One of the interesting things to keep an eye on every fall is which player tries to force the teams hand during training camp with their strong play. Last season 21 year old defenseman Jake Gardiner just kept excelling regardless of the position Ron Wilson and the Toronto Maple Leafs put him in. In the end the Leafs broke camp with Gardiner and the young American never looked back as went on to have an impressive all-rookie season.
With August upon us most fans – myself included – have begun sketching the potential depth chart for the 2012-13 Toronto Maple Leafs. At this time last season nobody penciled Gardiner in ahead of Keith Aulie or Cody Franson and yet come opening night Gardiner took the ice over those two perceived locks. With training camp being a month away – new CBA pending – over the next few days I’m going to preview some candidates that could surprise.
The Leafs traded up in the first round of the 2011 NHL entry draft in order to select 6’2″ 205 lbs Tyler Biggs 22nd overall. Ever since Leafs GM Brian Burke called out Biggs’ name at the draft he has become the most polarizing prospect amongst Leaf supporters. The frustration regarding Biggs usually stems from the fact that many people believe Burke should not have wasted a first round pick on an offensively limited winger. While people are entitled to their opinion, I don’t think it’s fair to completely write off a 19 year old’s offensive abilities. Yes, Biggs may not be Dustin Brown but he’s also not Shawn Thornton. The former captain of the under 18 United States National Development Team Program appears to be capable of being a productive top nine forward.
Biggs had an up and down rookie season while playing against older competition for Miami University of Ohio. He also suffered the embarrassment of being cut from the US World Junior Championship team. For these reasons many felt vindicated in their criticisms of Burke’s top pick. However, Biggs seems to be back on track as he is in the midst of having an impressive WJC camp in Lake Placid.
Currently Biggs has decided to leave college in an attempt to make the blue and white this season. At this point there appears to be a glut of wingers at both the NHL level and at the AHL level ahead of him. However it cannot be dismissed that Biggs’ size and strength are assets that are sorely lacking with the big club. The question becomes whether his hands are ready to allow him to make that big jump. While the big American is still raw and rough around the edges his frame is ready for the big time.
While the eyebrows have been raised due to Biggs’ struggles last season, this coming year will go a long way in determining what type of asset the Leafs have in the hulking winger. Should he fail to crack the Leafs roster Biggs’ can choose between the Oshawa Generals of the OHL or once again play with more seasoned competition in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies. Come the fall when the leaves begin to change colour it will be interesting to see if Biggs’ future with the blue and white changes from red to green.
During the writing of this feature Tyler Biggs signed his three year entry level contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs