Can Tyler Biggs Supply The Maple Leafs With Much Needed Sandpaper?

August 17th, 2012 3 Comments

When Toronto Maple Leafs President and General Manager Brian Burke signed on with Toronto in November of 2008 he quickly promised that his intentions were to build a team that supplied a considerable amount of pugnacity, testosterone and truculence.

Burke followed those words up by bringing in tough guy Colten Orr and signing the on-time feared Mike Komisarek. Orr has since been sent down to the AHL, while Komisarek has had little success since joining the Blue and White.

Another Burke acquisition was Mike Brown.  At 5’11” and 205 pounds, Brown has done an admiral job keeping opposing players and enforcers honest.While not a Burke acquisition, Jay Rosehill (6’3”, 215 pounds) made his presence known in a limited role with the big club. That said, neither player has enough skills to garner much more than eight to ten minutes of playing time, which limits their effectiveness.

Brown can play a defensive role and skates well enough not to be a liability. Rosehill is little more than a scrapper, a role that has been diminished in NHL circles of late.

With the NHL changing from a league that endorsed pugilism to one that frowns on the tough guy antics, many enforcers have been forced to bring more to the table or have found themselves unemployed.

There are few players like Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic (6’4”, 220-pounds) in the league—a player that can throw bombs just as well as he scores goals—but there are plenty of enforcers that have reinvented themselves as defensive players or by adding an element of offense to their game.

One-time enforcer, now more rounded, Ottawa Senators forward Chris Neil is a prime example of a player that was able to re-invent himself, establishing himself as a solid defensive player who brings an element of offense to his game.

In 72 games with the Senators Neil registered 13 goals and 15 assists while posting 178 penalty minutes and 127 shots on net. While not staggering offensive numbers Neil proved his worth earning nearly 13 minutes of ice time per game.

At 6’1” and 215-pounds Neil is not regarded as a heavy weight, but he is tough as nails, has no problem dropping the gloves and can take the body with the best of them. He is a force on the ice, a force that few teams want to mess with.

Ottawa felt enough of Neil to give him a three-year deal and when you consider what he brings to the table (leadership, checking, toughness and the ability to drop the gloves), who could blame them?

Signed to an entry level deal by the Maple Leafs just a few days ago, Leafs prospect Tyler Biggs (19) is quickly starting to turn heads for his toughness and offensive upside.

Originally drafted in the first round (22nd overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the Maple Leafs, Biggs brings a combination of size (6’3”, 210-pounds) and offense, while also having a certain amount of nastiness to his game.

Biggs, whose OHL rights are held by the Oshawa Generals, played one season at the University of Miami at Ohio, scoring nine goals and eight assists while posting 63 penalty minutes.

Biggs left Miami this summer with his sights set on making the Maple Leafs roster. While making the jump to the big club out of training camp may be a stretch, Biggs is exactly the type of player the Maple Leafs need, bringing a unique ability to play a shutdown role while contributing on special teams and lighting the lamp on occasion.

The knock on Biggs thus far is his skating, which is not NHL ready quite yet, but nobody is questioning his work ethic, which is said to be excellent. It is that drive and determination that should see Biggs earn some spot duty with the big club as early as next season.

Biggs could also benefit from parking his butt in front of opposing netminders and adopting more of a shoot-first mentality.

Biggs was solid at the recent USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp, scoring both goals in Team USA’s overtime loss to Finland. Head coach and former NHL defenseman Phil Housley felt Biggs “improved every game” and felt Biggs effort was very solid throughout camp.

At 19-years of age it would be a stretch to expect Biggs to come into the NHL and have a big impact, but there is every reason to believe that once he gets his feet wet in the NHL he will be an opposing force that will bring many skills to the table, not just a physical edge.

It is yet to be determined where Biggs will play next season. Biggs could spend time with the Oshawa Generals, head to the AHL to play with the Toronto Marlies, or make the big club out of training camp.

Burke could also turn to prospect Bradley Ross down the road, but like Biggs his development may take a little time. Ross, is your prototypical “pest” who is considered one of the best two-way forwards at the WHL level.

Originally drafted in the second round (42rd overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Ross (20) has emerged as a bit of a steal for Burke as he looks to have a player that projects to fill the role once filled by former Maple Leaf super-pest Darcy Tucker.

At 6’1″ and 171 pounds the Maple Leafs are hoping Ross can add a little more beef to his frame and increase his strength so he can compete at the NHL level. Ross also has an offensive side to his game, scoring 42 goals and adding 40 assists with the Portland Winterhawks last season while registering 163 penalty minutes through 68 games. Ross followed up his excellent regular season with an equally good playoff, scoring 12 goals and adding 10 assists while registering 57 penalty minutes through 15 games.

Nobody likes playing against Ross, and it has been a long time since the Maple Leafs have had a player like that in their lineup. A one-two punch of Biggs and Ross would be a nightmare for opposing forwards—a sight that would likely make Burke drool.

In time Ross may prove to the the bigger talent over Biggs. Unlike Biggs, Ross could potentially find himself on the top-six, while Biggs probably projects as more of a third liner and special teams player. Either way, both players have big upsides and both could fill a niche on the Maple Leafs roster.

One thing is for certain—the Maple Leafs need players like Biggs and Ross, here’s hoping they are up with the big club before long.

Until next time,

Peace!

3 Comments

  1. Dave says:

    A great piece and an outstanding review of our talent bro! Like you, I cannot wait to see Ross don the Maple Leaf, although I agree some more seasoning is needed. I think a year in the AHL would make for a step in the right direction. With Biggs, I agree I see it unlikely he sees NHL action although I wouldnt put it past him. Either way, he’ll be not too far away if he plays out his season in the ‘Swa with the 67’s. I’d like to see him dominate there.

    Dave

  2. MarkRitter says:

    Dave—

    Thanks for the props man!

    I think you will see a lot of Leaf fans with Ross jersey’s down the road. He is exactly the type of player this town loves—tough, gritty, aggressive and able to score. He’s not going to be Wendel Clark, but man the reviews on this kid are very solid.

    As for Biggs, you are probably right—OHL might be his best bet, but I love a good story and finding out Biggs made the club out of camp would be excellent news. If forgoing the OHL is an option it would be interesting to see him compete at the AHL level. He’d learn more there, could improve his skating and the coaching he’d get (with all due respect to whoever is coaching the Generals) would be better.

    Over the past few days I have been reading up on the talent Burke has acquired—he has done a very solid job. He has a ton of good prospects (maybe not stars) but players that are very valuable and can fill a niche.

    If even half of these kids work out it will be a huge bonus as Burke can keep salaries down, sign some top-flight FA’s and get this club to the promised land.

    Rielly looks great, Blacker made huge gains last season, Holzer is well on his way and everyone is saying Finn was a steal.

    Up front I am not as optimistic in terms of high-end talent, but Biggs and Ross are exciting players and McKegg, why small in stature, can really put the puck in the net—he is a wild card for sure.

    And then there is our buddy Kadri—make it or break it season, God I hope he makes huge gains this season.

    All-in-all a good mix for sure.

    FYI— I read today that the Hockey News has predicted the Maple Leafs will finish 12th in the East, just ahead of Montreal. Hard to argue, hope they are wrong though!

    Linx me on FB, I want to hear your news bud!

    Lates!

  3. Louis Pisano says:

    Both could use a little Gary Roberts-ing! Wow I hate Chris Neil! Such a dufass! Can’t wait to see both these kids donning the blue and white! My sources from TSN say there will be hockey and no lock out 100%! GO Leafs GO baby! Solid article bro, keep it, I enjoy everyone of them bro! Peace!

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