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Photo Credit: Nick Barden

Leafs Prospect Roundup: Matthew Knies breaking out, Ty Voit’s underrated start, SDA’s underlying struggles

There was a lot of hockey this past week. From the Toronto Maple Leafs playing four games to multiple CHL and European prospects appearing in three or more, there’s plenty of prospects and storylines to catch up on.

Matthew Knies | LW | Minnesota (Big-10)

What better place to start than with the Minnesota Golden Gophers and Leafs 2021 second-round pick Matthew Knies. He’s been impressive early this season with Minnesota, but a back-to-back against Penn State this past weekend saw Knies truly break out for the first time in his collegiate career.

Knies scored a point on five of Minnesota’s seven goals across their two games against Penn State, a 5-3 loss on Friday and a 4-2 win on Saturday.

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The dominant weekend from Knies brings his season totals to seven goals and 14 points in 14 games. He is tied with Tampa Bay prospect Sammy Walker for the team lead in goals and has sole possession of the team lead in points. Simply put, you couldn’t have asked for a better start to the season than what Knies has put together.

When the Leafs drafted Knies, I was a bit apprehensive. Given they only had three draft picks in the 2021 draft, I thought there was a lot of value to be had in trading down and adding to the draft class. While Knies presented an intriguing profile, one of which the Leafs don’t have much of in the prospect pool, I didn’t find him to be enough of a must-have prospect to go against trading down.

Then came the post-draft media availabilities from Kyle Dubas and then Director of Amateur Scouting, John Lilley. They noted the struggles Knies faced in the early parts of the 2020/21 season, battling COVID and a schedule in flux, and how they were impressed by his ability to overcome those in the latter parts of the season.

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Upon diving into the season splits, it shone a much brighter light on Knies. I wrote in-depth on the topic in the offseason (which you can check out here), but here is the gist of the breakdown.

Once Knies was able to recover from his bout with COVID and settle into a regular schedule in the second half, his consistency and scoring were significantly improved. Had the 6-foot-3, 210-pound winger scored at the 1.261 point-per-game clip over the course of the entire season, there’s little chance he would’ve been available come the 57th overall selection.

Instead, the Maple Leafs identified a player that exceeded value at that spot in their view and it appears to have been the right decision early in the NCAA season.

Ty Voit | C | Sarnia (OHL)

Speaking of 2021 draft picks that are looking good, 5th round pick Ty Voit has quietly been putting together a stellar season with the Sarnia Sting.

Recently transitioning to centre from the right-wing, Voit has five goals and 19 points in 14 games this season, leading the Sting in scoring. In a busy week featuring four games, he added two goals and five points to his totals on the year.

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Voit was noted by a lot of draft analysts as having breakout potential come the 2021/22 season. As an OHL player, Voit was not able to play during his draft year, instead having to rely on his Draft -1 results to determine where he would go in the entry draft.

With 28 points in 49 games in 2019/20, Voit’s numbers were solid for a 2003-born player in their rookie OHL season. Yet as a diminutive winger, listed at 5-foot-10, 161 pounds, and without gaudy offensive totals that he potentially could have produced in his draft year had he been able to play, Voit didn’t go until the fifth round.

Through 14 games, Voit is showing the excellent playmaking and offensive instincts that made him a top 60 prospect to some heading into the 2021 draft. And while the offence is the eye-catching aspect of Voit’s game, it was a defensive play that was probably his best of the past week.

For more, be sure to check out my fellow prospect roundup author Nick Richard’s look into Voit from this past offseason during our TLN Top 20 Prospects rankings, which you can find here.

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William Villeneuve | RHD | Saint John (QMJHL)

After a tough stretch to begin the season, 2020 fourth-round pick William Villeneuve is finally starting to round into form.

First, some context is needed for Villeneuve. In 2020, he was the highest-scoring draft-eligible defenceman in the QMJHL, racking up 58 points in 63 games. Despite this, concerns over his defensive play and skating ability saw him drop to the fourth round when the Leafs selected him 122nd overall.

In the abbreviated 2020/21 QMJHL season, Villeneuve’s offensive game took a hit as the coaching staff looked to work on the aforementioned rough defensive game. His points-per-game dropped from 0.906 in his draft year to 0.606 the following season. Conversely, his even-strength goals-for improved from 48.2% in 2019/20 to 54.8% in 2020/21, though part of that has to do with an overall better Saint John team around him.

As a CHL drafted player, the Leafs only held Villeneuve’s exclusive rights until the end of the 2021/22 season. They wasted no time, somewhat surprisingly (at least to me) inking Villeneuve to an entry-level contract prior to the start of the season despite his underwhelming Draft +1 campaign.

To start the season with Saint John, it was much of the same as what we saw a year ago. He went without a point in the first five games of the season as the Sea Dogs dropped their first four of the year.

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Over the past two weeks though, we’ve begun to see Villeneuve find the offensive production that made him an intriguing swing in the 2020 entry draft once again. Villeneuve scored his first goal of the season on Saturday, adding another three assists over Saint John’s three games this week as well.

After scoring just one point in his first eight games, Villeneuve has 11 points in his last 10 games. Keeping in mind that plus/minus is a flawed stat that with proper context can still give some detail, he is a +7 with his defensive partner Charlie Desroches as well, while the rest of the Saint John defence is a +2 or worse.

Villeneuve is very much a long-term project. I expect him to play a full season with the Newfoundland Growlers when he turns pro in 2022/23, somewhat similar to how Mac Hollowell and Joseph Duszak made their professional debuts in the Leafs organization. The Leafs clearly like some of Villeneuve’s tools given how early they committed an entry-level contract to him this season. This recent stretch of play has showcased exactly why they did so.

Joey Duszak | RHD | Marlies (AHL)

I wasn’t entirely sure whether to include Joey Duszak here, but another standout performance on Sunday for the Marlies put it over the finish line.

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Personally, I define a prospect as a player that meets the following criteria:

  1. Remains eligible for the Calder Trophy by games played (Under 25 NHL GP)
  2. Is under 24 years of age

Joey Duszak fits into the first category, but not the second. He turned 24 in July of this season, at which point I no longer considered him for my personal Leafs prospect rankings. And yet, I’m including him here, so what’s up?

Well, Duszak is kind of in between a prospect and an established professional player. He’s in just his third season of professional hockey, having signed with the Leafs out of a small school in Mercyhurst following the 2018/19 season.

By age cutoff, he is no longer deemed a prospect to me, but he remains a fascinating player that has far exceeded my expectations early this season with the Marlies.

Duszak has consistently been a dynamic offensive player from the backend, racking up points with Mercyhurst in a secondary NCAA conference, the Growlers, and even the Marlies in his first professional season. Last year, though, his production regressed. He scored 12 points in 25 games as a 23-year-old offensive defenceman, lacklustre totals given the lack of other attributes he brings to the table.

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In just 11 games in 2021/22, he’s already matched that production from a season ago.

Duszak has been fantastic to start the season for the Marlies, jumping the likes of Mac Hollowell and Brennan Menell on the depth chart for a top-four role, currently alongside Kristians Rubins. Yet to find the back of the net, he leads the Marlies with 12 assists.

It’s not even like Duszak has just been a powerplay merchant, with four of his 12 assists coming on the man advantage. His eight even-strength points are tied for third on the team, only behind forwards Brett Seney and Josh Ho-Sang.

Duszak’s offensive production is what first caught my eye, but doing some research into additional Marlies stats is what really put his play over for me. This week I began compiling 5v5 goals for and against results for the Marlies. With limited statistics available at the AHL level, this is the easiest way to determine who’s succeeding at 5v5 without access to Corsi or expected goals and an improvement over raw plus/minus.

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Keeping his offensive usage in mind, Duszak has been on-ice for nine Marlies goals and just three against at 5v5 this season. At 75% 5v5 goals-for, he ranks best among Marlies defencemen by a wide margin. Kristians Rubins ranks second among Marlies regular defencemen at 57.2%, on-ice for 12 goals for and nine against.

I don’t have the slightest clue what Duszak would be at the NHL level, but after adding another five assists to his season totals over the Marlies three games this week, I felt he was deserving of a shoutout on this week’s prospect roundup (even if he doesn’t fit my criteria to be one).

Semyon Der-Arguchintsev | C | Marlies (AHL)

I try to keep things on the more positive side during these prospect roundups, which pains me to bring up Semyon Der-Arguchintsev this week.

A quick look at the box score and you might be surprised to see me suggest Der-Arguchintsev as a negative this week. 11 points in 14 games as an AHL rookie? Four points in three games played this week? Where are the negatives in that?

This brings me to what has always been the conundrum with Der-Arguchintsev. He’s a legitimately great powerplay threat, but that’s a fraction of the game. We’ve seen it consistently in NHL preseason action, where Der-Arguchintsev wows us on the powerplay and it sticks in our mind. Then we look at the post-game stats and see his line was caved in at 5v5.

Of course, that’s a tiny sample in meaningless games at a level above where Der-Arguchintev is expected to play, but it is a microcosm of the positives and negatives in his game. Being a high-end powerplay threat is fantastic, but you have to bring something to the game at 5v5.

I wrote the following regarding Der-Arguchintsev in the offseason during our TLN Top 20 Leafs Prospect Rankings (full article can be found here):

This upcoming full season with the Marlies will give us a lot of answers as to how legitimate of an NHL prospect Der-Arguchintsev is. While he could go out and rack up points, proving himself as a high-end offensive talent that can push for NHL minutes sooner rather than later, I can just as easily see him struggle at 5v5 and rely on the powerplay for scoring.

So far this season? Three goals, six points at even-strength to go with five powerplay assists. The Marlies have scored five goals with Der-Arguchintsev on the ice at 5v5 and have allowed 13, a goals-for percentage of 27.8% that ranks worst among Marlies with over 10 games played.

It’s early and adjusting to the AHL as a diminutive centre is extremely tough, especially given that Der-Arguchintsev has largely had to do so without a veteran centre to fall back on. Still, the 5v5 play needs to improve if he is going to stick as a top-six centre for the Marlies over the course of the entire season.

Notes from the rest of the prospect pool

Marlies and Growlers

  • It may be obvious, but a shoutout is in store for Joseph Woll. After an absolute rollercoaster of a career with the Marlies to this point, it was fantastic to see him pick up his first career shutout at the NHL level on Sunday. When Petr Mrazek comes back, I hope this experience with the Leafs gives Woll the confidence to finally put together a consistently strong season with the Marlies.
  • Down with the Growlers, a Young Guns line has formed. Marlies prospects Jeremy McKenna, Ryan Chyzowski, and Orrin Centazzo have made up the second line in back-to-back games.

NCAA/OHL/USHL

  • Rough weekend for Veeti Miettinen and St. Cloud State. The #2 ranked team in the NCAA dropped both games against #13 Western Michigan, 6-2 and 4-0. Miettinen was held to just one shot on goal and was a -4 across the two games.
  • A wild week of action for Braeden Kressler. He scored a goal and two assists in Flint’s three-in-three from Friday through Sunday. Flint won 6-2 on Friday, lost 7-0 on Saturday, and lost 7-6 in the shootout on Sunday.
  • Nearly a featured player this week, Joe Miller is back on the first line with Chicago in the USHL and performing. He had a standout four-point game on Saturday against Madison to pass his season totals from a year ago in less than half the games (18 points, 40 games in 20/21 vs. 20 points, 19 games in 21/22).

Europe

  • He should be a featured player every week, but there’s only so much you can write about him. Topi Niemelä added another two points this week to briefly lead the entire Liiga in scoring. As a 19-year-old defenceman. The kid is pretty good.
  • Niemelä’s teammate and fellow Leafs prospect Axel Rindell had an up and down week. His three-point performance on Thursday was followed up by a -3 on Saturday.
  • If not for the amount of action this week, Pontus Holmberg is likely featured in today’s prospect roundup. He scored a goal and four points in three games this week across the Champions Hockey League and SHL as he remains on pace to far exceed his career highs.

  • Roni Hirvonen didn’t find the scoresheet at all in two games with HIFK in Finland, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t trying. He peppered seven shots on goal against KooKoo, adding another two against SaiPa.
  • After a promising stretch of games, Dmitry Ovchinnikov is back playing under five minutes for Sibir in the KHL. He played just three shifts for 1:47 TOI on Sunday.
  • Goalies! After a brief absence, Artur Akhtyamov returned for Bars Kazan in the Russian second tier. He was pulled in his return after allowing a goal late in the first and two minutes into the second, bouncing back later in the week with a win against Izhstal. Overall, he stopped 41 of 45 across the two appearances.
  • Vyacheslav Peksa continues to simply stop pucks at the MHL level and push for a depth spot on the Russian World Junior squad. He stopped 50 of 52 shots this week, coming in relief on Wednesday and picking up the win on Thursday. He’s up to a .940 save percentage in 24 games this season.

 

Finally, a happy birthday shoutout to my sister today. There’s a 0% chance she sees this, but a valuable lesson she’s taught me over the last couple of years: Be yourself and don’t waste time pleasing others when you can be spending it on your own happiness. Have a good week, everyone.