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With plenty of season behind us and the World Juniors rapidly approaching, it is a good time to take stock of where things stand in the prospect world. We will have plenty of content at The Leafs Nation this week, including an updated Leafs prospect ranking from Kyle Cushman and my December top-32 for the 2022 NHL Draft so be sure to check those out.
For now, let’s get to this week’s edition of the Leafs Prospect Roundup.
Rodion Amirov | W | Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL)
It has been a difficult season for Amirov. He got off to a great start in the preseason before suffering a shoulder injury that forced him to miss the beginning of the season and played just three games before suffering another injury that kept him out of action for close to two months. There was never much in the way of concrete information on Amirov’s latest injury but he has been deemed healthy enough to play, and after a three-game stint in the VHL, returned to Ufa’s lineup last Monday. He played just two shifts, managing an assist on one of them, but he appears to have lost his spot for the time being.
Well that didn’t take long. Rodion Amirov picks up an assist in the first period of his KHL return from injury. Hasn’t played for Salavat since September 29, played three games in the VHL last week on what was basically a conditioning stint
— Kyle Cushman (@Kyle_Cush) December 6, 2021
After playing just 1:08 in his return to the lineup, Amirov has now been a healthy scratch for each of Ufa’s last two games. It is a concerning development for the 2020 first-round pick and one that Leafs management surely isn’t pleased about. It is important to note that Amirov is already under contract with the Leafs and was returned to Ufa on loan for the 2021-22 season. Kyle Dubas has spoken in the past about having a positive working relationship with Ufa’s staff but seeing Toronto’s prized prospect being relegated to the sidelines isn’t what they had in mind when they sent him back to Russia at the end of the summer.
It is believed that the language in Amirov’s contract stipulates that he must remain in Russia until the conclusion of the KHL season but you can bet that the Leafs will be even more anxious to get him over here as soon as possible if he doesn’t start seeing more playing time in the second half of the season. For the time being, it seems that Ufa is more concerned with winning games than they are with working Amirov back into the mix and fostering his development – and it’s difficult to blame them given Amirov is destined to leave their system sooner than later.
For now, the Leafs will have to keep tabs on Amirov from afar while hoping he is able to get back to playing consistent top-nine minutes for Ufa. No matter how you slice it, things haven’t gone the way that Amirov or the Leafs had hoped for so far this season.
Roni Hirvonen | C | HIFK (Liiga)
Hirvonen had a slow start to the season in terms of offensive production, but his underlying numbers have been strong for much of the season, as I mentioned in October 29th’s Prospect Roundup:
“For the season, he has registered 48 shots on goal but is shooting just 2.8% – a number that is sure to rise if continues to generate chances. Hirvonen has also been a positive play driver for HIFK, currently sitting second on the team with a 63.9 CF%. Even when the pucks aren’t going in, Hirvonen’s play style allows him to be a positive contributor for his team.”
Well, Hirvonen has continued to generate chances and he is starting to get rewarded on the scoresheet. He is currently riding a three-game point streak in which he has tallied two goals and three assists, and he has picked up seven points in his last seven games.
— Nick Richard (@_NickRichard) December 11, 2021
For the season, Hirvonen is up to six goals and 10 assists in 28 games – an average of .57 points per game. To put that in context, he scored at a rate of .39 points per game in 54 games with Ässät last season so even through a slow start, there has been a significant increase in his offensive production.
Hirvonen is getting hot at a good time as he prepares for his second appearance at the World Juniors. He was a key figure for the Finnish squad last season and he will be trusted with an even more prominent role this time around.
Kristians Rubins | LHD | Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL)
Rubīns has come a long way since joining the organization on an AHL contract as an undrafted player. He worked his way up from the ECHL, through the American Hockey League, and now he can call himself an NHLer. Rubīns became the first Latvian to ever suit up for the Leafs when he made his NHL debut against Columbus last week.
There were some ups and downs in Rubīns first NHL stint but he showed impressive mobility for a player his size and used his physicality to slow things down along the boards.
Keefe on Rubins through 2 games: "I think he's done a good job. There were times today that I thought he looked overwhelmed. He's a great guy, he battled a bunch today, he was physical. He got some shots to the net. He's done some good things."
— David Alter (@dalter) December 10, 2021
Moved to a pairing with Justin Holl, his third game didn’t go so well and he was benched for most of the back half of the game as the Leafs almost let two points slip away against Chicago. Rubīns was sent back to the Marlies as the Leafs prepare for a Western Canadian road trip but that he has grown into a viable NHL option is a big win for the Leafs player development department. There are still things he needs to work on in order to become a full-time NHLer but as he has done throughout his career, don’t be surprised if he continues to exceed expectations.
Chad Krys | LHD | Toronto Marlies (AHL)
The Leafs added a new face to their system last week, acquiring defenceman Chad Krys from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for depth forward Kurtis Gabriel. Already 23 years of age, the former second-round pick is barely clinging to “prospect” status but he could serve as valuable depth down the line.
Krys played for the USNTDP when Marlies GM Ryan Hardy was GM of the program so there is some organizational familiarity there. With an immediate need on the back end due to injuries with the NHL club, that familiarity surely played a part in making the deal happen and the Leafs are hoping that a change of scenery will help him unlock his potential.
Krys put up respectable offensive numbers in junior and also had a couple of productive seasons at Boston University, but he has had to focus more on his defensive game since turning pro. He is a strong skater who is sturdy on his feet and it will be interesting to see if his production increases as he continues to gain experience in the AHL.
Notes from the rest of the prospect pool
- Topi Niemelä matched his longest streak of the season, going three games without a point but has gotten back on the board in each of his last two games, picking up a goal and an assist. His 24 points in 30 games continue to lead all Liiga defencemen as he gets set to depart for the World Juniors.
- Ryan Tverbeg was a surprise inclusion for Team Canada’s World Junior selection camp and though he was released on Sunday night when the final roster was announced, being recognized as a candidate to make that team in the first place is a nice feather in his cap. Though he ultimately didn’t make the cut, Tverberg’s high-energy style of play caught the eye of Canada’s coaching staff and he should be brimming with confidence upon his return to UConn.
Dave Cameron on Ryan Tverberg (TOR): “I liked him. He’s tenacious on the puck. That’s his biggest asset. He’s around it. I thought he had a couple of opportunities that he kind of whiffed on. But high energy, good reads around the puck, good on the forecheck, good in battles."
— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) December 12, 2021
- Mac Hollowell returned to the Marlies’ lineup over the weekend after being away from the team for over a month due to personal reasons. He registered an assist in his second game back to give him three points through eight games on the season. Here’s hoping that whatever issues Hollowell was dealing with are behind him.
- Semyon-Der Arguchintsev sits fourth in scoring for the Marlies but his play away from the puck has been a cause for concern in his first full AHL season. He was benched in the third period of Saturday’s game against Bridgeport and found himself demoted to the fourth line to begin Sunday’s contest against Providence. There is no questioning SDA’s puck skills and offensive vision but he is going to need to become stronger in his own end in order to earn the opportunities needed to take advantage of his offensive gifts.
- Erik Kallgren has been a pleasant story for the Marlies so far this season. Signed as a free agent out of the SHL last spring, he has taken advantage of his opportunity in the AHL. Through nine games, he has put up a .928 save percentage – over thirty points higher than the next best mark among Marlies goaltenders so far this season. If injuries strike in the Leafs crease again, Källgren could be next in line for a look in the NHL if he continues his solid play with the Marlies.
- The offense hasn’t been there in abundance for Mikhail Abramov in his first professional season but he had a solid weekend, adding three assists over his last two games. Like Der-Arguchintsev, he is adjusting to the pace of the league and learning what it takes on the defensive side of the puck in order to be successful.
- Joe Miller has been torching the USHL in recent weeks and is currently riding a ten-game point streak. He has piled up seven goals and 16 assists over that time to push his season totals to 11 goals and 22 assists in 25 games. His production has been remarkable during his second year with the Chicago Steel but the real test of Miller’s abilities will come next season when he begins his collegiate career at the University of Minnesota.
— Josh Simpson (@joshsimpson77) December 11, 2021
- Dmitri Ovchinnikov is back to spending his days sitting on the bench watching his Sibir teammates play. In the last nine KHL games he has been dressed for, he has seen the ice in just one of them. It has been a frustrating season for the young Russian forward, too good for the MHL but not experienced enough to earn consistent playing time in the KHL. Unfortunately, Sibir is one of the few KHL teams without a VHL affiliate so there is no middle ground for Ovchinnikov until he earns the trust of his KHL coaches.
(Statistics from EliteProspects.com)