A great week for the young talent at all levels of the Toronto Maple Leafs organization has been recognized in the form of AHL player of the week honours for Kasperi Kapanen, NHL second star honours for Auston Matthews, and an OHL Player of the Week nod for Jeremy Bracco.
Coming off the momentum of a standout World Cup performance, Auston Matthews’ NHL debut for the ages sent shockwaves through the hockey community and North American sports media at large. His jersey rocketed to the top in jersey sales across the league – causing Real Sports to issue notices about low stock – and he garnered mentions on Pardon the Interruption, ABC News, Sunday NFL countdown, and many more American news outlets. Agent Pat Brisson’s phone was ringing off the hook with endorsement inquiries the next day, according to Darren Dreger. If not for Connor McDavid playing a third game in the short week, his debut alone might have been enough for first star honours.
Kasperi Kapanen, following a preseason that garnered positive reviews out of Mike Babcock, has started his second professional season with a bang in the AHL, notching a pair of powerplay assists on Saturday followed by a goal and two assists on Sunday. His goal was highlight-reel calibre, gathering speed from his own blue line, skating by a couple of Utica Comets players down the wing, cutting to the net, and sliding the puck past Thatcher Demko.
Kapanen had what has been labeled in some quarters as an inconsistent season in 2015-16 – notching 25 points in 44 games overall — but the perspective was somewhat slanted by the fact that William Nylander was putting up unheard-of numbers as a fellow 19-year-old in a league that’s not supposed to be for teenagers. Now 20 years of age with a professional season – including a nine-game NHL stint — under his belt, Kapanen should become one of the Marlies’ offensive leaders this season.
Babcock will casually work in mentions of some of his AHL players as a way of ensuring they know he’s watching and recognizing their efforts, and he did just that the other day with Kapanen when asked about the organization’s speed and skill level.
We’re way quicker. It’s pretty apparent we’re way quicker. Guys that were quick last year are quick this year. That’s really good. Then, we got some guys who just flat out work every single day and they push the pace for the other guys – which I think is really good. Obviously we’re going way quicker than we were last year at this point, but we’re going to have to get a lot quicker yet. We think that can be a dimension for our team. With Soshnikov and Kapanen in the minors being as quick as they are, those are more guys to come.
– Mike Babcock, October 14, 2016
Brendan Leipsic — who just as easily could’ve won the AHL of the week honours; both had five points in the opening two games — and Kapanen have done exactly what Babcock and the coaching staff asked of them to start the season. Rather than pout after missing the cut despite strong preseasons, they set out determined to prove the big club made a mistake in sending them down.
In addition to the hot starts by Kapanen and Leispic in their second AHL seasons, rookies Dmytro Timashov (1 goal), Andreas Johnsson (3 goals), Andrew Nielsen (1 goal, 2 assists) and Travis Dermott (2 assists) all recorded their first professional points over the Marlies’ 2-0 weekend. File this under the category of “good problems to have”: The Maple Leafs are soon going to have more good young players than they know what to do with, if they don’t already.
In OHL news, Jeremy Bracco just rattled off a huge weekend with eight points (1G, 7A) in three games, taking him to 17 points in six games on the season. First in the OHL in points per game and fourth in overall points, Bracco has been named the OHL player of the week for his efforts. Bracco could have started the year on the Marlies — drafted into the NCAA and laterally moved to the OHL, he didn’t need to meet the age requirements (20 years old by December 31st). However, he had plenty of older competition for spots on the Marlies right wing from Lindberg, Johnsson, Kapanen and Moore. Instead, he’s being put on a similar path to Mitch Marner — the Leafs want him to dominate the OHL to the best of his ability. So far, so good.