Every month throughout the NHL season we’ll be updating you on the development of key Maple Leafs prospects with up-to-date stats, videos and analysis.
For the first time in a long time, Toronto Maple Leafs prospects were expected to play a starring role at the world junior hockey championship.
That didn’t quite come to pass early on with William Nylander knocked out of the tournament in the opening period of the first game and Mitch Marner struggling to hit his stride for Canada.
But Marner turned it on in Canada’s final two games of the tournament, and while Nylander won’t return fellow Leafs prospect Dmytro Timashov has stepped up in his absence for Sweden.
The world juniors are only part of the story for Maple Leafs prospects this month. Here’s a look at how some of the team’s top young players performed in December:
Mitch Marner: C/RW, London Knights (OHL), No. 93
Drafted: First round, fourth overall, 2015
Season to date: 25 GP | 22 G | 36 A | 58 P | +25
Having torched the OHL through the first three months of the season, Mitch Marner was expected to be a major contributor for Canada at the world juniors.
Marner didn’t put up gaudy numbers in Helsinki, but he did finish tied for the team lead in scoring with four goals and six points.
After a slow start, Marner was arguably Canada’s best player against Sweden in the final preliminary game and scored two big goals and was named the player of the game in the quarter-final loss to Finland.
It wasn’t a perfect showing from Marner but the highly-touted winger was one of the bright spots on a disappointing Canadian team.
Travis Dermott: D, Erie Otters, No. 44
Drafted: Second round, 34th overall, 2015
Season to date: 29 GP | 2 G | 25 A | | 27 P | +21
Travis Dermott had a fairly quiet tournament for Canada.
The Erie Otters defenceman played on the top power play unit and on the penalty kill and responded with two assists in five games. He fired nine shots on goal (second among Canadian blueliners) and was good at moving the puck up the ice, but there were times when he seemed a step behind defensively.
William Nylander: C, Toronto Marlies (AHL), No. 62
Drafted: First round, eighth overall, 2014
Season to date: 27 GP | 14 G | 20 A | 34 P | +7
The world juniors turned out to be a nightmare for William Nylander and the Maple Leafs.
Nylander was ruled out for the remainder of the tournament on Sunday with a suspected concussion, and his status going forward remains unclear.
Prior to joining Sweden at the world juniors, Nylander continued his torrid pace in the AHL with four goals and 10 assists in December. Despite missing two weeks of action, Nylander remains one point back of the AHL scoring lead.
Here’s a sampling of some of his handy work last month, of which there was plenty to choose from.
Dmytro Timashov: LW, Quebec Remparts, No. 88
Drafted: Fifth round, 125th overall, 2015
Season to date: 28 GP | 17 G | 34 A | 51 P | +9
No Leafs prospect’s stock has risen more at the world juniors than Dmytro Timashov’s.
The talented winger was Sweden’s best player in their opener against Switzerland, and he made a nifty pass to set up his team’s only goal in a 1-0 win against the U.S.
He also had an assist in Sweden’s victory over Canada and in their quarter-final win over Slovakia.
Timashov’s production at the tournament isn’t all that surprising given his numbers in the QMJHL, but his ability to dominate at times at this level has been impressive.
Kasperi Kapanen: RW, Toronto Marlies (AHL), No. 42
Drafted: First round, 22nd overall, 2014
Season to date: 15 GP | 5 G | 4 A | 9 P | +5
Although the numbers might not show it, Kasperi Kapanen has had a decent tournament for Finland.
Playing in the shadows of projected top-10 picks Jesse Puljujarvi and Patrik Laine, Kapanen is second on the team with 17 shots on goal and has had a number of Grade A scoring chances.
Still, more was expected from Kapanen, who has a goal and an assist in five games, in his second world go-around at the world juniors, especially after a disappointing showing last year.
Josh Leivo: RW, Toronto Marlies (AHL), No. 14
Drafted: Third round, 86th overall, 2011
Season to date: 32 GP | 9 G | 18 A | 27 P | +7
Josh Leivo has been one of the most consistent players for the Marlies this season and he continued that trend in December with 10 points (three goals, seven assists) and 35 shots on goal in 13 games.
A good chunk of that damage came in Toronto’s 9-0 win over Manitoba on Dec. 6 in which Leivo had a goal and three assists.
The 22-year-old winger is now only five points shy of matching his total from last season and is on pace for 60-plus points.
Brendan Leipsic: LW, Toronto Marlies (AHL), No. 19
Drafted: Third round, 89th overall, 2012 (Nashville)
Season to date: 34 GP | 8 G | 15 A | 23 P | +9
After a slow start to the season, Brendan Leipsic has really stepped up his game over the last six weeks.
The feisty winger found the back of the net four times in December while chipping in five assists for nine points in 13 games.
It’s not just puck skill that makes the five-foot-seven Leipsic an enticing prospect, however, but also his energy and fearlessness. His recent play is not going unnoticed by his coach, Sheldon Keefe.
“When we watch our clips back, he’s one of the guys who’s always showing up in terms of extra effort on the backcheck, moving his feet and tracking well. We’ve been really happy with where his game’s at right now,” Keefe told Adam Proteau of mapleleafs.com.
Frederik Gauthier: C, Toronto Marlies (AHL), No. 23
Drafted: First round, 21st overall, 2013
Season to date: 24 GP | 3 G | 7 A | 10 P | +9
Frederik Gauthier hasn’t been a big point producer for the Marlies in his rookie season, as expected, but he has been surprisingly effective.
Gauthier uses his huge frame and long reach to his advantage defensively and on the cycle, and his skating continues to improve. He is also a fixture on the Marlies’ second-ranked penalty kill.
The six-foot-five, 220-pound centre might not ever be more than a fourth line player, but in today’s NHL you need four lines that can play and Gauthier offers something different than many of the Leafs’ smallish, skilled prospects.
Gauthier returned to the lineup on Saturday after being out since Dec. 13 with an injury.
Jeremy Bracco: RW, Kitchener Rangers, No. 97
Drafted: Second round, 61st overall, 2015
Season to date: 23 GP | 9 G | 21 A | 30 P | +16
Jeremy Bracco’s surprising omission from the U.S. preliminary roster ahead of the world juniors must have given him some added motivation.
The diminutive winger exploded with a four-point game days after getting the bad news and followed that up with five points over his next three games.
Bracco finished the month with 13 points (4-9) in eight games, and did so with linemate and leading scorer Ryan MacInnis off at the world juniors.
Andrew Nielsen: D, Lethbridge Hurricanes, No. 6
Drafted: Third round, 65th overall, 2015
Season to date: 39 GP | 9 G | 34 A | 43 P | +18
Andrew Nielsen’s surprising start to the season is still going strong.
The big defenceman continues to pile up points for the Lethbridge Hurricanes, finishing December on a five-game point streak to give him two goals and 15 points in 12 games on the month.
The 2015 third-round pick leads all WHL defenceman in scoring with 43 points in 39 games, although he has gotten some help with a number of top defencemen off at the world juniors.
Martins Dzierkals: RW, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, No. 10
Drafted: Third round, 68th overall, 2015
Season to date: 29 GP | 17 G | 20 A | 37 P | +11
Martins Dzierkals spent the first part of the month helping Latvia win the Division 1 Group A under-20s, giving them a berth in next year’s world junior championship in Toronto and Montreal.
Dzierkals finished the tournament with a goal and four points in five games before returning to Rouyn-Noranda where he closed out the month with his first career QMJHL hat trick in a four-point night against the Armada.
Thanks to his big outing on Wednesday, Dzierkals was able to match his point total from November in only five games.
Andreas Johnson: LW, Frolunda (SHL), No. 88
Drafted: Seventh round, 202nd overall, 2013
Season to date: 30 GP | 13 G | 12 A| 25 P | +3
Andreas Johnson had another solid month for Frolunda with seven points in seven games. Granted, the bulk of that production came in a two-game span at the beginning of the month when he scored a hat trick and followed it up with a two-goal outing.
The 21-year-old is most dangerous on the power play — seven of his 13 goals have come with the extra man — where he can really take advantage of his quick release.
Johnson is currently on pace for 48 points, which would be a nice jump from the 35 points he registered a year ago.