The Toronto Maple Leafs may have found a diamond in the rough.
Justin Brazeau is an undrafted 22-year-old right winger from New Liskeard, Ontario. The Toronto Maple Leafs should sign him to an NHL contract.
Here’s why they should consider signing this fast-rising winger:
Brazeau is currently signed to an AHL contract with the Toronto Marlies that runs through the end of the 2020-2021 season. And he is someone that Leafs management should be keeping a close eye on.
Toronto Maple Leafs Diamond in the Rough
In his first professional season, (unfortunately shortened due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic) Brazeau scored 55 points in 57 games with the ECHL’s Newfoundland Growlers, putting him 16th in the league in scoring, and first in rookie scoring.
His 27 goals were the most of any Growler and tied for fourth league-wide. All in all, an excellent debut season, one that may have ended with a rookie of the year award, and perhaps even a championship ring.
The stats (courtesy of hockeydb.com and echl.com/statistics) are certainly very favorable, but as we know, hockey is more than a game of numbers.
Brazeau brings many invaluable elements to the game that go beyond his contributions on the scoresheet, and I believe that with a little more development time, he could become an excellent depth piece to Toronto’s bottom six.
Record of Success
Before signing his AHL contract, Brazeau spent the previous four seasons with the North Bay Battalion of the OHL.
His first season left a lot to be desired, 13 points in 65 games. Each of the following seasons, however, showed exponential levels of growth in his abilities, scoring 37, 75 and 113 points in those years.
North Bay did not find any significant playoff success in those seasons, but as an individual performance, particularly from a player who went undrafted in every year of his eligibility, is quite an accomplishment.
Standing at 6’6 and 225 pounds, Brazeau is unquestionably built, physically speaking, for NHL duty, and he uses that size well to positively affect possession.
Despite his physical edge, he uses it intelligently, as he’s only recorded 12 penalty minutes in his professional career.
A well-noted piece of information in scouting reports from his draft eligibility years was that Brazeau doesn’t skate very well. However, after signing his Marlies contract, he went to work with Barb Underhill, and now he can fly.
For someone of his size to move so effortlessly is genuinely impressive, especially when you factor in that it was the weakest part of his game a year ago.
Finally, as demonstrated by his point totals, the man can score from anywhere in the offensive zone.
In the few games of his that I’ve seen in person, I’ve seen him snipe from tough angles, bang in rebounds, deflect pucks, and even succeed on one-timers through heavy traffic.
Important to note in all of this, of course, is the relative level of competition the ECHL offers as compared to even the AHL, but my counterpoint to that is that he is doing this as a first-year rookie against teams mostly stocked with veterans who have played all around the world.
Expectation and Outlook
If the AHL season resumes, Brazeau may be called back to action, but it seems unlikely at this time, given current worldwide events, so let’s look to the future. Although there is a selfish part of me that hopes to see Brazeau back as a full-time Growler next season, I don’t see any scenario where he isn’t penciled into a middle-six role with the Marlies.
Give the exponential growth of his abilities thus far, I can see a situation where he establishes himself as a top-six AHL forward in short order, maybe even becoming the top right-wing prospect in the Leafs organization (depending on what transpires with Jeremy Bracco).
Long term, I can see Brazeau developing into a bottom-six, or possibly even a middle 6 NHLer who will bring a scoring touch to whatever line he finds himself on at a bargain price.
When the time comes to sign on the dotted line, I will certainly be hoping that his next contract is equivalent to an NHL rookie one.
The Toronto Maple Leafs should give Brazeau an NHL contract.