire need of more effective special teams so look for Finn to see time on the power-play because of his offensive ability and the penalty kill for his defensive intelligence.
It is likely he will start the 2014-15 season with the AHL club to get his feet wet in the professional ranks, but don’t be surprised when Dave Nonis and Randy Carlyle to give this kid a shot if a defenseman goes down with an injury. Even if it takes him a few years to solidify a spot on the Leafs roster, people in Toronto should be excited about Finn coming to town.
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