Jeremy Bracco learning patience as he waits for his shot with Maple Leafs

Author: Chris Johnston, Sportsnet.ca
Date: Aug 29, 2017

TORONTO – You usually hear Jeremy Bracco before you see him.

A cheerful ball of energy and enthusiasm, with a distinctive Long Island accent to boot, the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect is easily described as fun to be around.

Unless, of course, you keep him waiting for something.

“My dad will be coming down the stairs and saying ‘OK, let’s go, we’re going to dinner,”’ Bracco said Monday in an interview at the NHLPA’s rookie showcase. “I’ll be ready in like five minutes. It’s 15, 20 minutes later and he’s getting in the shower and I’m like: ‘What’s going on here?’

“If you tell me five minutes I’ll be on time, but we’ve got to be going then.”

As the 20-year-old embarks on the next step in his hockey career, he has no scheduled time of arrival in the NHL. There will certainly be some virtuousness found in patience during the upcoming months, and that’s something Bracco has already had experience with.

Remember that he might have made the jump to the pro ranks a year ago had the Leafs decided to sign him to an entry-level contract last summer.

Instead, he returned to the Ontario Hockey League – racking up 83 points in 57 games and winning the Memorial Cup with Windsor, not to mention a gold medal at the world junior tournament with Team USA.

His first NHL contract (complete with a $92,500 signing bonus) arrived towards the end of that charmed season – “I always knew that if I worked hard enough it would come,” said Bracco. “Whenever it did, it didn’t really matter to me” – and now he’ll begin playing for a paycheque full-time this fall.

That it will be in the American Hockey League with the Marlies is a given. The Leafs organization is overflowing with young right-shot wingers: William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Connor Brown, Kasperi Kapanen, Nikita Soshnikov and Josh Leivo, among them.

Bracco understands that there are still steps to be taken before his childhood dream is fully realized.

“You’ve got to make the jump when you’re ready, obviously,” he said. “Like Mike Babcock said: ‘You want to arrive and have an impact, not just be a guy that sits there and watches.’

“Hopefully it’s sooner than later and I can adjust well and be able to play my style of hockey.”

In days gone by, the skilled playmaker would have been a prospect of significant interest in these parts. Today, Bracco arguably finds himself somewhat overlooked because the Leafs cupboard is much better stocked than at any point in decades.

He’s a product of the organization’s aspirational 2015 draft led by then-interim GM Kyle Dubas – where skill and potential were prioritized over size. The tallest of the five forwards selected by Toronto in that class was six-foot-one Nikita Korostelev, taken in the seventh round.

Bracco is generously listed at five-foot-10 and still needs to put more muscle on his modest frame, something that became a touch more challenging this summer when he dealt with a case of mononucleosis he describes as “minor.”

Still, he is getting closer to the NHL. On Monday morning, he wore a blue No. 59 Leafs jersey over equipment and joined other top prospects in posing for pictures that will soon appear on Upper Deck trading cards.

“It’s pretty crazy to see how far we’ve come,” said Bracco, referencing the many familiar faces at Mattamy Athletic Centre, including childhood friend Charlie McAvoy of the Boston Bruins. “You always strive to be the best you can, right? Obviously, you watch these [NHL] guys on TV and you’re like ‘Oh I want to play like that one day.’ But I don’t know if I’d ever tell you I’d be here wearing a Leafs jersey, in Toronto, where hopefully I can play and bring trophies back to.

“It’s been a crazy ride.”

Every once and awhile he’s reminded of the journey by his 10-year-old brother, Donato, who is now travelling around to the same youth tournaments he once frequented – including one here in Toronto next month.

Asked for the best lesson he’s picked up so far in hockey, Bracco replies: “I think honestly just cherish what you go through. Win or lose.”

Sometimes that means being patient and having faith in the process. It’s just as valuable for a minor hockey player as it is for an AHLer hoping to get the call from the NHL.

Away from the rink, Bracco acknowledges that it doesn’t always come naturally to him.

“It depends,” he said. “Little things I can be and little things I’m like ‘Mitchy, I’m hot, let’s go.’ I like to talk a lot, that’s my thing. I’m a big talker. That’s when the New York comes out of me.

“Patience? It depends on what it is.”

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