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Jeremy Bracco could take Mitch Marner-esque path to Leafs

Last year, Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Mitch Marner took the Ontario Hockey League by storm. He finished third in the league with 116 points, scored the most assists (28) and points (44) in the postseason, was named the CHL Player of the Year and OHL Playoffs MVP, and was an OHL and Memorial Cup champion.

Having accomplished just about everything he possibly could in major junior hockey, Toronto management–despite concerns about his size–started him on the Maple Leafs roster this season, and it’s proven to be the right move.

It seems as though there is another Toronto prospect of Marner’s caliber, one who hopes to follow a similar path in the OHL this year–Jeremy Bracco.

Bracco, a 19-year-old diminutive sniper for the Kitchener Rangers, has scored 20 points (8G, 12A) in nine regular-season contests in 2016-17. His scoring pace has dropped off a bit, but he opened the season with a remarkable 12 points in four games (he tallied a hat trick and two assists in a game against the Guelph Storm). That garnered him the honors of both OHL and CHL Player of the Week for his incredible break-out right at the start of the season.

Currently a top-five scorer in the league, he has been wildly successful on the power play, skating alongside fellow offensive juggernaut Adam Mascherin. He has played a huge role in his team reaching the top of the Western Conference, where the Rangers are in a three-way tie for first place with the Erie Otters and Sarnia Sting.

Having played in both New York and New Jersey, the Long Island native was clearly committed to the typical U.S. route to professional hockey–he was already committed to the U.S. National U17 Team when the Kitchener Rangers took a chance on him in the fifth round of the 2013 OHL Priority Selection Draft, with the intent to play college hockey after his NHL draft year.

But the Rangers’ gamble was worth it. This time last year, things weren’t exactly working out for the talented right wing at Boston College. He had three assists in five games, but his style of play was better suited for the fast-paced, offense-driven OHL. He signed with the Rangers in late October and provided a spark for the team, scoring 64 points (21G, 43A) in 49 regular-season games, 14 points (3G, 11A) in nine postseason games and leading them to the second round of the postseason.

Now, Bracco hopes to go all the way in the OHL, and he has a great chance to do so with an up-and-coming team in Kitchener. After getting cut by the Maple Leafs earlier this month, he told CTV’s Darren Stevenson, “I’m here to win. There’s no other place I rather be to win in than in Kitchener and I’m really excited to have that opportunity.”

Nevertheless, Toronto fans should make sure they don’t forget about the underrated scoring prospect. With a lot to be excited about in Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Connor Brown, Zach Hyman and Marner in the NHL, as well as Brendan Leipsic and Kasperi Kapanen in the AHL, it’s likely that general manager Lou Lamoriello and head coach Mike Babcock will have to make room for Bracco next season.

In fact, if the Marlies are still as stacked as they currently are come March, Bracco could make his debut in just a few months’ time (if Kitchener somehow fails to make the postseason).

For now, though, the scoring machine is focused on maintaining the Rangers’ position in the Western Conference, where they will have to contend with the London Knights, Windsor Spitfires, the Otters and the Sting–all of which are expected to be top contenders in the league. The front office in Toronto is hoping he can replicate Marner’s 2015-16 campaign, propelling his team to an OHL championship (at the very least) and exceeding their expectations.

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