“Your favourite Toronto Maple Leafs prospect you don’t know about yet.”
That’s the tagline I led with each time I wrote about Ryan Tverberg in the 2021-22 season for our TLN Prospect Roundups, which occurred often given the success he had last year. Over the course of the 2021-22 season, Tverberg went from an intriguing late-round swing to a legit prospect in the system with his breakout campaign at the University of Connecticut.
One of the biggest risers year over year, Ryan Tverberg goes from not even landing as an honourable mention on the TLN Top 20 rankings in 2021 to knocking on the door of the top 10 this time around.
RW | UConn (H-East) | Age: 20 | 6-foot-0 | 190 lbs | Shoots: R
Acquired: 2020 Draft, 213th Overall | 2021 Ranking: N/A
Way back on Day 2 of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, it appeared the Leafs were done following their 11th selection of the draft. It was a busy day for Toronto, moving up and down the draft board, but with 11 picks already made and no selections remaining for the team, it was more than fair to assume they were done at this point.
But Reid Mitchell, Director of Hockey and Scouting Operations for the Maple Leafs, had other plans. He was pushing hard for a player out of the OJHL with a solid but unremarkable profile. The player was average in size, listed at 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, and had average production considering the league he was playing in, with just over a point-per-game.
Of course, that player was Ryan Tverberg, becoming Toronto’s 12th and final selection of the 2020 draft when the Maple Leafs traded a future seventh-round pick to Boston to make the selection.
Just over one year later, Tverberg was a Team Canada camp invite for the World Juniors in the midst of a campaign that would land him on First Team All-Hockey East and make him a Second Team All-American and Hobey Baker nominee.
While a couple of OJHL players are drafted every year, it’s rare to see a forward score at only a point-per-game rate in the OJHL and go on to see this success so quickly into his NCAA career. Looking over the past decade, Tverberg’s .889 points-per-game with UConn (32 points in 36 games) is the fifth highest scoring rate for an OJHL alumnus in their DY+2 NCAA season. Of this group, Tverberg had the lowest scoring rate during their draft season in the OJHL, by a fair margin.
Not only has he defied the odds this early, Tverberg excelled in 2021-22 despite only having 14 NCAA games under his belt heading into his sophomore season. Originally a Harvard commit, Tverberg switched to UConn following the cancellation of Harvard’s 2020-21 season due to COVID. As a result, Tverberg trained with a BCHL team for the first semester and joined UConn in the new year.
Sure, Tverberg was an intriguing prospect, but nobody expected this kind of production from him this quickly. In his 14 games in 2020-21, he scored seven points as a bottom-six forward. It was anticipated that Tverberg would be used in a similar role in 2021-22…until his play gave the coaching staff no other option than to give him more minutes.
Tverberg was one of the best 5v5 players in the NCAA this season, with 27 of his 32 points coming at even strength. His season would look even better on paper if UConn had a competent powerplay, as the Huskies had a bottom five powerplay in the NCAA, clicking at just 12.4 percent.
Remember how I called Tverberg “your favourite Toronto Maple Leafs you don’t know about yet?” Let’s get into why.
Simply put, few prospects in the Leafs system are as fun to watch as Ryan Tverberg. There’s something for every kind of fan to enjoy. The new-school crowd will appreciate his skill and ability to create rush chances. The old-school crowd will appreciate his tenacity, desire to drive the net, and willingness to hit anything in sight.
A significant amount of Tverberg’s success comes from his ability in transition. Both exiting and entering the zone, Tverberg is aware of what is happening on the ice and recognizes when to carry the puck and when to pass while moving up the ice. He does a fantastic job of presenting himself as an outlet for his teammates, looping back into the defensive zone to generate speed rather than waiting for a breakout pass as a stationary target at the blueline or in the neutral zone.
This transition skill is the root from which the rest of Tverberg’s blossoming offensive game grows. Upon receiving a pass, Tverberg uses his speed to slice through the opposition and create dangerous rush chances for both himself and his teammates. Take this chance against UMass, for example.
Or this assist against Vermont.
Just as he will circle back during a more methodical breakout, Tverberg will dart ahead of the play and look to get behind the defence quickly after a change of possession as well.
Tverberg’s desire to drive to the net only enhances the quality of chances he creates. Both on and off the puck, Tverberg is constantly looking to get the puck to the crease. He regularly dropped the shoulder and drove through a defender to the net off of the rush, scoring numerous goals in this fashion over the season.
His tenacity on the ice makes up for the size he gives up against opponents. Tverberg plays as if he were listed at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, not 6-foot-0 and 190 pounds. Check out the puck protection he shows while battling one of the top defensive defencemen in the NCAA in Matt Kessel, who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 203 pounds.
As if you needed more examples of his determination, check out this goal against New Hampshire.
Tverberg’s tenacity isn’t just shown in his work rate down low either. The kid loves violence. He finishes every check, whether he has the size advantage or not, and has crushed a few players already in his time in the NCAA.
And he’s not afraid to mix it up in front of the net either. Keep a keen eye on #28 in front of the UMass net during this sequence.
Tverberg’s biggest play of the year came in the Hockey East semifinal against Northeastern. Here, Tverberg reads the breakout pass and strips the Northeastern forward as he bursts into the offensive zone. He attempts to toe drag around the defenceman and fumbles the puck, but the result is the same. On his backhand, Tverberg shows patience and waits to tuck the puck in on his forehand around the sprawling Devon Levi, rather than shovelling a potentially stoppable backhand on net.
As you can probably tell by this point, there is a lot to like in Ryan Tverberg. But that doesn’t mean he’s a perfect prospect by any means.
A vast majority of Tverberg’s offence came off of the rush this season, which is certainly not a bad thing, but his in-zone offensive creation is lacking. He has the tools to become a strong offensive creator on the cycle given his strength, work rate, and playmaking, but often Tverberg settled for the first play, rather than waiting and making the best one.
Here is the good that can come from this urgency. Tverberg beats his man to the puck, fending off the defenceman and gaining body position as he circles to the side of the net. He spots an open lane and fires a pass to his teammate, which eventually results in a goal.
In-zone offence from Tverberg will revolve around his work ethic and strength while protecting the puck, like in the example above. There isn’t going to be a wide-open lane to pass to the slot every time, remaining patient in the zone and making the best play, not the first play, will be a valuable skill to develop. For all of the good that comes from Tverberg playing with so much pace, learning to slow things down at times and diversifying the speed at which he plays will help him round out his offensive skill set. The tools are clearly there, it’s just about putting it all together.
Given the tools and demeanour discussed already, I would also like to see Tverberg become a primary penalty killer for UConn this season. The speed and aggression with which he plays match up well with how the Maple Leafs utilize their penalty kill, it’s easy to see a scenario where Tverberg adds a dangerous penalty killing aspect to his game as well.
Currently, Tverberg projects as a bottom-six energy winger who can crash and bang, but also chip in some offence. Rounding out his offensive game and adding a special teams element could turn him into a potential top nine winger with play-driving abilities.
Entering his junior season at UConn, Tverberg will become an even more important aspect of the Huskies. An incredible seven of UConn’s nine highest scoring forwards turned pro after the 2021-22 season, leaving just Tverberg and Hudson Schandor as returning forwards that finished top ten in team scoring a season ago.
While there are a few transfers coming in that will help with the depth, scoring at the top of the lineup will fall squarely on the shoulders of Tverberg. He is expected to get some help if Matthew Wood, a potential top 10 prospect in the 2023 draft currently playing for Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, does join UConn in the fall and doesn’t return to the BCHL.
Ryan Tverberg made his presence known in 2021-22, rocketing up Maple Leafs prospect rankings and emerging as a legitimate NHL prospect. If Tverberg continues to build on this past season, he will continue to climb said rankings and could very well be in line for an entry-level contract come the spring.
Statistics via Elite Prospects and Pick 224
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