Jake Gardiner debuts in the second spot on the Maple Leafs top 20 after being acquired from the Anaheim Ducks on February 9th. Nazem Kadri also remains the top prospect for the Maple Leafs, while Keith Aulie, James Reimer, and Ben Scrivens make big strides up the rankings. Matt Frattin, Simon Gysbers, and Josh Nicholls also make their debuts in the top 20.
1. (1) Nazem Kadri, C, 8.0 C
Acquired: 1st round, 7th overall in 2009
As an AHL rookie, Nazem Kadri has adjusted nicely after a rough start with the Maple Leafs that saw him record only six assists in 17 games. With the Marlies, he has evolved into a more responsible player with the puck without sacrificing his dynamic offensive ability. Earlier in the year he had a penchant for bad turnovers at inopportune times, but has cut down in that area of his game. While he's unlikely to compete for a Selke Trophy anytime soon, it's an area that needed improvement (and continues to improve) as he looks to jump to the NHL fulltime.
Kadri's game is easily identifiable when he's on the ice courtesy of his silky smooth hands and highlight reel ability. Kadri is one of the top producing rookies in the AHL scoring close to a point per-game pace. He has 10 goals and 17 assists in 28 games this season, and is in the top 15 for rookie scoring even though he missed time when he was recalled in November.
2. (NR) Jake Gardiner, D, 8.0 C
Acquired via trade with the Anaheim Ducks, February 9th, 2011
Making his debut with on the Maple Leafs prospect list is Jake Gardiner; a smooth-skating two-way defender from the University of Wisconsin. As a key factor in the deal that saw the Maple Leafs ship Francois Beauchemin to Anaheim, Gardiner brings a different dynamic to a Maple Leafs system ripe with defensive-minded defenders.
Gardiner, a former first-round pick (17th overall) in 2008, has already had his expectations tempered by media outlets as a future top-pairing defender, but his production to date is hard to ignore. The third-season NCAA defender is third in the nation in scoring for defenseman with eight goals and 25 assists in 32 games and sports an impressive plus-20.
There is a good chance that Gardiner makes his move to the pros after this season. If he does, he'll be joining a young Marlies defensive core.
3. (9) Keith Aulie, D, 7.0 B
Acquired: via trade with the Calgary Flames, January 31st, 2010
Keith Aulie has been a tower of power for the Marlies this season, used in critical defensive situations and maximizing his physical prowess all over the ice. While he has an interesting combination of size, skating ability and willingness to rush the puck it's unlikely he develops a high offensive ceiling.
The Beauchemin trade to Anaheim has opened the door for Aulie to take a prominent role on the Maple Leafs blue line. The trade is a perfect example of how critical a team's development system is - and how the Maple Leafs are starting to turn out NHL players. Aulie's play at the AHL level (and brief stint with the Maple Leafs earlier in the year) allowed general manager Brian Burke to move Beauchemin to fill other weaknesses in the organization. Whether or not Aulie's ready for the long 82-game season is anyone's guess, but he's shown poise and stability beyond his years this season.
4. (10) James Reimer, G, 7.5 C
Acquired: 4th Round, 99th overall in 2006
Arguably the most impressive prospect this year has been the emergence of James Reimer. It's hard to argue anything other than the fact James Reimer has been under the radar for quite some time. He's been in the system, playing steady hockey since 2006, but instead of garnering recognition for his play he's been in the shadows of Justin Pogge, Tukka Rask, and (up until recently) Jonas Gustavsson. Maybe it's due to his non-flashy style of game, injuries or the development road he's taken, but Reimer has seemingly arrived.
Reimer's stats on a bottom-five NHL team are impressive in a limited sample. In his 12 games played, Reimer holds a 6-4-1 record, a 2.39 goals against average, a .930 save percentage and show no signs of slowing down.
Still, expectations need to be tempered for this 22-year-old goaltender. While his play is promising so far, his career is still very green. A volatile Maple Leafs fan base can quickly sour a player's career after a few poor games.
5. (5) Jussi Rynnas, G, 7.5 C
Acquired via Free Agency, April 2010
Jussi Rynnas's season has been the definition of inconsistent. There have been extreme highs and extreme lows throughout the first half of the year. He was off to a rocky start in his first few games in October going winless in three and posting a 3.41 goals against average to go along with a .877 save percentage. November saw a huge rebound to Rynnas's game posting a 1.33 goals against and a .957 save percentage in 10 games. In the 14 games that have followed, Rynnas's season has been a rollercoaster of good and bad stretches. To date, Rynnas has a record of 9-14-3 and has a 2.80 goals against average and a .909.
It's not uncommon for European goaltenders to come with their fair share of inconsistencies, but Rynnas continues to battle through them. While Ben Scrivens has been the more consistent out of the two, management has continued to back Rynnas - sending Scrivens back to the Reading Royals (ECHL) at various points of the season.
With Reimer on the Maple Leafs, and Gustavsson sidelined with another heart issue, it should allow Rynnas a chance to see more game action. He'll have to be sharp, as Scrivens is also very capable of taking the Marlies starting role.