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Photo Credit: Nick Barden

Leafs Prospect Roundup: Eyes on Knies, Amirov’s absence, Tverberg on a tear

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As we enter the middle of October, the world is beginning to feel like it’s getting back to normal and hockey leagues all over the globe have gotten their schedules underway. The Leafs’ roster has been set to start the season and prospects have found their way back to their respective teams as they work towards finding their names on an opening night roster in the future.

A number of Leafs’ prospects are off to strong starts in the early part of the season so without further ado, let’s get to this week’s Leafs Prospect Roundup.

Timothy Liljegren | RHD | Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL)

Liljegren has made the Leafs’ roster out of training camp, and unlike years past where he initially broke camp with the team, is expected to factor in for them this season. He begins the season as Toronto’s seventh defenseman and while he didn’t get into the lineup for either of the first two games, the expectation is that he will see plenty of action this season. The Leafs have the option to work him into a rotation on the bottom pairing with Rasmus Sandin and Travis Dermott but they have arguably been Toronto’s best defensive duo early on and Liljegren may have to bide his time a bit longer.

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Injuries are sure to strike on the Leafs’ back end eventually and for the first time, Liljegren is the clear next man up. The Leafs are going to need him to prove he is a capable NHL defenseman at some point this season and judging by his play in the AHL last year, he is ready for the challenge.

Matthew Knies | W | University of Minnesota (NCAA)

The Leafs’ top pick from the 2021 NHL Draft began his collegiate career with Minnesota last week and got off to a hot start. He scored two goals in his NCAA debut and had a number of scoring chances on top of that. His shot has become a bonafide weapon that he can beat golatenders with cleanly and he has shown a nose for getting to the net as well. His puck protection abilities were on full display, often overpowering opposing players along the wall or in front of the net.

Averaging around 15 minutes of ice time through the first couple of games, Knies appears set to play a key role for the Gophers in his freshman year. He is off to a good start and will look to build off of that as Minnesota gets set to face tougher competition as the season progresses.

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Rodion Amirov | W | Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL)

After recovering from a preseason injury that forced him to miss his team’s first eight games of the regular season, Amirov returned for just three games and is now set to miss his seventh straight contest on Friday. There has been very little information on his latest absence but it would be fair to assume that he has suffered another injury or reaggrivated his previous injury. Amirov has an assist through three games and will be looking to return to the form he showed in the preseason where he had four points in four games, whenever he is able to get back on the ice.

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Nicholas Abruzzese | C/W | Harvard University (NCAA)

Abruzesse has become something of a forgotten man in the Leafs’ prospect pool after he was unable to play last year. Due to the pandemic, Harvard canceled their winter sports programs for the year and Abruzesse underwent hip surgery which would have caused him to miss most of the season anyway.

He was stellar in his freshman season with the Crimson, tying for third in NCAA scoring with 14 goals and 33 assists in just 31 games and racking up plenty of accolades along the way. Harvard is set to return to action in the next couple of weeks and Abruzzese will be dawning the captain’s “C” on his jersey – for half of the games, at least – as he and Casey Dornbach were named co-captains for the 2021-22 season.

It has been a long layoff but if Abruzzese is able to replicate or build upon his freshman season, an entry level contract with the Leafs could be in store for the 22-year-old when the NCAA season wraps up.

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Ty Voit | W | Sarnia (OHL)

Selected out of the OHL by the Leafs in the fifth round of the 2021 draft, Voit is another player that was unable to play meaningful hockey in 2020-21. There is an element of mystery surrounding a prospect who missed that much crucial development time but Voit doesn’t appear to have missed a beat. After missing the Sting’s first game with a minor injury, he returned to action for their second contest and got on the board with his first goal of the campaign.

Voit is on the smaller side but his offensive toolkit is an exciting one. He is an agile skater who plays a cerebral offensive game, picking apart defensive coverages with slick puck handling and great vision. After posting 28 points in 49 games in his first OHL season, Voit has the talent to be a big time point producer for the Sting this coming season.

Veeti Miettinen | W | St. Cloud State (NCAA)

Following up a stellar freshman season with St. Cloud State that earned him NCHC Rookie of the Year honors, Miettinen is off to a strong start again in 2021-22. After registering a pair of assists in the opener, Miettinen tallied his first goal of the season earlier this week and is up to three points through the Huskies’ first four games.

Though undersized, Miettinen is a skilled offensive player with a variety of shots in his arsenal and the intelligence to create scoring opportunities for himself as well as his teammates. Taking on a larger role in his second year, he should surpass his totals of 11 goals and 13 assists from a season ago but will need to focus on adding strength to his slight frame as he progresses.

Ryan Tverberg | W | University of Connecticut (NCAA)

2020-21 was a whirlwind year for Tverberg. Clearly seeing something they liked, the Leafs traded back into the seventh round of the 2020 draft to make Tverberg their final selection – an unusual move for the current regime. Originally slated to play in the BCHL as he prepared to make the jump to Harvard, he was forced to alter course and change his commitment to UConn. He joined UConn for the beginning of the second semester and had a strong showing while playing catch up with the rest of the team, scoring four goals and three assists in his first 14 games at the collegiate level.

Now settled into his new home, Tverberg has gotten off to a great start in his first full season of NCAA hockey with three goals and a pair of assists in the first three games of the season. He is a high-energy, tenacious player who loves to throw his body around but he has the skill to capitalize offensively as well. Like any late-round pick, his development path is sure to be a long one but Tverberg has all the makings of a future fan favourite if he can make his way to the professional ranks.

Artur Akhtyamov | G | Bars Kazan (VHL)

It has been a rocky start to the season for Akhtyamov after he impressed at multiple levels last year. Consistency has been the issue early on as he has had a couple of solid performances that were quickly followed by some downright ugly outings. He may be turning a corner, however, and getting back to what we saw from him last season. Akhtyamov picked up his first shutout of the season earlier this week and made a number of big saves in the process.

For the season, Akhtyamov has now played in 11 games and owns a 2.53 GAA to go along with a .901 SV% – a far cry from the 1.90 GAA and .927 SV% he registered in 14 VHL games in 2020-21. If he can get closer to those numbers as the season progresses, the Leafs could have a legitimate goaltending prospect on their hands.

Braeden Kressler | C/W | Flint (OHL)

A free agent invite to Toronto’s development camp, Kressler impressed the Leafs enough to earn a three-year entry level deal after going undrafted in his first year of eligibility. When an injury forced Alex Steeves out of the lineup during the first game of the Traverse City Prospects Tournament, it was Kressler that was moved into his place on the Leafs’ first line alongside top prospect Nick Robertson.

Kressler is just 5’9″ and 165 pounds but he makes up for it with his tenacity and work ethic. He is a shifty skater with a decent shot, good vision, and he consistently gets pucks into scoring areas for himself and for his teammates. Perhaps a victim of circumstance, the Leafs are hoping that Kressler will make good on his opportunity after he was unable to showcase himself to the hockey world in his draft year.

Joe Miller | C | Chicago (USHL)

Miller played a complementary role for the USHL champions last year, averaging around 13 minutes of ice time per game and finishing with 18 points in 40 games. He has taken on a much larger role in his second season with Chicago and is averaging over 20 minutes of ice time per game in the early going. That added responsibility has led to greater production so far as well, with Miller tallying four points through the first six games.

Another undersized, offensively talented, late-round swing for the Leafs, Miller is a long-term project. He will join fellow Leafs prospects Matthew Knies and Mike Koster at the University of Minnesota next season and a strong showing in the USHL will go a long way in preparing him for the next level.

(Statistics from EliteProspects.com)

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