On Friday I began a brief series detailing which players could surprise management this fall at training camp. This series will attempt to highlight some players that will try to duplicate the improbable run that Jake Gardiner made last season and therefore somehow force their way onto the NHL roster. The first player in this series was 2011 first round pick Tyler Biggs, today we’ll take a look at the Toronto Maple Leafs’ second first round pick from that draft in Minnesota, defenseman Stuart Percy.
Coming off of a memorial cup run with the Mississauga St.Majors of the OHL, Percy was selected 25th overall by Brian Burke and the Leafs. Apparently the thing that stands out the most in Percy’s game is that he doesn’t stand out in any way. Meaning he plays a poised, mistake free game when on the ice. Percy was named captain of the Majors early in the season last year and got off to a great start. The no-nonsense defenseman began the year with 22 points in his first 25 games while providing valuable leadership all the while playing an efficient game in his own end. However things took a turn for the worse on December 11th, 2011 as Percy was hit head first into the boards during a game with the Kitchener Rangers. The Leafs pick was out of the lineup for most of the season following that hit, returning for the final nine regular season games as well as six playoff games. Although he was back in the lineup Percy’s game was definitely effected as he managed only five points in those 15 games. On the plus side, the season ended on a high for the Oakville born blueliner as he participated in the Toronto Marlies run to the Calder Cup final, seeing action in three games for the baby buds.
A Glimmer of Hope
Looking ahead to the 2012-13 season – pending a new CBA – there may very well be an opportunity for Percy to bull his way onto the NHL roster. At 6’1″ and 200 lbs Percy’s body is ready to make the jump the issue then becomes where is his game following that concussion? Considering he plays a mature and quiet game it isn’t so far fetched to think that Percy can somehow find his way onto the big club. Unlike Gardiner last season Percy really doesn’t have that much to jump over in order to make the grade. There is no denying that the Leafs backend is in dire need of improvement. With Dion Phaneuf, Carl Gunnarsson, Gardiner, John Michael Liles, Mike Komisarek and Cody Franson being the incumbents it really isn’t out of the question that a strong camp by Percy can usurp one – or more – of those blueliners. In reality with Franson still unsigned, Liles coming off of an injury plagued season, as well as the likelihood that Gardiner falls back to earth in his sophomore season not to mention the fact that Komisarek is still Komisarek, the opportunity certainly exists for Percy should he impress at camp.
Of course there are prospects ahead of Percy on the depth chart that management expects to fill those gaps should they arise -particularly Korbinian Holzer and Jesse Blacker – but those players are just as unproved as Percy is. The achilles heel of this blue and white team is squarely on the blueline. Should Percy be fully recovered from his concussion there is a realistic chance that his skill set makes him an ideal player to benefit the Leafs sooner than expected. Having watched him play those three games with the Marlies in the playoffs – I’m aware that it is a terribly small sample size - Percy didn’t look to be playing out of his element. Paired with Gardiner during that cameo, Percy provided defensive stability to the offensively minded Gardiner and thrived in that role. Come September it wouldn’t shock me if that pairing were reunited. The question then becomes will they be playing together in October at the Air Canada Centre? Only time will tell, but the future certainly looks bright for Percy.