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The biggest story from the Leafs’ prospect pool this week goes far beyond hockey.
2020 first-round pick Rodion Amirov has missed most of the season for Salavat Yulaev in the KHL and the Leafs, in conjunction with the player and his agent, revealed the gut-wrenching news last week that Amirov has been diagnosed with a brain tumor.
After suffering a collarbone injury along with a concussion earlier in the season, doctors saw something that caused them to investigate further and the hope is that this was caught as early as possible.
Amirov’s agent released a statement saying that he is in good spirits, working out daily and skating three times a week while undergoing treatment in Germany.
— Dan Milstein-Hockey (@HockeyAgent1) February 23, 2022
The way that Amirov has approached this news is truly inspirational and if you haven’t already, I highly recommend checking out Elliotte Friedman’s fantastic interview with the young man.
Messages of support continue to roll in for Amirov and he will need all the support he can get on this difficult road ahead. We here at The Leafs Nation wish Rodion all the best in his recovery and hope that he can return to living a healthy, normal life as soon as possible.
Rodion Amirov responds to the Leafs' message of support following his brain tumour diagnosis. pic.twitter.com/jAz1XMTxjK
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) February 24, 2022
Nick Robertson | W | Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL)
Robertson’s development path has been a bit unorthodox, to say the least. It feels like he has been around a while but he is still just 20 years old with a grand total of 41 games played between the AHL and NHL.
After a difficult 2020-21 season in which he missed time due to various injuries and found himself bouncing between the Leafs’ taxi squad and the AHL, Robertson was once again beset by injury to begin the 2021-22 campaign.
Robertson has drawn praise throughout the organization in the seven games since returning from a broken leg, however, and he was rewarded with an NHL call-up as the Leafs’ roster was hit with a stomach bug. When asked about Robertson’s progress at a recent media availability, general manager Kyle Dubas had this to say:
“Since he’s come back, it’s the best I’ve seen him play at that level. Not only on the puck, but off the puck and on the penalty kill. [He’s been] much more dangerous with the puck and his skating looks a lot better, which is a credit to him and the work he put in with the staff during his injury to continue to become more explosive and improve his acceleration to be able to get open and use his shot.”
The timing of the recall was still curious though, given Robertson’s limited playing time this season and the fact that the Leafs still had an extra forward on their roster in Kyle Clifford.
Clifford sat out Saturday night’s wild matchup with the Red Wings as Robertson filled in for Pierre Engvall on the Leafs’ fourth line alongside Jason Spezza and Wayne Simmonds. Robertson was held off the scoresheet but he played a strong game and helped to create a couple of chances in his limited ice time.
Dubas recently spoke about how the team felt that the up and down nature of last season made it difficult for Robertson to get into a groove and generate momentum, seemingly hinting that they would prefer to avoid having him bounce between the AHL and NHL so much this season.
“I’m very happy with [Robertson], the key for us is for him to continue to build momentum. One of the things that we’ve learned in the past with him is, last year with the taxi squad it was up and down, it tends to stunt momentum. I just see him continuing to build momentum, continuing to take on a huge role with the penalty kill and defensively for [the Marlies] while also producing offensively. It’ll be a matter of time before he forces our hand.”
It will be interesting to see what the Leafs decide to do ahead of Monday’s contest with Washington, especially if Engvall is healthy enough to return to the lineup. The organization clearly believes in Robertson, they have been impressed with the growth he has shown with the Marlies, and they want him to find consistency.
With the need for an addition up front becoming more and more apparent, having Robertson step up and grab a hold of a spot would be a boon for the Leafs ahead of the trade deadline. Whether or not he receives that opportunity remains to be seen.
The Leafs had other options to insert into the lineup over the weekend such as Clifford, or one of Alex Steeves or Brett Seney who have both played NHL games this season already. Maybe they were just throwing Robertson a bone and rewarding him with an NHL game for all his hard work while recovering from injury, or maybe this is the beginning of an extended audition for one of the organization’s top prospects.
Joey Anderson | W | Toronto Marlies (AHL)
Speaking of other options to insert into the lineup, Joey Anderson is making it difficult to ignore his play for the Marlies and could be deserving of an extended audition of his own if further injuries pop up in the Leafs’ forward group.
Anderson, now 23, is at the point where he won’t be considered a “prospect” for much longer but he has reached another level in the AHL this season. He leads the Marlies with a career-high 19 goals on the season, and with 30 points through 34 games, he is on track to set a new career-high in points as well.
Many of Anderson’s goals have been of the “dirty” variety as he consistently gets into the tough areas. He has good hands in tight that allow him to deflect incoming shots or come up with contested pucks in the blue paint.
— Nick Barden (@nickbarden) February 27, 2022
Anderson isn’t the flashiest or most dynamic offensive player but he has diversified his offensive attack this year as well. He is never going to be the guy burning opposing defenders in transition but the way that he has been able to hunt space and take advantage of his scoring chances this year could ultimately be what helps him break through to the NHL.
As it stands, there is no clear path to NHL minutes for Anderson but if he continues to play at this level, he may eventually force the Leafs’ hand.
Notes from the rest of the prospect pool
- It appears as though Topi Niemelä could miss some time. He left the second period of Kärpät’s game on Friday and didn’t suit up for Saturday’s contest. There has been no word as to the extent of his injury to this point.
Here is Topi Niemelä's last shift in Friday's game before leaving with an injury.
Broadcast doesn't show much but Niemelä is engaged in a net-front battle as the puck goes the other way and as it comes back towards his zone, you can see him heading to the bench hunched over. pic.twitter.com/hvuOnBUGOs
— Nick Richard (@_NickRichard) February 26, 2022
- Erik Källgren picked up his first career AHL shutout over the weekend, stopping 22 shots in a 4-0 victory over Rochester. Through 23 games, he currently owns a 2.74 GAA and .912 SV%.
- Alex Steeves has been scorching hot for the Marlies. Prior to being held off the scoresheet in Sunday’s loss, he had picked up three goals and four assists in his previous four games. He is growing into an increasingly dangerous weapon on the powerplay as he continues to refine his one-timer from the right circle. Steeves now has 31 points through his first 32 AHL games.
— Nick Barden (@nickbarden) February 26, 2022
- Matt Knies returned to Minnesota’s lineup this past weekend after suiting up for Team USA at the Olympics. The Gophers netted a couple of blowout wins over Wisconsin with Knies tallying an assist on Friday before lighting the lamp himself in Saturday’s contest. For the season, Knies has 10 goals and 17 assists through 28 games.
"Don't worry guys, I'll leave the tip."
– Matthew Knies 💸 pic.twitter.com/ofMToQhEdc
— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) February 27, 2022
- Knies’ teammate and fellow Leafs prospect Mikey Koster had a strong weekend as well and is currently riding a three-game point streak in which he has registered two goals and three assists. The 2019 fifth-rounder has 14 points through 31 games so far this season.
— Nick Richard (@_NickRichard) February 20, 2022
- Ty Voit left Sunday’s game against Windsor after taking a late hit off the rush. A stretcher was brought out to the ice but thankfully, Voit was able to leave the ice under his own power. Despite the scary nature of the hit and its aftermath, sources tell TLN that Voit was feeling fine after the game and he shouldn’t miss much time if he misses any at all.
#LeafsForever prospect Ty Voit injured on this hit today. Stretcher came out but he did leave the ice on his own power
— Kyle Cushman (@Kyle_Cush) February 27, 2022
- William Villeneuve has been racking up the points in recent weeks since the QMJHL returned from their COVID imposed pause. In his last seven games, he has tallied eight assists to bring his season totals to three goals and 28 assists in 36 games.
- Veeti Miettinen put together a pair of multi-point outings for St. Cloud State over the weekend, coming away with a goal and three assists over two games against Colorado College. He is up to nine goals and 13 assists through 32 games.
- Nick Abruzzese got back on the scoresheet for Harvard this past weekend. He tallied an assist on Friday, picked up a goal and an assist on Saturday, and added one more helper in Sunday’s matchup with Princeton.
— Nick Richard (@_NickRichard) February 27, 2022
- Joe Miller continued his big season for Chicago in the USHL, scoring three goals and two assists over two games this past weekend. After recording 18 points through 40 games last season, Miller has exploded for 49 points in 44 games so far this season.
- Goaltending prospect Artur Akhtyamov’s season has come to an end after his club was swept in the opening round of the VHL playoffs. Akhtyamov took on a heavier workload this season but his 2.69 GAA and .912 SV% were a step back from the numbers he posted in the same league last season.
(Statistics from EliteProspects.com)
- The Maple Leafs need consistent goaltending if they want to make a run in the playoffs
- The Leafs 3 stars of the week: Auston Matthews climbing the Hart Trophy rankings, Mitch Marner nets four-goal game
- Alex Kerfoot’s up and down season now points the Maple Leafs toward other options