2019 Leafs Prospect Rankings – The Fence Sitters: Joseph Duszak

Let’s get into it: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor prospect profile.

When the Leafs signed Joseph Duszak in the spring of 2019, it sent shockwaves through the hockey wor-
Okay, okay. We’re not fooling anyone here. Duszak was an interesting pickup with an impressive offensive resume in his final NCAA season. A three-year player with the Mercyhurst Lakers, the 22-year old right-handed defenceman enters this fall looking for his first full taste of professional hockey. When October rolls around, expect Duszak to begin the season on the Toronto Marlies, where he suited up briefly at the end of last season.

Why’s Duszak in this category?

For a guy who might not crack the NHL until he’s 23 or 24, Duszak might be seen as more of a “long-shot” or further.

But part of our classification goes back to an old Barney Stinson mantra: New is Always Better. Duszak hasn’t been given a serious enough look as a pro yet, and what we’ve got is flashy stats and enough of an unknown that we’re intrigued as to what he can do.

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Contrast Duszak to a guy like say, Andrew Nielsen, who most who followed the organization once regarded highly due to gaudy junior stats, before quickly seeing his stock drop within the span of just one 2017-18 season. In the fall of 2018, Nielsen was shipped out to Calgary for Morgan Klimchuk, who was subsequently flipped for Gabriel Gagne.

Conversely, there’s nothing that’s can’t miss about this guy either. He’s 22, undrafted, and well, that should be enough to tell you he’s not the saviour of this franchise. But he might be something, and we’ve got to give him the benefit of the doubt to prove that. And thus? He’s sitting on the fence.

Analyzing Duszak

Leading the scoring for the Lakers this past year, Duszak had a final college season that would be just about all he could ask for.

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Looking at Mercyhurst’s roster, there’s just not another forward pushing up his point totals, as he finished ten points ahead of his second place teammate.

But while he was among the country’s best players this past season, Duszak also took until his final year to really take off offensively.

Interestingly enough, both he and Brady Tkachuk finished the 2017-18 NCAA season with 31 points. Might he be the future of another Ontario franchise?

But while we’re saying good things about Duszak, here’s a little nugget that might hype you up a bit about his ability.

As you might have gathered, all three of those other guys made the NHL as regulars. The list was actually updated this year to include Cale Makar and Adam Fox (as they finished their seasons after Duszak), who both purport to be NHL regulars this upcoming season.

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By comparison, just one defenceman (Philip Beaulieu of Northern Michigan) hit 40 points a season prior.

Duszak tied for the AHA conference lead in points, while finishing sixth in the whole country.  Duszak also led the USPHL-Premier in scoring in 2015-16, if that’s your thing.

It should be noted that his Marlies’ stint came in the form of an Amateur Tryout contract, which allowed him to play two games for the Marlies in the regular season, while suiting up for four playoff contests.

Best Case Career Scenario

From what I could gather, the best NCAA undrafted defenceman award probably pans out to be Dan Boyle – interestingly, enough, a Canadian. A more recent success story would be Troy Stecher, who spent three years at the University of North Dakota before finding a role with the Vancouver Canucks over the past three seasons. Kevan Miller in Boston has found his way into the lineup regularly, so there is a pathway for a guy like Duszak to succeed. Nate Schmidt and Danny DeKeyser also come to mind in this category, although they both play on the left side.

Other than that, it really isn’t all that common that good defencemen make the NHL without getting drafted at some point along the way.

It’s hard to imagine Duszak breaking into the roster out of training camp. But a 2020-21 NHL spot isn’t unrealistic for Duszak if the Leafs are impressed with his play at the AHL level. With just Morgan Rielly signed on past this season as part of the Leafs’ regular d-corps, Toronto will need as many NHL-ready bodies as they can get on the back end.

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But it’s still a long way away before we really need to worry about that, and it’s likely Duszak will be only getting an NHL look this year if the injury bug hits.

And the Worst?

Are you ready for your new Toronto Marlies’ second pairing defenceman of the future?

There’s a reasonable enough scenario where Duszak becomes a tweener and makes a few appearances in relief for the Leafs, but never really gets his name established at the NHL level. Ahead of him (by NHL experience, at the very least)  in the organizational depth chart  are: Tyson Barrie, Cody Ceci, Jordan Schmaltz, and in all likelihood, Rasmus Sandin by some point this season. Justin Holl, though not really a prospect or a likely NHL regular, could also steal time away from Duszak.

Duszak’s contract rides for two seasons with the Leafs, and it’s understandable that they’d want to give him an NHL stint in that timeframe. Already 22, it’s not like he still has to undergo any sort of growth spurt. But he’ll need to establish his rapport within the organization quickly enough to make him “the guy” to count on. Former Soo Greyhound Mac Hollowell and 2019 draft pick Teemu Kivihalme will both be in heavy competition with Duszak, and he’s only got so much time to make his mark with the big club.

It might be of note, it might not, but only one skater has ever made the NHL from Mercyhurst. (Jamie Hunt played six minutes in 2006 for the Washington Capitals, and was never seen again.)

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Whatever the case,  good or bad, we’ll be sure to be hearing Duszak’s name much more often in the coming weeks and months.

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  • magesticRAGE

    Of all new defensive prospects not named Sandin or Liljigren, Duzsak excites me the most. It’s not the counting stats of his career, or even the skill and mobility. It’s his pace, brain, and sheer confidence that he’s good enough.
    The man just shows up in his first pro game, and wants to rush the puck, be the 4th (sometimes 3rd) forward, and get back to cover his pinches. It’s his physical play in his own zone, forgetting his diminutive stature. He shows the audacity that he more than belongs.
    The only thing he lacks is maybe a bit more strength, and a tightening of defensive coverage. The last one I have patience for, he only has 6 pro games under his belt.
    I’m rooting for him.