When the Toronto Maple Leafs selected Jeremy Bracco in the second round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, it was of great symbolic importance for the organization. Bracco was and continues to be, a small but immensely skilled winger. Small wingers were exactly the type of player that regimes of years past avoided like the plague. With the Leafs picking Bracco, it signalled the organizations days of picking slow, hulking power forwards in the early rounds (*cough* Frederik Gauthier *cough*) were mercifully over.
With the NHL beginning to trend towards smaller, skilled players, the Leafs decided to get ahead of the curve and took a chance on Bracco. So far, it seems to be paying off.
Toronto Maple Leafs Roster Preview, 50-in-50: Jeremy Bracco
One would be hard pressed to find a prospect who compiled a more successful junior season than Jeremy Bracco did in 2016-17. Kicking off the year with a record breaking twenty-five game scoring streak, his exceptional production drew the attention of USA Hockey, who chose him to represent Team USA at the World Junior Championship.
World Junior Success
As a key offensive performer for the United States, Bracco chipped in five points in seven tournament games, earning coveted power play time in the process. In stunning fashion, he helped the US capture gold in a white knuckle overtime victory over the tournament hosts in Canada.
Fresh off a gold medal victory, Bracco didn’t skip a beat in his return to Kitchener, continuing his season long assault on stat sheets. His tenure with the Rangers abruptly ended in mid-January however, as he was traded to the underperforming Windsor Spitfires, as they looked to load up for a playoff run.
Windsor viewed Bracco as the lauded offensive threat the team had lacked for much of the season, and their views were validated immediately. With 32 points in 30 games for Windsor, Bracco finished the regular season with an astounding 83 points. Even more impressive, Bracco produced such an output in just 57 games, good for 1.45 points per game.
Memorial Cup Dominance
Bracco capped off the 2016-17 season in storybook fashion. Despite being eliminated from the OHL playoffs in six games by the London Knights, the Spitfires entered the Memorial Cup as the host team on a mission. Steamrolling through the tournament, Windsor went undefeated, with Bracco putting up a phenomenal eight points in four games.
Playing in the tournament final in front of their home crowd, the Spitfires defeated the heavily favoured OHL Champion Erie Otters to become Memorial Cup Champions, shocking the hockey world. Their win made them the first host team to win it since the Shawinigan Cataractes in 2012.
Jeremy Bracco entered 2016-17 with a lot to prove and ended the season as a Memorial Cup champion, World Junior gold medalist, and owner of a record breaking point streak. There is really not much more the Leafs organization could have asked of him. With that being said, it is now that the real work begins. With Toronto’s depth chart being stuffed to the brim with talented young wingers, Bracco must prove that he can rise above the crowd and that his style of play can translate to pro hockey.
Profile (via EliteProspects)
Weight: 181 lbs
NHL Entry Draft: Second Round, 61st overall in 2015 by Toronto
Contract (via CapFriendly)
Jeremy Bracco was signed to a three-year entry level contract on March 21, 2017. If he plays in the NHL, he will earn a base salary of $750,000 per year, with the potential to earn another $82,000 through performance bonuses.
In the more likely event that he spends the season with the Marlies, Bracco’s AHL salary comes out to $70,000 with no further performance bonuses. Due to Bracco’s age and OHL experience, he is able to play in the AHL without burning a year on his ELC.
If Bracco were to play the 2017-18 season in the NHL, his cap hit would come out to $825,000, essentially having no impact on the Leafs interesting salary cap situation.
Bracco will arrive at training camp with something to prove. As previously mentioned, the Leafs organization is blessed with a surplus of skilled wingers. In order to earn a spot on the big club, Bracco will need to rise above the pack.
Destined to play on the Marlies, Bracco’s role in the lineup is unclear at the moment. The Marlies were already loaded with forwards and added even more to their lineup through their various free agency signings. Bracco will get a chance to play, the only question is how much of a chance will he get?
As previously seen with Brendan Leipsic, it is entirely possible for an undersized winger to succeed in the AHL. Whether Bracco’s unique style of play can adapt to the pro game remains to be seen, but there he does have precedent on his side.
In fact, Bracco could take Brendan Leipsic’s spot in the lineup. The former Portland Winterhawk was selected in the Expansion Draft by the Vegas Golden Knights, opening up a top six position in the Marlies lineup.
Jeremy Bracco opened everyone’s eyes with his monster 2016-17 season. However, to entrench himself as a future Leafs mainstay, he will have to prove he can do it again in the pros.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images