Marlies’ Bracco feels he is ready for a chance with Leafs

Maple Leafs prospect Jeremy Bracco discusses why it was important for him to spend his offseason in Toronto, and what he's taken away from hanging around the club's veterans like John Tavares and Jason Spezza.

TORONTO — Three seasons into his professional career, including a record-breaking 2018-19, and there’s still a glaringly obvious column missing from Jeremy Bracco‘s HockeyDB page — NHL games.

And it’ll stay that way for the foreseeable future.

On Friday, the Toronto Maple Leafs placed Andreas Johnsson on long-term injury reserve, and made three call-ups from their AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies.

But Bracco’s name was not among them.

When asked about his absence from the transactions, the 22-year-old — who is third on the Marlies in scoring with 18 points in 22 games — didn’t hide his disappointment, as the team’s points leader, Pontus Aberg, as well as Nic Petan and Martin Marincin got the nod.

“Obviously, it’s not a great feeling,” he said after practice Friday.

“I want to be looked at as one of the top players on the team down here to be called up there, but I’ve just got to keep working, at the end of the day.”

The five-foot-11, 185-pound winger is producing at a 0.82 points-per-game clip for the Marlies (15-4-3), that’s not too far off the pace he set last year — when he finished second in the AHL’s regular-season scoring race with 79 points in 75 games — and had some wondering whether he was a contender for a roster spot on the 2019-20 Leafs.

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Given his résumé, it’s no surprise that the native of Freeport, N.Y., feels he is ready to make the jump to the NHL.

“I think I am. Obviously, you know, I haven’t got the chance yet, so we’ll see,” said Bracco, who was taken in the second round of the 2015 NHL Draft (61st overall).

In the face of this latest trial, Bracco knows he needs to keep working to improve his craft.

“Nobody’s a perfect player, obviously, whether you’re in the NHL, or you’re in the American League,” said Bracco, who is a restricted free agent in the off-season.

“So I just want to get better each day, and like I said, one day you want to be in the NHL, and you want to stay there, so that’s a goal of mine.”

The playmaking forward has shown he can make big leaps in his game before.

Bracco was criticized for having “poor” conditioning ahead of his 2017-18 season and was scratched during much of the Marlies’ championship run by then-coach Sheldon Keefe — who has since been tapped as Mike Babcock’s replacement behind the bench of the Leafs.

He followed that up with his remarkable 79-point sophomore season — which made him the franchise record holder for points and assists — and added 16 points in 13 playoff games as the Marlies made a run to the AHL’s Eastern Conference final.

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While Bracco wasn’t sure if Keefe’s presence with the big club helps or hurts his chances to get called up, he credited him with his development in the pros.

“I have a great respect for Sheldon and he tells you how it is — he’s a players’ coach,” he said.

“And ever since Day 1 here, he was great to me and gave me a chance to … flourish in this league, it’s a credit to him, and he brought me along, and I am forever thankful for that.”

Marlies assistant coach A.J. MacLean said Bracco continues to focus on the defensive details in his game and has tried to deny his playmaking instincts a bit more this season and shoot the puck.

“He’s been working hard at his game, like we were talking about, he’s producing at a high rate. And those are all positive steps, so he just needs to keep focused on that and away we go,” said MacLean.

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While Bracco continues to make tweaks and improvements in the hopes that they will help get him across the Gardiner Expressway from the Coca-Cola Coliseum to Scotiabank Arena, he knows, in the end, what got him this far, will also get him to the NHL.

“I just got to keep being me,” he said.

“I think I pass the puck pretty well and I think I can get the puck to guys that can score goals, so I think at the next level, I’m going to have to be an offensive threat that way, so when the time comes, I know that’s what I’m going to have to bring.”

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