The Toronto Maple Leafs need to make a decision on Jeremy Bracco.
Drafted in 2015, Bracco came with much hype, as he made his way to start his pro career with the Toronto Marlies.
More than 5 years after he was drafted, Bracco still hasn’t appeared in a single NHL game.
What’s Stopped Him From Appearing in an NHL Game?
After a productive OHL career, Bracco didn’t make the biggest splash in the AHL at first. However, his skills shone through on the Calder Cup-winning Marlies, his 32 points in 50 games were good for 7th on the team. However, his performance was notably not good enough to keep him on the ice, as he spent most of the playoffs sitting in the press box.
The next season, Bracco absolutely went OFF. In just his second professional season, Bracco, alongside AHL All-Star Chris Mueller, tore up the AHL.
With 79 points in 72 games, Bracco had made the First AHL All-Star Team just after turning 22, finishing second in league-wide in points and assists. Aside from Bracco, everyone who finished top 4 in points that year appeared in the NHL the next season (Andrew Poturalski, who finished #5, missed a large chunk of the season due to a wrist injury).
This year went much differently for Bracco. While his assist rate was near his previous season’s total, he missed the mark. His production took a dip from 79 points to a 57-point pace if he played the same amount of games. It’s just not what you want to see from a skilled prospect expected to make his mark soon.
Why Did It Dip?
There are a few potential reasons for why Bracco’s production dipped.
The easiest explanation? His teammates. Chris Mueller, part of the dynamic duo for the Marlies in 2018-19, left for Tampa Bay (playing in Syracuse and later San Diego). The duo wasn’t a lopsided relationship. Bracco’s exceptional playmaking abilities and Mueller’s goal-scoring and ability to drive play made for an explosive combination. Both of their numbers dipped after their separation, although Mueller’s numbers didn’t suffer as much.
Bracco’s place on the depth chart is also a factor. Yes, I’m implying that better teammates might have been an issue. Hear me out.
The Toronto Maple Leafs organization added an exceptional amount of NHL talent to their AHL roster. They signed NHL depth calibre guys in Kenny Agostino, Tyler Gaudet, Kalle Kossila, Matt Read, Garrett Wilson, Pontus Aberg, and later guys like Miikka Salomaki and Max Veronneau, as well as retaining Nic Petan. Not to mention the rise of numerous stars on the team, such as Adam Brooks, Egor Korshkov, and Tanner MacMaster, two of whom made appearances in the NHL. Those are just some of the forwards on the Marlies.
How does this affect Bracco? Simple. Bracco’s game revolves mostly around him, and that’s something I’ll come back to later. Bracco is at his best when the puck is on his stick or when his line is on offense. However, with so many other options, the Marlies don’t need to rely on him.
There’s also the more complicated idea. Maybe Bracco lost motivation?
One of Bracco’s biggest flaws in his game is the effort he puts in, but that’s usually on defense. However, this year, you couldn’t really blame him.
Jeremy Bracco had the absolute best possible season you could’ve expected from him in 2018-19. His offensive game shone as it had in the OHL. Still, he didn’t earn a spot on the Toronto Maple Leafs. At 23, he might feel as if there’s not much else he can do in the Leafs organization.
Watching him play, although he’s making an effort, it looks as if he’s not giving it as much as he had during his breakout season. Who could blame him if that was the case? With his game as it is right now, 2018-19 is probably the best you could expect from him.
Jeremy Bracco’s game in general isn’t suited for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
I think Jeremy Bracco is a brilliant player. His vision is phenomenal, his playmaking skills almost unmatched, his general offensive game is stellar. He’s incredible on the powerplay and a force at even strength. His defense… not great.
Bracco is at his best when he’s the star. His game is suited for top-six play. At the very worst, he could play a 3rd line role and play on the PP2 unit.
Take a look at that, and then take a look at who’s jumped him on the depth chart.
Adam Brooks: Projects as a great 4th line centre.
Egor Korshkov: Is already a great bottom-six winger.
Pierre Engvall: Is pretty much already a full-time NHL bottom-six winger.
Plus, the seemingly infinite amount of NHL depth-calibre guys the Leafs sign, just in case.
And now look at the holes in the Leafs roster.
The Leafs have their core set with Auston Matthews, John Tavares, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner. Their supporting cast of Zach Hyman, Kasperi Kapanen, Ilya Mikheyev, Alexander Kerfoot, and the injured Andreas Johnsson is one of the best in the league. That, plus the quick rise of Nick Robertson pencils in… the entire top-nine.
Now, look at those guys… is Jeremy Bracco going to beat any of them out? Unfortunately for Bracco, it’s unlikely.
Bracco needs a team that’s in need of offense and a boost to their top-nine… but that’s where the Leafs have a surplus.
Actually, that’s one of the reasons I’m writing this article. I don’t think there needs to be a huge secret off-ice issue or a whole conspiracy to be why Jeremy Bracco hasn’t made the NHL.
Rumours have surrounded Bracco throughout his tenure with the organization, and they were fueled by Bracco’s mysterious leave of absence that ended up with him missing the rest of the season.
But, honestly, it’s none of my business, and I don’t think it affects his hockey career to date.
In the end, Bracco’s game is probably the biggest reason why he hasn’t made the Leafs, nothing else.
Poor Asset Management
If anything, the Toronto Maple Leafs should’ve made their decision on Jeremy Bracco last season. Bracco hit what’s likely to be the peak of his tenure in the Leafs organization, the hype doesn’t get any better than it was then.
Now? His value decreases by the day. At 23, he doesn’t have as much time to develop and refine his game before his development curve is expected to stall. His performance, his age, his reported trade requests made to the organization have likely dropped his trade value a long way from what it once was.
The Leafs need to make their decision on Jeremy Bracco, what are the most likely decisions?
The most obvious solution. However, it’s not as easy as you’d think. With Bracco’s value continuing to drop off a cliff, how much can the Leafs realistically get back? A 4th? A depth player?
Could he be a throw-in in a trade? But then what’s the point of trading him if he’s just a throw-in?
The more likely trade would be a trade for a player with similarly declining value. How much would the Leafs have to add to Bracco to trade for Josh Ho-Sang, Jesse Puljujarvi, or even Lias Andersson? In my opinion, trading Bracco for a project player is the best thing they can do here. Give Bracco an opportunity to develop in another organization.
Let Him Walk
This may be the worst option but could be the more likely one. It all depends on what the Leafs know. Bracco has notably asked for a trade as late as early-January. His mysterious absence, plus his terms with the club, could mean the team and Bracco might part ways.
Bracco will be an RFA when the season ends, so the Leafs have to decide if they’ll tender a qualifying offer or end the Jeremy Bracco era in Toronto.
This is the more frustrating decision for both parties, but I wouldn’t be shocked if this is what happens. The Leafs and Jeremy Bracco could agree to a short-term deal.
The biggest question here is, what do the Leafs want to see from Jeremy Bracco? What does Jeremy Bracco want to see from Jeremy Bracco? It’s not the ideal solution, but it could be the least messy solution.
One reason for this to happen would be the thought that more teams would be interested in Bracco near the trade deadline. However, it’s becoming more and more clear that Bracco doesn’t have a great future in the Leafs organization.
If Bracco does want to carve out a career in Toronto, there’s a solution, but it’s pretty difficult. Jeremy Bracco has outstanding vision on the ice, like there’s eyes in the back of his head. He has the tools and the IQ to be, at the very least, decent at defense. I genuinely believe that he could develop into a two-way forward, one with exceptional offensive skills. If he can make a team as their 4th liner, I have no doubt that he could rise to the point where he can just play his game as needed.
For now, probably nothing. The Toronto Maple Leafs are all geared up to face Columbus in the NHL’s play-ins. Kyle Dubas has reportedly been busy scouting potential free agents. Jeremy Bracco is probably the furthest thing from his priority right now.
We might not see the solution to this situation until October/November. Nonetheless, the team needs to make a decision on Bracco before it’s too late.
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