The Toronto Maple Leafs are facing a pretty big problem right now, even if it’s one of a champagne variety. Specifically, they have a logjam of prospects that are in about the same spot in their development curve, requiring similar roster spots on the same development teams.

The easiest solution to that would be to get rid of a bunch of prospects, but the best one is to find a way to spread them out. Some get the sense that Toronto had that in mind during the third round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft when they picked two players that they really wouldn’t have to pencil into a lineup for a few years. James Greenway, known by most as JD, was the latter of those two, and he finds himself at #28 on these rankings.

Age 19 (April 27, 1998) Birthplace Potsdam, New York
Pos Defenceman (LH) Drafted 2016 (Rd 3, Pick 72)
Vitals 6’5, 209lbs Acquired Via Draft

Two things come to mind when you take a half-glance at Greenway’s bio. The first is “man, this kid is a giant”, standing at 6’5 (an inch taller than last year, allegedly). The second is confusion, as you swear you watched him play in the World Juniors this year. Instead, you saw his brother Jordan, a winger that’s an inch taller, a year older, and was drafted by the Minnesota Wild. He’s the one more likely to go on to bigger things, but that’s not to say that JD is a slouch.

14  2012-13  Shattuck St. Mary’s Bantam T1  Bantam 53 9 24 33 86
15  2013-14  Shattuck St. Mary’s U16  Midget 51 6 17 23 88
16  2014-15  USNTDP Juniors  USHL 33 1 1 2 77 1.3 -9
17  2015-16  USNTDP Juniors  USHL 25 2 8 10 8 8.9 12
18  2016-17  Univ. of Wisconsin  NCAA 34 1 6 7 87 5.6 -4

JD played his freshman year at the University of Wisconsin this season, leading the team in penalty minutes and picking up 0.21 points per game. That’s not an impressive offensive number by any means, so I took a look out of curiosity to see what some of the highest scoring defencemen in the country were doing in their freshman year.

2016/17 Season Freshman Season
Adam Fox 35 6 34 40 1.14 6 35 6 34 40 1.14 6
Daniel Brickley 31 8 23 31 1 20 36 2 9 11 0.31 20
Gavin Byreuther 30 8 21 29 0.97 24 38 9 27 36 0.95 20
Matias Cleland 40 3 33 36 0.9 22 41 0 4 4 0.1 16
Dylan Zink 41 10 26 36 0.88 53 26 0 1 1 0.04 12
Jeff Taylor 38 9 24 33 0.87 24 41 3 13 16 0.39 18
Garret Cockerill 38 7 26 33 0.87 50 34 3 11 14 0.41 26
Will Butcher 43 7 30 37 0.86 18 38 8 8 16 0.42 8
Jake Bischoff 38 5 27 32 0.84 16 28 3 4 7 0.25 8
Neal Pionk 42 7 27 34 0.81 25 40 4 13 17 0.43 44

It’s a little all over the place, but most were scoring at a significantly lower rate when they first started. The swings, at least to me, show that it’s as much of a trust thing as it is a development curve thing; there just simply aren’t that many active young freshmen defencemen in college hockey at any given time, and those who do play don’t get that much action. Fox was the highest scoring defenceman in college hockey this year, but besides him, no other U19 freshman crossed 20 points, only 6 got to 10, and only 13 even played ten games to begin with.

So, in case you need any sort of encouragement that a 7 point first year isn’t necessarily a death sentence, know that Greenway outscored Steven Kampfer, Eric Gryba, Greg Pateryn, Brett Pesce, and Brady Skjei at the same age over the past decade.

pGPSn pGPSs Exp. Success % Exp. P/82 Exp. Value
93 (16/31) 13 (17/31) 14.6% (19/31) 19.1 (27/31) 2.8 (22/31)

The above numbers are products of the Prospect Graduation Probabilities System (pGPS), created by Canucks Army to project a prospect’s odds of becoming an NHL regular. For a run-down on what each of these stats mean, head back to the introduction.

Greenway finds himself in the lower-mid range of the projection sweepstakes. Again, with U19 freshmen defencemen being so uncommon in the NCAA, it’s hard to find a ton of comparables for him, but the ones that the model does find tend to struggle to make it into regular NHL jobs.

The best thing that Greenway has going for him, as far as being a potential Leafs player down the line at least, is his skating ability. Despite his size, he’s immensely quick and agile on his feet, which allows him to get back to the defensive zone to recover in desperate situations. He also plays a very tough-nosed style of hockey, almost to the point of fault as shown by his penalty minute numbers. A bit of refining of his puck skills and hockey sense combined with some more patient selection of when to go for the big hit would probably do him a world of good, but he’s still young enough to get that all sorted out.

The Upcoming Year

I’m curious as to whether Greenway will see himself pick up some additional minutes this coming season. As much as I’d like to say that the answer to that question will be yes, all the defencemen that he was outscored by with Wisconsin last year were sophomores and seniors that are returning to the roster this year. Maybe more interesting will be keeping tabs on his chances at playing for Team USA at the World Juniors, which would be a fun step for him to take after already getting some reps at the U18s back in 2015/16.

Long-Term Outlook

I’m not exactly betting the farm here, but the good news with Greenway is that things are very early for him. Toronto doesn’t have to worry about signing him, let alone finding a spot for him in the lineup for another three seasons, at which point they’ll have a better idea of what they’ve got in him. Certainly, they’ll be hoping that he blossoms into a towering, mobile defenceman who can cover as much of the ice as possible, but I’d keep expectations tempered until he makes a big leap.

To see the other profiles in this year’s series, please reference the full list.

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