Welcome to another edition of the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect roundup here on The Leafs Nation!
We’re getting closer and closer to playoff action for many different Leafs prospects, including those in European leagues, the NCAA, and even the Canadian junior ranks. But in today’s roundup, we’ll be mainly focusing on a couple of noteworthy stories from the past week.
Nick Robertson | LW | Maple Leafs (NHL)
There’s no other way we can kick off this week’s roundup other than with Nicholas Robertson.
After a frustrating first two games in which he saw few shifts on the fourth line, Robertson finally received over 10 minutes of ice-time on Wednesday before being promoted to the second line alongside John Tavares and @William Nylander in Toronto’s most recent game on Saturday night. He wasted little time making an impact on there, scoring his first career (regular season) goal early in the second period.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) March 6, 2022
For much of the season, Toronto’s second line has been up against weaker competition but has not dominated in the way they are expected to. Earlier in the year, they were propped up by Alexander Kerfoot’s remarkably high on-ice shooting percentage, but as you would anticipate, that has cooled off as the season has gone along. Prior to Robertson’s debut on the line, the Kerfoot-Tavares-Nylander trio has felt stale and in need of a boost.
That’s exactly why the Leafs decided to put Robertson in that spot on Saturday. Not far out from the trade deadline and with minimal cap space if Jake Muzzin is to return in the regular-season, the Leafs need to test any and all in-house options to see where they should spend their assets. I felt it was still early for Robertson to come back up to the NHL level, especially with only a few games under his belt returning from a significant leg injury, but the Leafs clearly feel that he’s their highest potential in-house option at 2LW and now is the time to see what they’ve got for the 2021/22 season.
Robertson actually ended up with less time on-ice than in Wednesday’s game despite being higher in the lineup, but only by a few seconds. It appears as though he will begin to get some action on the second powerplay unit as well, as Sheldon Keefe begins to truly incorporate the 20 year old into the Leafs lineup.
Curtis Douglas | C | Marlies (AHL)
It was a career day for the birthday boy Curtis Douglas on Sunday, racking up four points in the Marlies 8-5 win over the Cleveland Monsters on his 22nd birthday.
— Toronto Marlies (@TorontoMarlies) March 6, 2022
The standout performance shone a light on what has been an impressive first full AHL season for Douglas. His four-point night brings his season totals to six goals and 24 points in 43 games, a very solid campaign for the bottom-six centre. Coming into the Marlies in 2021 with only 11 AHL games to his name from the abbreviated 2020/21 AHL season, Douglas has been a positive surprise in his ability to hang right out of the gate at the AHL level, even if it has been in a third or fourth line role.
What truly makes Douglas an intriguing prospect though is his enormous stature. Listed at 6-foot-8 and a hair under 250 pounds, he brings an incredibly unique skillset to the table as a prospect.
Drafted in 2018 by the Dallas Stars but going unsigned, Douglas played last year split between the Austrian league and the Belleville Senators upon the return of AHL hockey. He was a fascinating pickup in the offseason by the Marlies, and one that is paying dividends already.
(Note Pick224.com’s data was last updated on Februrary 7 for the AHL. The above chart does not include data from Douglas’ past nine games in which he has scored nine points.)
In fact, Douglas’ big performance on Sunday makes him the highest scoring U23 player in the AHL that is not signed to an NHL contract. GM Kyle Dubas mentioned Douglas last month as a player that is in consideration for an NHL contract by season’s end, a decision that seems like an easy one to me. Curtis Douglas has done everything asked of him this season and I would have to imagine he’ll be rewarded with an entry-level contract sometime over the next few months.
He does have a second year remaining on his AHL contract with the Marlies, but as we saw with Pavel Gogolev last summer, the Leafs are willing to void the second year of an AHL contract to sign an NHL deal if the performance has been strong enough. Combine Curtis Douglas’ solid production this year with his unique attributes as a prospect, and I believe he’s done enough to earn that ELC.
Pavel Gogolev | W | Growlers (ECHL)
On the topic of AHL signed players earning NHL contracts, Pavel Gogolev’s fantastic 13 games last year with the Marlies in which he scored 12 points earned himself an entry-level contract with the Maple Leafs.
This season, though, has been much more of a struggle. Gogolev was unable to hold onto a spot in the Marlies top nine despite numerous opportunities and found himself down on the fourth line alongside Rich Clune and the aforementioned Curtis Douglas for the most recent stretch of games. Over the last couple of weeks, the Marlies had begun to scratch Gogolev in favour of other AHL signed players and even dressed seven defencemen rather than playing him on a couple of occassions.
The inconsistent minutes Gogolev found himself in are of no benefit for any prospect, but especially one that needs to develop his skating and defensive awareness. As such, I noted Gogolev’s difficulties in our TLN Prospect Mailbag a little over a week ago and how a stint with the Newfounland Growlers could be quite beneficial.
(Note Pick224.com’s data was last updated on February 7 for the AHL. Gogolev’s two games since that date are not included in the chart above.)
Sure enough, the Marlies sent down Pavel Gogolev on Friday morning.
In three games of action already with Newfoundland, Gogolev has been the offensive player we know he’s capable of being. He has one goal and four points in his time with the Growlers so far. It remains to be seen whether this is a temporary move or whether Gogolev will spend the remainder of the season in the ECHL, but it’s clear that the ice-time and opportunities that will be afforded to him with the Growlers are much more beneficial to his development than sitting around on the Marlies fourth line.
Artur Akhtyamov & Vyacheslav Peksa | G | Irbis Kazan (MHL)
One final storyline to keep an eye on over the next couple of weeks, 2020 fourth round pick Artur Akhtyamov had his VHL season come to an end with a first round loss as noted in last week’s prospect roundup.
In a somewhat unexpected move, Akhtyamov was sent down to the MHL level to finish out the year despite not having played in the junior ranks all season. The Russian goaltender had seemingly graduated from the MHL, having spent the entire season as Kazan’s starter in the VHL (Russia’s equivalent to the AHL) and being in the final year of junior eligibility. As of the writing of this article, Akhtyamov is in the middle of playing his third game with Irbis.
This is a notable development for two reasons. For starters, Irbis is set to begin their playoffs later this week, meaning Akhtyamov may be taking over as the team’s starter quite literally just before the playoffs. The second is that if he does get the starters job in the playoffs, he’s stealing it from fellow Leafs prospect Vyacheslav Peksa.
I can’t imagine an NHL team often has two goaltending prospects vying for minutes on the same Russian junior team, but that’s exactly the situation developing right now with Irbis Kazan.
Peksa, drafted by Toronto in the sixth round last year, has been lights out in the MHL with Irbis. He’s appeared in an incredible 89% of Kazan’s games this season with 56 games played out of 63 total games for the team. In this time, Peksa has a .936 save percentage and a 1.79 goals against average. He’s been far and away Irbis’ best player, dragging them to a playoff spot with his incredible play.
And yet, a week out from the playoffs commencing, and Peksa might not even get the chance to play in the postseason. Objectively, Akhtyamov has the longer resume, more experience, and is very likely the better option, but you have to feel for Peksa in this situation if Akhtyamov does in fact get the starts in the postseason. To play in 89% of your team’s games as a goaltender and not get to play in the playoffs would be a tough situation to be happy with, to say the least.
More from TheLeafsNation.com
- Leafs Prospect Mailbag: Answering all of your prospect questions heading into the trade deadline by Kyle Cushman & Nick Richard
- What’s going on with Pavel Gogolev? by Nick Barden
- Maple Leafs aim to clear traffic in front of the net as goalies look for confidence by David Alter