Maple Leafs’ July Rookie Camp: The Unknowns

The Leafs rookie camp from July 2 to 5 will consist of 42 players. The more noteworthy names are among the 23 prospects that are property of the Leafs via the draft or free agency. This camp will also have 19 undrafted free agents, though, who are generally undrafted for a reason and have been brought in to fill the camp roster.

In the case of some, they will merely be targets for the numerous pests and power hitters among the Leafs’ property. Nevertheless, most of these undrafted players are not here merely to fill space; they were brought in by management because of their legitimate potential.

This article will briefly look at all 19 undrafted free agents and label them in one of three categories: prospect, project, or filler. The difference between a prospect and a project is their production. A prospect is a player who has shown the abilities and has also produced at an adequate level. Comparatively, a project is a player who has some tools obviously evident, but has yet to bring them together at a respectable level of competition.

The first and most important position to examine is in net. Toronto, perhaps surprisingly, did not draft a goalie and thus outside of the professional ranks only has Garrett Sparks. Therefore, they have brought in three goalies to fill this camp.

Mathias Niederberger, born 1992 – Barrie Colts (OHL)

Niederberger is an intriguing player who came over to the OHL this season from Germany after garnering some DEL playing time in 2010-11. He did a solid job as the starting goalie for Barrie. His play was particularly impressive in the playoffs, where he had a 933 save percentage.

The young German also back-stopped his country in the World Junior Division 1A and helped them return to the top division next season. He was ranked 24th in the final rankings of North American goalies and was seen as a dark horse to be drafted despite being an overage player.

The main issue on paper with Niederberger is his small stature. He is about five-foot-eleven, which does not fit the ideal prototype of an NHL goalie these days, least of all one of Francois Allaire. Nevertheless, he has to be considered a serious prospect.

Franky Palazzese, born 1993 – Kitchener (OHL)

Palazzese split time this season with John Gibson, the Ducks’ second round pick in 2011 and their statistics were extremely close on a strong Kitchener team. The close statistics and the fact he managed to split time with a top prospect bodes well for his capabilities.

Palazzese was ranked ninth in the final rankings of North American goalies and, surprisingly, went undrafted. His slight frame, the strong Kitchener team in front of him, and the fact it was his second year of eligibility likely combined to leave him out. However, he possesses a strong skill set to work with and, like Niederberger, is a serious prospect.

Ander Alcaine, born 1991 – Briancon (France)

Alcaine has apparently been brought to camp at the suggestion of Francois Allaire. Alcaine is fairly young, put up solid numbers in the French league and nearly back-stopped Spain to promotion at the World Championships Division 2A. However, as much as everyone would love to see a great story, he can be seen as nothing more than filler.

The second position to examine is defence. This position has only four undrafted invitees, which corresponds to the organizational depth the Leafs have at this position.

Justin Baker, born 1991 – St. Lawrence (NCAA)

Baker appears to have some intriguing aspects. He put up respectable numbers in the NCAA and played top pairing minutes with George Hughes on a middling St. Lawrence squad. He also stands at six-foot-two, which means he could certainly withstand the physical rigors of the NHL game.

The Leafs’ depth chart may be a factor against him, but Baker can definitely be seen as a project. He clearly possesses at least a few tools that indicate some pro potential. He is certainly a wildcard to impress at camp.

Justin Hamonic, born 1994 – Tri-City (WHL)

Hamonic offers the Leafs more hope than Barron Smith ever did despite his undrafted status. He was ranked 140th on the final rankings for North American skaters and given his size (six-foot-four) and the deep Tri-City team, which likely held him back, he is an interesting player to watch at camp.

Hamonic was limited to 39 games in the regular season, but dressed for all 15 playoff games, which certainly shows some faith in the youngster. Hamonic definitely classifies as a project and will offer some serious intrigue.

It is also important to note that he is not related to Travis.

Jason Shaw, born 1992 – Belleville (OHL)

Shaw finally managed to establish himself as a major junior calibre player this past season and put up adequate numbers for Belleville. He may be a late bloomer, but given his age and only okay statistics for a 19-year-old, he appears to be camp filler.

Ben Oskroba, born 1990 – Northeastern (NCAA)

The inclusion of Oskroba, given his statistics and path, is baffling. He seems like such obvious camp filler that I am afraid it is a trick. Oskroba played nine games for Northeastern this past season, despite being a 21-year-old freshman. He also bounced around several junior leagues prior to this past season and only established himself in the USHL last season. He is camp filler.

There are 12 undrafted forwards in camp. This is just under half of the 25 in camp and several will offer management some serious consideration, especially given the marginal depth of the Leafs’ forward prospects.

David Wolf, born 1989 – Hamburg (DEL)

Wolf can be seen as a less-advertised version of Marcel Mueller. He can also be considered a version of Mueller who actually hits.

Wolf broke out in the DEL this season finishing tied for second in team scoring with former Leafs draft pick and line mate Jerome Flaake. They both had 35 points, but Wolf played 46 games, four less than Flaake.

Given the nature of German hockey, Wolf’s older age is less of a concern and thus he could be a serious dark horse not only in rookie camp, but training camp as well. He is definitely a top contender to earn a contract coming out of this camp and it would be shocking if he wasn’t invited to training camp. Therefore, he is definitely a prospect.

Joel Wigle, born 1994 – Niagara (OHL)

Wigle just went undrafted in his first time through the draft after an underwhelming second season in the OHL. He possesses good size at six-foot-two, but has yet to display much of his alleged skill on a very deep Niagara team. This is the wildcard factor for Wigle.

If he is given an opportunity next season, he could explode and perhaps follow the path of Mitchell Heard. Therefore, it would not shock me if he followed a path similar to Andrew Crescenzi and earned a contract through strong play. However, it is still highly unlikely. Nevertheless, he is a project and one worth watching at camp.

Brett Welychka, born 1994 – London (OHL)

Welychka was an undersized centre on the deep London Knights this past season. He is another player, like Wigle, who, when given increased responsibilities, could prosper. However, unlike Wigle, Brett lacks the obvious physical tools and his skills do not obviously translate to a high-skilled game. However, given his young age and the corresponding production in the OHL, he can definitely be seen as a project.

Nick Sorkin, born 1991 – New Hampshire (NCAA)

Sorkin likely could have signed with an NHL team following the conclusion of the NCAA season, but choose to keep his eligibility intact having just completed his sophomore season. After having minimal production as a freshman, Sorkin busted out with 35 points in 37 games this season. He has good size and appears to offer some offensive potential. He will definitely be worth a look and can be considered a prospect, however, very close to the border.

Brendan Silk, born 1994 – US u18 (USDP)

Silk is an extremely raw invite. There is no chance his invitation extends beyond this camp as he is guaranteed to play college hockey next year. He played with the US u18 team and also played for the USNTDP juniors in the USHL for 27 games. In a combined 67 games with those two teams, he produced six points, none  in 27 USHL games. He does offer intriguing size and some tools, but given his situation, he has to be considered camp filler.

Reto Schaeppi, born 1991 – Zurich (Swiss)

Schaeppi played a consistent role for Zurich in the Swiss league this past season and offered acceptable bottom-six production with 11 points in 45 games. His age makes his contributions in the highly competitive Swiss league notable and he certainly has some aspects to his game that make him desirable. He stands six-foot-four, which is valuable and could use to further fill in his powerful frame. He can be considered a project, but one who could very well earn an invite to training camp and possibly a spot on the Marlies for the upcoming season.

Charles Sarault, born 1992 – Sarnia (OHL)

After spending his first three seasons with Kingston in the OHL, Sarault was traded to Sarnia and busted out offensively. He is slightly undersized at five-foot-eleven and plays a feisty game, but does have some skills to compliment it. However, it is not top-end skill and he is the type of player who projects to be a role player if anything. Therefore, he can be seen as a prospect and one worth watching. Sarault is also intriguing because his four years of OHL service make him eligible for the AHL next season.

Matt Rupert, born 1994 – London (OHL)

The twin brother of 2012 Leafs draft pick Ryan, Matt put up similar, albeit slightly lower levels of production than his brother this past season. Matt, like Ryan, is undersized, but does have some skill. However, he is not as offensively advanced as his brother and his poor decision-making has been called into question. He plays on an edge and unfortunately often crosses it to the disadvantage of his team. Rupert does have some tools and thus is a project at rookie camp. Furthermore, given his brother’s draft status with Toronto, he can almost be considered Leafs property.

Corey Kane, born 1990 – Ferris St. (NCAA)

Kane just finished his sophomore season at Ferris St. and did little to excite anyone with only 11 points in 38 games. He is a centre, which given the Leafs’ lack of depth at the position is about the only positive going for him. He classifies as filler.

Richard Gelke, born 1992 – Mannheim (DEL)/ Heilbronner (G2)

Gelke is another German player brought in by Burke. He split this past season playing small minutes in the DEL and getting a regular shift in the German second division. He also represented Germany at the World Juniors and managed four points in five games on the road to promotion.

Gelke boasts a solid six-foot-two frame and although he appears to lack the skill to be a top-six threat, he could develop into a solid physical third-liner.

Like Wolf, his German background puts him at a slightly lower rate of development for his age and offers a bit of a wildcard for the camp. He is definitely an interesting option to watch, but will be headed back to Germany regardless. He is still a project for the long-term.

Adam Hughesman, born 1991 – Tri-City (WHL)

Hughesman increased his production every season in the WHL before finishing his overage season with 116 points in 72 games. That was good enough for fourth in WHL scoring. These statistics did come in his overage season and with strong line mates. Furthermore, he is slightly undersized at five-foot-eleven and has been criticised for a poor skating ability, which is probably the primary reason he remains unsigned.

Hughesman’s production is too high to ignore and it will be interesting to see where he stands at this rookie camp. His statistics make it hard to classify him as a project, but that is where I’ll put him. This ranking is based purely on the large amount of overage scorers who crash and burn quickly in the pro ranks. However, do not be shocked if you see his name pop up on the score sheet several times at camp.

Greg Carey, born 1990 – St. Lawrence (NCAA)

Carey is another NCAA invite who likely could have signed following the season had he elected to, but preferred to remain eligible for college.

After having a strong freshman season with 23 goals and 40 points in 40 games, Carey started this season slow. However, he really picked up the pace as the year went on and finished with 37 points in 36 games. He was the dynamic offensive factor for a marginal St. Lawrence team and still produced despite being the centre of the opposition’s attention.

Carey is not tall at five-foot-eleven, but boasts a Dale Mitchell-like frame weighing in at 200 pounds. He is certainly a prospect and one to watch in camp as he may be able to earn a spot in the AHL.

 Toronto has brought in a solid group of undrafted invitees, particular in net and up front with several prospects that could offer some serious intrigue, if not, at the very, least a second look.



Leave a Reply