The Toronto Maple Leafs are no strangers to having prospects come through the college ranks, and even with new management’s heavy connection to the Ontario Hockey League, it looks like they won’t be shying away from the United States any time soon.
Dominic Toninato, for example, plays for the University of Minnesota-Duluth in the NCHC. As does Tony Camaranesi. J.J. Piccinich was at Boston University, and even just-drafted Jeremy Bracco is likely to head to the NCAA with Boston College in the upcoming season. Unlike me, Toronto has never been afraid of going back to school.
But what about the newer – albeit older – faces the Leafs have added in the last few months: Casey Bailey and Zach Hyman?
It’s difficult to call these players “prospects” because they aren’t in the traditional sense. Even though Hyman was brought in via trade, the Leafs didn’t really give up much in Greg McKegg, so both he and Bailey essentially represent free agent additions in my mind. And as such, given their age, it’s a little more difficult to project their remaining development curve, if there is one at all.
It might be easy to get excited any time the Leafs add a new face or two, but with both at 23-years-old, Hyman and Bailey basically are what they are and we need to keep that in mind when comparing them to the rest of the Leafs’ futures pool. Players typically don’t take a huge step forward to gain a bunch of upside when they’re five years removed from junior age, and there’s no reason to throw these two in with the prospects the Leafs added through the last draft or two or even three.
The potential simply isn’t there.
It’s important to note the Leafs aren’t likely to get high-scoring players here, and there’s a very real possibility we could be seeing the next Brayden Irwin or Christian Hanson come through the system. I’m not suggesting Bailey and Hyman will flame out like those two, but we need to keep expectations tempered and understand that these guys shouldn’t get lumped in with younger options in waiting.
As far as performance goes, neither has really tasted professional hockey (though Bailey did appear in six Leafs games when the wheels were all the way off this past season), so it wouldn’t be surprising to see both of these guys suit up for the Marlies this fall to get their legs under them a little more. Beyond that, with the Leafs’ hoarding of proven NHL depth forwards this summer, it’s difficult to predict if they’ll even get a call-up next season.
If they do get a look, though, what should we expect?
Here’s a quick rundown on the numbers for each in their college years.
A few things to note here: First off, Bailey’s drop in production over the 2013-14 season has been mostly attributed to Penn State’s move to the Big-10 conference and an adjustment to higher level of difficulty. Luckily for him, there was a nice bounce-back this past season, resulting in NHL teams picking up the phone to ask about undrafted forward.
In the case of Hyman, he too experienced a weird one-off type of year when he shot the lights out this past year, which many have chalked up to playing alongside Red Wings prospect Dylan Larkin, a highly-talented 2014 first-rounder.
So each player seems to have their little reasons for teams and fans to proceed with caution, or at least temper expectations.
I’m not a huge proponent of NHL equivalencies, but for a quick and dirty look at production and how it may translate to the NHL level, it can give us part of the picture. This was first looked at by BehindTheNet’s Gabriel Desjardins a while back, and the methods he used to come up with his numbers are explained here.
For the NCAA, it appears we can basically put the NHLe of a player’s production at somewhere around 33-41% of their college output. Using overall production rates for Bailey and Hyman, that’d roughly bring them into the .27-.34 and .20-.25 points-per-game (PPG) areas, respectively. In an 82-game season this would put these guys at about 20-25 point players.
Keep in mind these are all based on rough estimates and they even start to slide a little as players age in college, so we’ll approach it as such. Mainly I just want to point out that neither of these guys is likely to develop into a top-six option, and we’re probably looking at depth players who bob up and down from the Marlies, at most. That isn’t a bad thing, mind you – the Leafs acquired both essentially risk-free, so they can afford to find out what they have in terms of potential NHL upside, even if it turns out to be none.
On the other side of all this is the fact that some players just simply break these molds. One of these guys could make me look like a fool and establish themselves as an effective scorer at the NHL level, and trust me, I’d be glad to see it happen. If you want an example of a player who’s done that in the recent past and beat these odds, look no further than someone the Leafs’ new head coach, Mike Babcock, is quite familiar with: Danny Dekeyser in Detroit.
Dekeyser was a 0.41 PPG player in college and has nearly maintained that at the NHL level, clipping along at 0.35 PPG in his first couple seasons with the Wings. Some guys just find a fit, and the Leafs’ own Tyler Bozak (0.95 point-per-game in college and 0.61 in the NHL) is another example, even if we debate endlessly over the impacts Kessel had on his game.
If either of Hyman or Bailey become an NHL regular, bringing them on board will be considered a win. But that’s where our expectations should be at this point. They’re not to be banked on as true up-and-comers. Neither is likely ready to step in and produce in a substantial way, and the Leafs will be extremely lucky if they ever can. But again, because the price to get them into the fold has been so low, at least there’s no pain in seeing where this goes.