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