Welcome to The Leafs Nation’s 2019 Prospect Rankings! As I’m sure you all know by now, we’ve changed things up this year and will be rolling out these little guys in tiers that aim to encapsulate each prospect’s respective projection as an NHLer.
Crazy stuff! Try to keep up.
For brevity’s sake, though, we’ll be tackling the lowest tier, The Longest Shots, in two succinct editions hitting the interwebs both today (you’re reading that one right now!) and tomorrow.
We’re all in agreement here, right? Look, I’m sure all of these players are nice and respectful individuals. Heck, most of them are just teenagers at the moment, and we all know that no one should be judged for what they do during their teen years. I, for one, enjoyed the musical stylings of Limp Bizkit in high school, despite my high school tenure beginning in 2011. See what I mean?
Maybe each of the Longest Shots make a giant leap out of nowhere and become NHL roster staples for years to come. Who knows? Weirder things have happened. They just probably won’t.
So, with that being said, let’s kill two birds with two stones. It’s a lot more efficient than it sounds. I promise.
2018 TLN Prospect Ranking: N/A
Drafted: 7th round, 211th overall in 2018
I’m not entirely sure that even the faction of Leafs Twitter who are completely fluent in every little detail about every single prospect playing in even the most remote, third-tier overseas hockey leagues knows all that much about Semyon Kizimov.
Kizimov was a seventh-round pick by the Leafs in 2018. And while his tenure with the organization is still quite brief and the expectations aren’t necessarily high, the results Kizimov has managed to produce throughout his lone year as Leafs property do not exactly scream “hidden gem”, either.
Suiting up for 48 games for Lada Togliatti of the VHL last season, Kizimov finished with just 4 goals and 10 assists for 14 points as a rookie. Although, I can confirm that one of those four goals was pretty darn majestic. Allow our very own prospect guru, 51Leafs, to show you why:
— 51Leafs (@51Leafs) October 17, 2018
For context, the VHL more or less functions as the KHL’s American Hockey League, which makes the fact that Kizimov held his own to some degree against an opposition group of grown men commendable. Kizimov is actually one of six players on Lada Togliatti last season to share the birth year of 2000, and he outscored each of the other five. Set to turn 20 on January 19th, Kizimov is still young, and could very well have more to give with enough time to do so.
Alas, within the increasingly cutthroat world of prospect development, Kizimov doesn’t have much. His rights are set to come up at the end of the 2019-20 season, and while anything is possible, it’s highly unlikely for Leafs management to opt to spend a contract spot on a borderline teenager with 14 points in Russia’s second-tier league.
For a more thorough breakdown of his attributes, I’d recommend checking out this very informative piece by Katya Knapp over at our arch-rivals, Pension Plan Puppets.
2018 TLN Prospect Ranking: Honourable Mention
Drafted: 3rd round, 72nd overall in 2016
James (you probably know him as J.D.) Greenway holds the unfortunate distinction of being a Mark Hunter Draft Pick™. And boy, is he ever. Measuring in at 6’4″ and 193 pounds, Greenway fits Hunter’s preferred criteria to a tee, projecting as a gargantuan defenceman who doesn’t exactly light up the score sheet.
You know, exactly where the sport is headed!
Since hearing his name called by Toronto’s dearly departed Scouting God back in 2016, Greenway’s career journey has been rocky at best. Which, frankly, is perfectly fine. These adjustments can be difficult for young players. They are human, after all.
Greenway spent his first two post-draft seasons in the NCAA with the University of Wisconsin, to muted effect. The young defenceman kicked his collegiate career off with 7 points in 34 games in 2016-17 and then offered up 3 points in 12 games as a follow-up in 2017-18. That’s, uh, not good – even for a young blueliner.
Naturally, Greenway looked for change. He then left Wisconsin at the end of his second year to suit up for the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL. Seeming more comfortable outside of the NCAA sphere, Greenway managed to succeed in relative terms with 33 points in 58 games last season, adding 4 points in 5 playoff games for good measure. Progress!
What stands in Greenway’s way at this point, though, are two distinct factors: Discipline and speed.
It is truly remarkable to see just how adept Greenway is at racking up penalty minutes with his towering size and physical frame. Greenway sat for a whopping 28 minutes during those aforementioned 5 playoff games in 2018-19, which offered a precursor to the rap sheets the 21-year-old earned during his time in both the NCAA and USHL that saw him average 1.39 PIM per game.
Naturally, it’s pretty difficult to prove your worth to the team that drafted you while sitting in a 5×5 box made of plexiglass and good. Greenway’s viability as a Leaf prospect is more or less over at this point, but if he wants to make a final push, cutting down on his penalties would be a good place to start.
Harkening back to his Hunter pedigree now, Greenway is slow. While he does possess the physical tools to withstand the rigours of the NHL, his speed just does not hold up to the modern game. Were Greenway to be drafted in 2008, we may be having a different conversation.
2018 TLN Prospect Ranking: N/A
Drafted: 7th round, 203rd overall in 2017
I’m gonna be honest here, there’s not much to say about Ryan O’Connell. As a seventh-round pick from the 2017 draft, he shares the Hunter Pick™ distinction with Greenway and has more or less produced to a similar extent, too.
In 31 games last season for THE Ohio State University, O’Connell finished with 2 points.
Sure, he was a freshman. And sure, his most recent post-draft hockey experience had come in the BCHL. But damn, dude. That’s BAD. Two points?! You couldn’t have gotten three by accident?
By all accounts, O’Connell is a decent defenceman relative to the median skill level of Division I NCAA hockey. Not to mention, he suffered a brutal arm injury two years ago that kept him on the shelf for a large chunk of time and ultimately stunted his development. That might have been the death blow to his NHL future.
Miracles can happen, of course. But if they were common, they wouldn’t be miracles. O’Connell is going to need one.
2018 TLN Prospect Ranking: Honourable Mention
Drafted: 3rd round, 68th overall in 2015
Given that there is now a zero per cent chance Martins Dzierkals ever plays a single game for the Toronto Maple Leafs, we’re going to punt on haggling over his potential value as a hockey player and instead delve into the truly confusing saga that has followed him for the past year or so.
Dzierkals reportedly asked the Leafs organization for a trade last summer after they failed to guarantee he wouldn’t be sent to the ECHL at any point in the upcoming year, where he had previously spent 51 games in 2017-18. The 22-year-old then signed in the KHL with Dinamo Riga and proceeded to secure a nomination for their Rookie of the Year Award. Crazy, right?
It’s here where we find the fascinating central tidbit of the Dzierkals Drama™: He’s actually a good hockey player.
It’s true. The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler even referred to the Latvian-native as being “as shifty side-to-side as any Leafs prospect other than Mitch Marner in recent memory” in his own latest prospect rankings. And while covering the Marlies during Dzierkals’ lone North American season, I indeed saw flashes – brief as they may have been – of that skill throughout his 4-game cameo in the AHL myself. It’s there. I can confirm that both it, and him, exists.
Which is a shame, really. Dzierkals has some intriguing tools and a malleable canvas upon which to nurture them. But he’s done with the Leafs organization and they’re finished with him, too.
Maybe he catches on somewhere in North America after his rights expire with Toronto. Maybe he etches out a successful career in the KHL. Either way, Dzierkals will not be a Leaf.
*Mark Cuban voice* And for that reason, I am out (on his future in the organization).