“Is it him, or is it the team?” was a question that haunted just about every member of the Erie Otters not named Connor McDavid between 2013 and 2015. As it turns out, many of the players that made up their core in that stretch were legitimately good, and the Leafs are likely cracking themselves many smiles as Travis Dermott catapults himself into that half of the conversation.

Age 20 (December 22, 1996) Birthplace Newmarket, Ontario
Pos Defence (LH) Drafted 2015 (Rd 2, Pick 34)
Vitals 5’11, 196lbs Acquired Via Draft

The Leafs clearly thought a lot of Dermott when they selected him, taking him as the 9th highest-picked defenceman of the 2015 draft, with names like Brandon Carlo (Boston) and Oliver Kylington (Calgary) still on the board.

Certainly, they had a lot of time to evaluate him in his draft year, given that he played nearly every game in the regular season and the Otters went all the way to the Final come OHL playoff time. That playoff run served as a bit of a breakout for him, as his 17 points in 20 games led all defencemen.

But even before that, this year was pretty impressive as it was. His 45 points were good for 13th among defencemen and 6th among those under the age of 19. Considering the fact that Dermott’s play style didn’t lean towards aggressive offence, the impressiveness of those results was amplified.

Such could also be said about his Draft+1 year. Prospect-Stats estimates that in 2015/16, Dermott had the third-highest Points Per Hour of any regular OHL defenceman, while playing top competition, having the third-biggest influence on goal differential (GF%Rel) in the league, all while placing fourth in the league in 5-on-5 average ice time. Simply put, Dermott was asked to carry the load like a top-pairing defenceman would have to in the pros, and he not only proved capable but excelled in that role.

15  2011-12  York Simcoe Express  ETAMMHL 19 2 7 9 12
16  2012-13  Newmarket Hurricanes  OJHL 53 1 14 15 3.5 24
17  2013-14  Erie Otters  OHL 67 3 25 28 10.3 45 35
18  2014-15  Erie Otters  OHL 61 8 37 45 18.2 53 23
19  2015-16  Erie Otters  OHL 51 6 37 43 20.7 65 36
20  2016-17  Toronto Marlies  AHL 59 5 19 24 15.7 60 9

That brings us to this season. Toronto’s hope was to ease him into the lineup, get him adjusted and that he’d eventually become a top-pairing quality defenceman for them. A tough sounding task for a 20-year-old playing his first AHL season. It was made tougher by a high ankle sprain suffered eight games into his season, that sidelined him for over a month and threatened to cut into his progression.

But by the end of the year, he started to check off the boxes that Toronto wanted him to. By January, he found his rhythm in a more sheltered role, contributing to the Marlies’ mid-season renaissance by going on a 15 point in 23 game tear. He was rewarded for this by being moved up to more of a shutdown role in March, combining with veteran Steven Oleksy to face Toronto’s toughest opponents. This is a role that he continued into the playoffs, and while he didn’t fare overly well against Syracuse, he still managed to walk away with 5 points in 11 games.

pGPSn pGPSs Exp. Success % Exp. P/82 Exp. Value
30 (24/31) 12 (T19/31) 41.5% (6/31) 35.5 (9/31) 14.7 (7/31)

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.

There are some fun names on the above list, aren’t there? Duncan Keith, Keith Yandle, Ryan Suter, Nick Leddy… being an easy to rely upon, defensively excellent 20-year-old in the AHL certainly gives you favourable odds. Perhaps “long-term, top pairing NHL defenceman” is a high bar to set, but it’s very encouraging that players who have performed like Dermott have been more likely than most to succeed, both in surviving and in thriving.

Intelligence tends to form the nucleus of Dermott’s game, meaning that on nights where his physical traits seem to be failing him, he can still be relied upon to make quick decisions that help him compensate. It’s rare that he’s found out of position on either side of the ice, he identifies his options and chooses how to act almost instantaneously, and when he’s carrying the puck out of his own zone, forecheckers are often left hopeless as he finds ways to escape their actions before they even begin to execute them.

Dermott was criticized for his lack of physicality in his junior years but seemed to develop a bit of an edge as the season progressed, though that has led to a few situations where he’s taken a misguided penalty or two. It would be nice to see him develop a better shot from the point as well; doing so is likely going to be a necessity if he wants to play powerplay minutes in an organization that isn’t scared go with four or sometimes even five forwards on its extra-man unit.

The Upcoming Year

Dermott is pleading a strong case to make the Leafs this fall, but given how many worthy competitors there are for roster spots, I would assume that a lack of seniority leads to him not making the final cuts.

If that is the case, I’d expect him to return to the Marlies and be used aggressively. Not “given opportunity”, but deployed as if he was the best all-around defenceman in that league. In a lot of ways, he’s shown flashes of being that already, and if the Leafs organization’s goal is to make him capable of easily stepping into the NHL once there’s an opening, they’ll be giving him all the toughest minutes possible. Who he gets played with will be a big question; should Timothy Liljegren be staying over, the two have already played rookie tournament and preseason games together, but you can safely assume that Dermott will get treated like the Marlies’ #1 defenceman this season.

Long-Term Outlook

Dermott is going to be a part of Toronto’s defensive core for a long, long time. It’s hard to envision any other outcome; he’s already been so good at both the major junior and AHL levels at such a young age, to the point that only reason that we’re not talking about him as a slam dunk to make the NHL this year is because of other prospects who are at about the same tier in the present but don’t have near the same upside.

While I don’t think that Dermott has the flashiness to be a #1 defenceman in the way that people talk about that type of player, he’s certainly got the two-way ability that could project him into playing on a first pair or at least anchoring a second. As the Gardiner/Rielly/Zaitsev generation begins to move on, it’s very likely that Dermott will be there with Timothy Liljegren to lead the way, and he’ll do so with his hometown watching and cheering him on.

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

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