The 2022 TLN prospect rankings officially began yesterday, as Jon Steitzer opened the festivities by looking at the players who graduated from last summer’s rankings. We aren’t at the top 20 just quite yet, though, as first, we need to take a brief look at each of the players who did not receive a single top 20 vote this year.
First, a reminder of the criteria to be eligible for this year’s rankings. To be considered a prospect in the TLN rankings, the player must be under the age of 24 and has to have played 41 or fewer games (no more than the equivalent of half a regular season.) It should also be clear the player has to be on the Maple Leafs reserve list. No players that are on AHL or ECHL deals are included in the rankings. We’ve also excluded goaltenders from the rankings. Both prospects on AHL/ECHL contracts as well as the goaltenders in the pipeline will be discussed throughout the next month, just not as part of the actual rankings themselves.
RD | 5’11 | 181 lbs | Shoots: R | Harvard (ECAC) | Acquired: 2020 7th Round, 189th Overall
Despite being 21 years old and entering his DY+4 season in 2022-23, John Fusco has played a minimal amount of hockey at a high level.
When he was drafted as an overage prospect in 2020, Fusco was still playing in the United States High School Prep system with Dexter Southfield. As a Harvard commit, Fusco was set to make the jump straight from high school to the NCAA, until the Crimson cancelled their season in 2020-21 due to COVID.
As a result, Fusco ended up playing 20 games in the USHL before finally making his NCAA debut this past season with Harvard. He ended up buried on the depth chart, playing on the bottom pair or as the extra defencemen all season. With just two points in 26 games and Harvard adding more defencemen through recruitment, Fusco opted to enter the transfer portal this summer in search for an opportunity for more playing time.
Fusco will be transferring to Dartmouth, a program in the same conference as Harvard that will see him play against the same quality of competition he was getting with the Crimson, but with much more opportunity for regular minutes.
We haven’t seen much of Fusco, so it isn’t much of a surprise that he did not receive any votes in the top 20. At development camp this past week, he showed a desire to be active in the play, skating with the puck often and looking to create plays in the offensive zone. This got him into some bad situations, including a turnover that saw Ryan Tverberg and Brandon Lisowsky connect on the ensuing two-on-one opportunity during the scrimmage on Friday.
Fusco has three years of NCAA eligibility remaining and with a legitimate opportunity for top-four minutes at Dartmouth, could be a riser this time next year.
W | 6’1 | 199 lbs | Shoots: L | Marlies/Growlers | Acquired: UDFA, 2021
It was a rough season for Pavel Gogolev, one that sees him become the only NHL-signed prospect to not receive a vote in the top 20 this year, as well as the only eligible prospect ranked in the TLN top 20 last year that did not receive a vote this time around.
A year ago, it was easy to get excited about Gogolev’s game. Joining the Marlies a couple of weeks into their abbreviated 2021 season, Gogolev immediately made an impact on a team that did not have many offensive catalysts. He scored 12 points in 13 AHL games, a small sample but one that was good enough to see him receive an upgrade from his AHL contract to an entry-level contract with the Maple Leafs.
It wasn’t like Gogolev’s success came out of nowhere either, as he had scored 45 goals and 96 points in his final season in the OHL. The small sample of AHL success combined with his eye-catching OHL totals saw Gogolev rank a cautious 15th in last summer’s TLN Top 20 prospects, with a potential big swing upwards if he could maintain his level of production.
And, well, he did not.
In 18 more games, Gogolev failed to match both his goal total and point production from his first AHL season. He scored just three goals and eight points in 31 games, beginning the year in the Marlies top nine before being relegated to the fourth line due to poor results.
Gogolev was sent down to the Newfoundland Growlers in March, a move that should’ve come earlier all things considered. As you would expect, he was fantastic at that level, scoring nine goals and 20 points in 14 games to give him a much-needed confidence boost. He played in just one more AHL game after that point and would join the Growlers for their playoff run, scoring eight points in 10 postseason games.
For Gogolev, his success in a short time frame in a watered-down AHL in 2021 seemed to have a negative effect on his first full season in the Leafs organization. Whether he thought the AHL would be easier or if it was simply just struggling with confidence in his game after playing so well the previous season, a full offseason to reset and come back stronger was much needed for Gogolev.
The offensive tools are still there, we’ve seen them in the OHL, ECHL, and for a brief time, in the AHL as well. Lacking a defensive game means Gogolev will need to continue to work on his skating and work on ways to create chances for himself at even strength, rather than relying on the added time and space the powerplay affords him.
Gogolev has two years remaining on his ELC, but with the Leafs up against the 50 contract limit, he will need to show signs of improvement early on in the season or be at risk of being moved to create more contract flexibility.
RW | 6’0 | 185 lbs | Shoots: L | Goryak-UGMK (VHL) | Acquired: 2018 7th Round, 211th Overall
The final draft pick from Kyle Dubas’ first draft class as general manager of the Maple Leafs, Kizimov has yet to do anything of note in the Russian hockey system.
Drafted after a strong showing at the World U18s and a decent season in the Russian junior league, Kizimov immediately moved to the VHL after his draft season, Russia’s equivalent of the AHL, where he has largely stagnated over the past four seasons. Kizimov set a career-high in scoring in 2021-22 with 13 goals and 27 points after moving to Gornyak-UGMK, previously spending his entire career in the Lada Togliatti system.
As a 22-year-old with a career scoring rate of just 0.39 points per game at that level, though, it’s unlikely Kizimov becomes a notable KHLer at this point, let alone a prospect on an NHL radar.
RD | 5’10 | 180 lbs | Shoots: L | Minnesota (Big-10) | Acquired: 2019 5th Round, 146th Overall
University of Minnesota defenceman Mikey Koster is a depth Leafs prospect that I’ve had my eye on as a potential breakout candidate for a couple of years now. He narrowly missed out on my personal top 20 submission, but I’m a believer in his abilities.
On paper, Koster doesn’t stand out much at all, a big reason for him not receiving any votes in the top 20. He’s an undersized defenceman who has scored at an average rate in the USHL and a very similar rate in the NCAA. Koster’s 14 points in 36 games this year at Minnesota aren’t exactly totals that get your attention and entice you to look into the player in further detail.
The biggest issue for Koster is that he plays on arguably the best defensive group in the NCAA, and has for both seasons of his NCAA career. Playing behind the likes of Brock Faber, Jackson LaCombe, and Ryan Johnson, Koster has yet to get much of an opportunity to really showcase his skills in a top-four role in the NCAA.
When he has gotten those chances, such as during the World Juniors in his freshman season when he filled in on Minnesota’s top pairing against Michigan, he’s looked the part. Koster has strong transitional skills, with the ability to skate the puck out but is just as good at making a quality pass out of the zone. He’s been a versatile option for Minnesota as well, primarily playing his offside on their third pairing.
With all of Faber, LaCombe, and Johnson returning to the Golden Gophers in 2022-23, it’s likely more of the same for Koster in a secondary role next season. He’s had positive results relative to his ice-time to this point in his NCAA career. Once he gets more of a chance in a higher role, whether that be as a junior in 2022-23 or as a senior in 2023-24, watch out for Koster as a potential big riser over the next two seasons.
RD | 5’11 | 187 lbs | Shoots: R | KooKoo (Liiga) | Acquired: 2019 7th Round, 204th Overall
Kalle Loponen has had quite the unusual development path to this point in his career.
As a 17-year-old draft eligible, Loponen played primarily not at the U20 level, but instead in the Finnish second-tier pro league. From there, he made the jump to the OHL through the import draft with the Sudbury Wolves, heading back to Finland after one season. Rather than play in the second-tier pro league again, he went down to the U20 league (which he dominated), finally making the jump to regular minutes in Liiga this past season.
The jump from the U20 league to Liiga was a significant one for Loponen, who struggled quite a bit in his rookie season in Finland’s top league. He scored just four points in 38 games with KooKoo, ending the year on short loan stints to three teams across the three aforementioned levels of Finnish hockey.
Loponen’s best results have come as a powerplay quarterback, an area where he has excelled at both the Finnish U20 and OHL levels. He did not get an opportunity to play on the man advantage with regularity this past season.
There could be an opening for Loponen to grab a more regular spot on the man advantage this upcoming season, as KooKoo’s PP1 quarterback from 2021-22 has signed in Germany.
With his exclusive rights set to expire in Spring 2023, Loponen will need to have a spectacular breakout season in Finland if he is to be signed to an entry-level contract. As a 21-year-old with minimal success above the junior ranks, however, that seems like a long shot at this point.
RW | 5’9 | 146 lbs | Shoots: R | Chicago (USHL) | Acquired: 2020 6th Round, 180th Overall
I was a bit surprised to see that Joe Miller didn’t sneak onto anyone’s top 20 following his breakout season with the Chicago Steel in the USHL.
Drafted as the youngest player eligible in the 2020 draft (if he was born one day later, he wouldn’t have been eligible until the 2021 draft), Joe Miller had a fairly underwhelming DY+1 season as a bottom-six centre with Chicago in 2020-21. Scoring just 18 points in 40 games, Miller did not get many prime offensive opportunities due to the stacked roster the Steel had, featuring the likes of Sean Farrell, Matt Coronato, and Josh Doan.
Miller was set to begin his NCAA career in 2021-22, having previously committed to his home state program with the University of Minnesota, but elected to spend an extra year in the USHL to better prepare himself for the NCAA level. This was a superb decision from Miller, whose breakout play this year after returning to Chicago has set him up much better for opportunities at the NCAA level.
Moving to the right wing for most of the season, Miller more than tripled his offensive output from his rookie USHL season. Often playing alongside top 2023 prospect Adam Fantilli, Miller scored 23 goals and 68 points in 62 games.
Miller switched his collegiate commitment from Minnesota to Harvard midseason and will join the Crimson beginning in the fall. If he had made the jump to the NCAA last season, he likely would’ve been stuck as an extra forward on a deep Minnesota team. Instead, he returned to the USHL, made good on his offensive potential at that level, and has set himself up for a top nine spot with Harvard out of the gate as a freshman.
The knock on Miller is his slight frame, listed at just 146 pounds by the USHL (though I don’t know when that was last updated), and the fact that his breakout production this year came as part of a strong offensive group that saw Miller rank only fourth in scoring on his own team. If he can step into the NCAA and immediately become a scoring threat for Harvard, Miller will quickly rise up inside the top 20 next season.
LD | 6’1 | 185 lbs | Shoots: L | Ohio State (Big-10) | Acquired: 2017 7th Round, 203rd Overall
The oldest player to not receive a vote in the top 20, 2017 draft pick Ryan O’Connell will age out of eligibility for the top 20 rankings in April when he turns 24.
Under normal circumstances, O’Connell would have finished his NCAA eligibility in the spring with Ohio State, having just finished his fourth season there, and would be set to become an unrestricted free agent after August 15. Instead, O’Connell elected to enter the transfer portal and use his additional fifth year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to COVID, and as such remains Leafs property for another season.
O’Connell is a fine second or third-pair defenceman in the NCAA but has not shown anything to remain on the radar for an NHL contract come to the end of his tenure in school. He’s expected to join Michigan Tech for his final season in the NCAA, where he could very well end up winning a job on their top pairing.
C | 5’11 | 201 lbs | Shoots: L | Western Michigan (NCHC) | Acquired: 2020 7th Round, 195th Overall
The eighth and final eligible prospect to not receive a vote in the top 20 this year is Western Michigan forward, Wyatt Schingoethe.
A seventh-round swing in 2020, Schingoethe’s promising two-way play in the USHL has yet to result in much since being drafted. Following a notable drop in his offensive production as a DY+1 in the USHL, Schingoethe elected to make the jump to the NCAA still. His situation was different from Joe Miller’s, as Schingoethe had already played three seasons in the USHL while Miller had just one year under his belt, but it’s hard to not compare them and look at the opposite directions the two are trending.
Having switched his collegiate commitment from Denver to Western Michigan during the 2020-21 season, Schingoethe joined the veteran Broncos team and struggled to find ice-time.
Western Michigan is often an older NCAA team, and it was much the case again in 2021-22. Schingoethe was the youngest player on their roster as an August 2002 birthdate. The youngest player that finished top ten in team scoring was nearly two years older than Schingoethe, in Ty Glover.
The uphill battle was only made worse by poor penalty trouble when Schingoethe did get on the ice. Playing minimal minutes, Schingoethe took 12 minutes in penalties as a fourth liner/13th forward in the 20 games he did get into. He went pointless in those games, ending the year as a scratch by the time the Broncos entered the NCAA tournament.
As is the case most years for Western Michigan, they have had a significant amount of graduates and players turning pro that should open the door for Schingoethe to get more game action in 2022-23. Next season will be a vital one for him to get his career back on track after two disappointing seasons.
More from TheLeafsNation.com
- TLN Prospect Rankings begin: A look at the Leafs’ graduating prospects by Jon Steitzer
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