Matt Finn at Prospect Camp (photo cred: Jack Bolland, Toronto Sun)
With the 35th overall pick in the 2012 draft, the Leafs look like they've added another solid prospect in Guelph Storm defenseman, Matt Finn.
Finn was on the radar for scouts from the beginning of his draft year, ranking 15th in Central Scouting's OHL preliminary rankings, then shooting up to 15th in the North American mid-term rankings before finally settling in at 16th in the final North American rankings. He's a guy who underwent a fair degree of scrutiny and his game stood up to it, in the eyes of scouts.
With only 4 players on the European Rankings and 3 players from the Goalie Rankings having been taken ahead of Finn, Central Scouting would have projected him to go at 23 and yet he fell to the Leafs at 35.
Finn is a prospect who's very similar to a player the Leafs drafted last year in Stuart Percy. While Finn's offensive numbers are a little more impressive than Percy's were in his draft year, neither player projects as an especially strong offensive defenseman at the NHL-level. Like Percy, Finn is often described as "quietly effective" with great poise, decision-making, and a good first pass. While he doesn't have the flashy skating or offensive flair of guys like Rielly or Gardiner, he does possess the kinds of tools that provide a lot of value to an NHL blueline.
The Guelph team that Finn was a part of last season wasn't particularly strong, finishing 7th of 10 teams in the OHL's Western Conference. Finn led the team in scoring by defensemen with 48 points in 61 games which is a great accomplishment for a guy who started the season as a 17-year old. His -13 rating seems a bit troubling on the surface considering the team only allowed 4 more goals than they scored, but Finn was relied on heavily by head coach Scott Walker and can expect more of the same this coming season.
Finn has a good shot which he used to pick up 5 powerplay goals last season and he can certainly expect to quarterback the Guelph powerplay again this season. Once he adds some size to his frame and gets over 200 lbs, one would expect some added velocity to his slapshot and if this proves to be the case, he'll be a player who is in many ways reminiscent of Francois Beauchemin, though with less of a physical edge. Statistically, the two players compare almost identically (Beauchemin's draft year: 12, 35, 47, Finn's draft year: 10, 38, 48) and Finn's size projects out to be roughly what Beauchemin's is at slightly over 6' tall and 205 - 215 lbs. Of course a great deal would have to go right for Finn to be a Beauchemin-calibre NHLer but he certainly seems to possess the raw materials.
In terms of timeframe, I think Jesse Blacker provides a pretty good framework for a solid development trajectory of a defensemen chosen outside of the first 15-picks. Blacker was chosen late in the second round in 2009 which means that this season will be his fourth since his draft year. At this stage, the most likely scenario would see Blacker play a prominent role with the Marlies and be a candidate to be called up to the Leafs in the event of an injury. Assuming he develops well, we can expect to see Finn suit up for his first games as a Leaf in 2015-16.
I'm really looking forward to watching Finn play this season and he's going to get significant icetime against tough competition. Guelph plays Western Conference favourites London 6 times and perhaps an equally strong Kitchener team 8 times. Those are the types of tough matchups where defensemen really get to test their mettle and Finn will be looking to show that he can compete with the best that the OHL has to offer. It may be early, but Finn looks like he's got a good chance to be a solid addition to the future of the Leafs' defense.