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2022 TLN Prospect Rankings: The AHL-signed prospects

No organization in the NHL uses their affiliates quite like the Toronto Maple Leafs. Where some teams don’t even have an ECHL affiliate, the Maple Leafs use the Newfoundland Growlers as if it were a AA baseball team.

Every year, numerous NCAA and CHL graduates are inked to contracts with the Toronto Marlies. While they technically are not Maple Leafs property, and thus not included in our TLN Top 20 Prospect Rankings, these players are still in the organization and actively working alongside the development staff, just as any directly affiliated Leafs prospect would.

In being as active in the AHL signing market as the Leafs are, they essentially add 15-20 extra prospects to their system without spending a draft pick or SPC slot. These prospects are almost exclusively long shots, which is why they are available on AHL contracts in the first place, but Toronto has seen success stories already.

Since Kyle Dubas joined the Leafs organization in 2014, seven players that developed with the Marlies originally on an AHL contract later went on to be signed by the NHL club. Those players are:

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  • Byron Froese
  • Justin Holl
  • Mason Marchment
  • Kristians Rubins
  • Pavel Gogolev
  • Curtis Douglas
  • Bobby McMann

The last two, Douglas and McMann, were inked just this past season. At least one player signed by the Marlies has gone on to be signed by the Maple Leafs in six out of the past eight years. Only the groups of 2017 and 2019 did not produce a player that was later signed by the Leafs.

With the emphasis the organization has put on the use of AHL contracts as a means to acquire additional “lottery ticket” prospects, we figured it would be best to include them in this year’s TLN Prospect Rankings, just in their own category. As a majority of the players signed to AHL contracts have just left the NCAA and are over the U24 cutoff we use for the main list, I bumped the cutoff up to U26 to include more players you should know about.

Let’s get into it.

#1 Keith Petruzzelli

G | Newfoundland (ECHL) | Age: 23 | 6-foot-5 | 187 lbs | Catches: L
Signed: 8/29/21 | Years Remaining: 1

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Some might be surprised that reigning Hobey Baker winner Dryden McKay is not my top pick here, but we’ll get to him in a bit.

Last summer, Keith Petruzzelli had a choice to make. Did he want to sign with the Detroit Red Wings, the team that had drafted him in the third round back in 2017, or wait until he was a free agent in August and see what opportunities were available?

Many thought that if Petruzzelli were to be signed, it would surely be on an NHL contract coming off of the season he had. Despite this, Petruzzelli bought into the Leafs development system and was willing to come on a two-year AHL contract.

Petruzzelli had a good first-season pro overall. With the Marlies, he started four games and entered in relief in another, recording a .902 SV% in the process. It was with the Growlers where he did most of his work, though, where he had a .927 SV% in 23 games in the regular season, totals good enough to earn him a spot on the ECHL Second All-Star Team and All-Rookie Team.

An injury in late March prevented Petruzzelli from more action at the AHL level, unfortunately, but he returned in time for the Kelly Cup Playoffs. Things did not go as well in the playoffs, with Petruzzelli having an up and down postseason, posting a .895 SV% in 19 games as the Growlers were eliminated in the conference finals.

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Petruzzelli beats out McKay for the top spot here for me for two reasons. One, Petruzzelli is the much bigger of the two, listed at 6-foot-5 compared to McKay who is 6-foot-0. The second, Petruzzelli is nearly a year and a half younger than McKay despite already having turned pro.

The size and age difference, combined with the fact Petruzzelli’s final year in the NCAA wasn’t far off from McKay’s gives him the edge for me. Look for Petruzzelli to begin the year battling for minutes in the AHL, although he may need more time in the ECHL.

#2 Dryden McKay

G | Minnesota State (CCHA) | Age: 24 | 6-foot-0 | 184 lbs | Catches: L
Signed: 4/25/22 | Years Remaining: 2

The reigning Hobey Baker winner, who didn’t win Goaltender of the Year interestingly enough, lands at #2 for me. Even if I give Petruzzelli the slight edge for the aforementioned reasons, Petruzzelli and McKay are far and away the AHL-signed prospects with the highest potential.

Simply put, McKay was dominant in the NCAA. He holds the men’s record for NCAA shutouts, posted a save percentage equal to or above .924 in all four seasons, and racked up accolade after accolade at Minnesota State.

It is important to keep in mind the context of these results, as McKay played on a top team in a conference with a competitive level that isn’t quite as strong as others, but there is no mistaking he was a force at the collegiate level.

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Like Petruzzelli, it was a surprise to see that McKay only signed an AHL contract after his stellar NCAA career. A contributing factor was likely his USADA suspension, sidelining McKay for six months after the original four-year ban was reduced when he was able to prove the positive test came from a tainted supplement.

Still, that suspension makes McKay available at the start of the AHL season, though it made him unavailable for development camp and will keep him out of the rookie tournament, training camp, and the preseason.

When McKay does make his season debut, many eyes will be on the undersized but talented netminder to see what he can do at the professional level. I expect him to begin with the Newfoundland Growlers and work his way up from there. He will turn 25 in November, so there may be an accelerated timeline compared to Petruzzelli if McKay succeeds early in the year.

#3 Marshall Rifai

LD | Harvard (ECAC) | Age: 24 | 6-foot-2 | 200 lbs | Shoots: L
Signed: 3/29/22 | Years Remaining: 1

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As I mentioned earlier, there is a big gap in NHL upside from the first two prospects to the rest of the list. The top-ranked skater on an AHL contract for me is newcomer Marshall Rifai, a left-shot defenceman out of Harvard.

Rifai took an uncommon path to reach this point. Born in Quebec, Rifai played in the American high school system before en route to the NCAA, playing one year in the USHL as a DY+2. Upon joining Harvard, he began as an often scratched freshman, working his way from a little-used extra blueliner to a shutdown top-four defenceman by his senior season.

Returning to action after Harvard cancelled their 2020-21 season, Rifai evolved into one of the better defensive defencemen in the NCAA. His +23 rating led the Crimson and according to Elite Prospects, had a 54 percent shot share and 59 percent expected-goals share.

At development camp, Rifai was put on blast by Matt Knies in a drill early in the week, but overall he came out of the event with a position impression on most. He looked quite mobile, jumping into the play and evading forecheckers. With a good frame as well, listed at 6-foot-2, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Rifai mix in more than anticipated for the Marlies this season. There’s a future where he becomes a bottom-pair or depth defenceman.

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#4 Orrin Centazzo

LW | Newfoundland (ECHL) | Age: 22 | 5-foot-8 | 166 lbs | Shoots: L
Signed: 9/2/21 | Years Remaining: 1

Originally signed to an ECHL contract, not even an AHL contract like the rest of the players on this list, Orrin Centazzo flourished in his first professional season with the Growlers, earning him an upgrade to a deal with the Marlies come to the end of the year.

In his WHL days, Centazzo was a two-way presence, actively involved in the defensive zone but also chipping in offence. He scored 44 goals in his DY+2 season with Kamloops, but following a fairly average overage season where he scored 17 points in 17 games, the undersized winger joined the Leafs organization at the bottom and went to work.

Centazzo finished the season with 28 goals and 51 points in as many games, notably leading the team in plus/minus with a +34 rating. His two-way success continued into the playoffs, where he chipped in eight goals and 15 points in 18 games, again leading in plus/minus at a +11.

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As none of the players signed to an AHL contract are likely to blossom into future top six players in the NHL, Centazzo’s blend of scoring and defence makes him an especially intriguing player among this group looking into the future as a bottom of the lineup, “waterbug” type player.

Still only 22 as well, there’s lots of time for Centazzo to continue developing. He likely heads back to Newfoundland next season, where he will be looking to build upon his strong rookie season and become a legitimately dominant forward at that level. He should be among the first call-ups if the Marlies are in need of a forward.

#5 Noel Hoefenmayer

LD | Newfoundland (ECHL) | Age: 23 | 6-foot-0 | 192 lbs | Shoots: L
Signed: 4/4/20 | Years Remaining: 1

Originally signed back in 2020, I was glad to see Noel Hoefenmayer re-sign with the Marlies after his two-year contract expired this summer. Still younger than most of the other defencemen on this list, Hoefenmayer showed enough in his two years that he is worth retaining, either to continue his development path and push for more minutes with the Marlies or simply be a top defenceman for the Growlers.

Hoefenmayer signed with the Marlies with a decent amount of fanfare, coming off of a season in the OHL where he won Most Outstanding Defenceman. He hasn’t factored in quite as much with the Marlies as some were hoping, appearing in 26 games over two years, with most coming in the COVID-shortened 2020-21 year.

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With the Growlers this past season, Hoefenmayer was an offensive driver, scoring 40 points in 46 games. His defensive results weren’t great, but he stepped up his play in the playoffs while also remaining involved offensively.

I would like to see Hoefenmayer get more time in the AHL this year, even if he has to break camp as an extra defenceman. The Marlies don’t have a clear powerplay quarterback at the moment for either unit, a role that Hoefenmayer could fill if given the opportunity with 19 powerplay points to his name last year.

#6 Brett Budgell

LW | Charlottetown (QMJHL) | Age: 21 | 6-foot-0 | 185 lbs | Shoots: L
Signed: 7/29/22 | Years Remaining: 1

Signed just this past week along with two other players that we’ll get to, Brett Budgell joins the Leafs organization after a five-year QMJHL career spent exclusively with the Charlottetown Islanders.

Budgell attended the Leafs development camp last summer when he was coming off of a breakout season, scoring 58 points in 40 games as a DY+2 player. He returned to the QMJHL for his overage season and did not disappoint, scoring 40 goals and 79 points in 67 games. In the playoffs, he finished tied for second in QMJHL goals with 12 as well.

Budgell was a consistent scorer in the QMJHL and had solid defensive results to go with it.

So far, Budgell is the only skater out of the CHL to be signed by the Marlies this summer. The St. John’s native will certainly head back home and spend a majority of the season with the Growlers, where he will look to fill the Super Newf™ role left behind with Marcus Power signing in Europe.

#7 Graham Slaggert

C | Notre Dame (Big-10) | Age: 23 | 6-foot-0 | 191 lbs | Shoots: L
Signed: 3/31/22 | Years Remaining: 1

Despite ranking seventh, there’s an easy scenario where Graham Slaggert plays the most AHL games out of anyone on this list next season.

At Notre Dame, Slaggert was appreciated for his consistent play. Even if he wasn’t scoring he was a positive impact, playing a defensively responsible game and giving it his all on the forecheck.

His career-best results came as a junior when playing alongside Leafs prospect @Alex Steeves, scoring at a near point-per-game rate with 25 points in 27 games. He regressed slightly as a senior and captain of the Fighting Irish, scoring 25 points but in 39 games this past season.

Notably, after a slower first half, Slaggert finished the year strong. He scored 16 points in the final 19 games of the season, nearly doubling his production from the first half.

Given his consistent effort, flashes of solid scoring, and versatility as a centre or a winger, it wouldn’t shock me to see Slaggert remain on the Marlies roster season-long as a fourth-liner or extra forward. After all, he was the only new AHL-signed prospect to make their AHL debut prior to the end of the Marlies season.

#8 Ryan Chyzowski

C | Newfoundland (ECHL) | Age: 22 | 6-foot-1 | 179 lbs | Shoots: L
Signed: 6/15/21 | Years Remaining: 1

Ryan Chyzowski’s best attribute is his shot, he has a cannon when he has time to get it off.

A consistent scorer around the point-per-game mark in the WHL, Chyzowski was among the more intriguing new AHL-signed prospects coming into last season. He had a solid start to the year with Newfoundland, scoring 11 points in 13 games, before being recalled by the Marlies.

There, Chyzowski failed to make much of an impression in the bottom six. He scored five goals and no assists over 23 games with the Marlies over the full season, being caved in defensively as well.

Chyzowski would eventually return to the ECHL, finishing the season with 28 points in 29 games. He had a disappointing postseason, however, scoring nine points in 17 games and finishing as a negative in goal share.

I was hoping for a bit more out of Chyzowski, particularly in his AHL stint. He’s likely been passed on the depth chart, no longer the first forward call-up from Newfoundland, and will need to earn that position back with strong play early in the season.

#9 Luke Cavallin

G | Flint (OHL) | Age: 21 | 6-foot-2 | 196 lbs | Catches: R
Signed: 6/6/22 | Years Remaining: 2

While Petruzzelli and McKay are likely set to mix in at the AHL level, Luke Cavallin seems set to be a season-long member of the Growlers.

Cavallin, born in Swindon, England, had a breakout year as an overage netminder with Flint this season. His .910 SV% in 56 games ranked top five in the OHL and he led the league in postseason save percentage with a .929 in 19 games.

A lack of sample size is what knocks Cavallin down a few positions compared to his NCAA counterparts in the top two, as prior to this season he had yet to record a save percentage above .900 in the OHL.

Still, with decent size at 6-foot-2 and lots of time to develop at just 21, Cavallin is more of a long-term play than Petruzzelli or McKay anyways. For the British-born Canadian, his role in 2022-23 will be to fill the crease for the Growlers when the previous two are unavailable.

#10 Zach Solow

RW | Florida (ECHL) | Age: 23 | 5-foot-9 | 174 lbs | Shoots: R
Signed: 7/29/22 | Years Remaining: 1

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, is how the saying goes. Well, Zach Solow’s doing the opposite.

Solow joins the Leafs organization after playing his first season pro in Nashville’s organization. There, he played in 20 games in the AHL as a depth forward but made his mark in the ECHL playoffs with Florida. Solow led the Everblades in postseason scoring with 18 points in 19 games en route to their Kelly Cup championship, a path that took them through the Newfoundland Growlers.

The Growlers are where Solow very likely ends up. He had a strong collegiate career at Northeastern, but the undersized winger failed to make much of an impression as a professional in 2021-22. That being said, he did round into form in the playoffs as already mentioned, and should be in the mix as one of the first forward call-ups.

#11 Nolan Walker

C | St. Cloud State (NCHC) | Age: 23 | 5-foot-10 | 170 lbs | Shoots: R
Signed: 4/5/22 | Years Remaining: 1

Nolan Walker was one of the Marlies first signings in the spring. The Anchorage, Alaska native wrapped up his four-year career at St. Cloud State this year, where he was a consistent middle-six scorer for the Huskies.

Nothing particularly stands out for Walker, at least statistically. He was average offensively, scoring 24 points in each of his last two years in the NCAA, and never produced fantastic defensive results either. He has good speed and as a smaller centre, could shift to the wing. He will turn 24 early in the season and is likely a season-long Growler.

#12 Matt Hellickson

LD | Toronto (AHL) | Age: 24 | 6-foot-0 | 183 lbs | Shoots: L
Signed: 4/19/22 | Years Remaining: 1

Matt Hellickson signed with the Marlies despite there seemingly being NHL interest in him coming out of Notre Dame. He wasn’t much of a scorer, with just eight points in 29 games as a senior, but still was regarded enough to join Team USA at the World Championships as a depth defenceman in 2021.

His international experience and promising display at the rookie tournament did not translate to season-long success, however. Hellickson spent most of the year as a rotational blueliner in the AHL, where his defensive results and occasional gaffes left you wanting more. While he was obviously more impactful upon joining the Growlers late in the season, it was much of the same story, however.

With a year of professional hockey under his belt, Hellickson could round into form next year and become a Marlies regular, but already at 24 years of age and middling results across the AHL and ECHL last year, I need to see it before I believe it with Hellickson.

#13 Michael Joyaux

RD | Western Michigan (NCHC) | Age: 25 | 5-foot-10 | 181 lbs | Shoots: R
Signed: 4/5/22 | Years Remaining: 1

Michael Joyaux is the oldest NCAA signing of the bunch for the Marlies this year, having played four years at Western Michigan after a four-year USHL career.

Joyaux, who will turn 26 in the middle of the season, is a smaller right-shot offensive defenceman who was one of the top powerplay quarterbacks in the NCAA last year. He doesn’t have much of a strong track record in the NCAA, having broken the half-point-per-game mark for this first time as a senior with his 32 points in 39 games in 2021-22, which knocks him down a few slots from where his performance should have him ranked.

He’s older than most on this list, so the clock will be ticking for Joyaux to prove he’s worth keeping around. There will be plenty of competition with the Growlers, but I could see Joyaux stepping into Ben Finkelstein’s role quite well.

#14 Keenan Suthers

LW | Maine (H-East) | Age: 24 | 6-foot-8 | 245 lbs | Shoots: L
Signed: 6/18/22 | Years Remaining: 1

Curtis Douglas was one of the success stories of the Marlies 2021-22 season, so why not get another behemoth at forward? Keenan Suthers is listed at 6-foot-8 and a whopping 245 pounds. I want to see him play a preseason game alongside Douglas, who is listed at 6-foot-9 himself. I have no clue what the opposing team would think.

Suthers turns pro after five years in the NCAA, first with St. Lawrence and last year with Maine. He was never a high-end scorer or elite defensive player, but as the Marlies’ annual swing on a big guy for 2022, he’s more a developmental project than anything.

#15 Brennan Kapcheck

RD | Newfoundland (ECHL) | Age: 25 | 5-foot-8 | 162 lbs | Shoots: R
Signed: 4/2/21 | Years Remaining: 1

A two-time invite to Maple Leafs development camp, Brennan Kapcheck was clearly a player the Leafs were intrigued by prior to signing him to an AHL deal in 2021.

A top defenceman in the NCAA’s weakest conference, the AHA, I didn’t know what to expect from the undersized right-shot blueliner this year. He was limited to just 25 games in the regular season due to injury, but was impressive in those minutes, scoring 16 points in 23 ECHL games with a +13 rating.

In the playoffs, his impact diminished, but he projects as a useful defenceman for the Growlers once again this season. As a tiny defenceman that is turning 26 early in the season, though, it’s unlikely he becomes anything more than that.

#16 Tommy Miller

RD | Northeastern (H-East) | Age: 23 | 6-foot-2 | 195 lbs | Shoots: R
Signed: 3/31/22 | Years Remaining: 1

A five-year NCAA veteran, Tommy Miller made the jump from Michigan State to Northeastern as a fifth-year transfer this past season, often partnering with Montreal prospect Jordan Harris.

Miller is a defensive defenceman, scoring double-digit points just once in his NCAA career. His defensive results, at least in terms of on-ice goal share, were nothing spectacular either, but as a 23-year-old right defenceman with a good frame, I’m interested to see what he can do with the Growlers.

#17 Jack Badini

C | San Diego (AHL) | Age: 24 | 6-foot-0 | 202 lbs | Shoots: L
Signed: 7/29/22 | Years Remaining: 1

Another Chicago Steel and Harvard alum in the Leafs organization, Jack Badini signed earlier this week with the Marlies after two years in the Ducks organization.

A former third-round pick, Badini failed to make much of an offensive impact in the NCAA and struggled mightily as a professional the past two years. He could be a depth forward for the Marlies, filling a similar role to what he did with San Diego this year, or could head to the Growlers where they may hope he finds more of an offensive groove.

#18 Matteo Pietroniro

LD | Newfoundland (ECHL) | Age: 23 | 6-foot-0 | 187 lbs | Shoots: L
Signed: 8/18/21 | Years Remaining: 1

A favourite of GM Ryan Hardy, having played for him in Chicago as a captain, Pietroniro is in the organization less as a development project with upside, but more as a familiar face who you know is a positive influence.

Pietroniro works hard, plays hard on the ice, and had a good first season in the ECHL all things considered. It’s unlikely he becomes a regular AHLer, let alone an NHLer, but that’s not what he’s here to be. As long as Ryan Hardy is running the Marlies and Growlers, don’t be surprised to see Pietroniro stick around.

Statistics via Elite Prospects

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