A couple of CHL free agents for the Leafs to consider
By Jon Steitzer10 months ago
It’s that fun time of the year when we got a number of NCAA free agent signings, a few European free agent signings, and a handful of Canadian junior signings mixed in as well. For the most part, the Leafs have focused their efforts on the European signings and those often come later in the spring, there have been a handful of NCAA free agent signings like Alex Steeves, Max Ellis, and well… I guess that’s it save for a lot of AHL signings. That tends to be Leafs preferred strategy of late anyway, but we’ll look at a couple of potential options that might be worth the Leafs busting out the NHL standard player contracts, after all, if they can take a gamble on Max Ellis, they can gamble on these guys too.
The Leafs also have only 31 committed to contracts for next season out of 50, so they can start having some fun on swing for the fences overagers. They only have three picks in the June draft, so restocking the prospect pool wouldn’t be a bad thing,
So let’s get to the prospects. Both were highlighted on 32 Thoughts this Saturday by Jeff Marek, and while there were a couple of defensemen mentioned as well, I’ve opted to zero in on the two centers that were discussed.
Ivan Ivan became a darling of the hockey world during the 2022 World Juniors when he was incorrectly identified as Ivan Ivan Ivan. Frankly I think Ivan Ivan is a pretty awesome name in its own right, but TSN’s graphics person will now leave us always wanting one more Ivan from him.
In addition to being a player who was absolutely present on the Czechia World Junior team, Ivan has had two solid post draft seasons in the QMJHL for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. He’s had two years over the 30 goal mark and he hit 90 points this season.
Prior to his late blooming offense, which is not uncommon after the first draft eligible season, Ivan was considered a potential defensive forward, who was capable of skating the puck out of trouble.
He’s 6’0, so he’s in that tweener zone of being labeled too small but doesn’t have intimidating size, and he is a center, so he addresses an area where the Leafs can always use more organizational depth.
Ivan Ivan attended the Red Wings development camp last year, so that could be the team with the inside track. There is also a strong possibility that players and their agents might see Toronto as a team where there is a tougher path to an NHL job and that could work against them. Of course, I’d also say that the Leafs player development team might put the Leafs back in the good graces of a few prospects knowing that they won’t be starting in the NHL next season anyway.
Vierling is a bit more of a late bloomer than even Ivan Ivan. In 2021-22 he had 20 goals and 45 points and that led to the New York Rangers deciding to not offer him an entry level contract. This year Vierling stepped it up with 35 goals and 95 points and is very much on the radar of NHL teams now.
Being a speedy grinder who is also defensively responsible isn’t a bad starting skill set for the young center, and with the Leafs having plenty of eyes around the OHL he might be a much more known option to them as well. There’s also a good chance that an Aurora, Ontario kid is interested in playing for the Maple Leafs.
Whether the Leafs are interested in heading the CHL route is the only question, but when you look at how the AHL signing of Noel Hoefenmayer is beginning to pay off for them, perhaps they will once again consider going this route with either an NHL or AHL deal if they can get away with that.
Neither Ivan nor Vierling will be year one Leafs. Probably not even year two, but both demonstrate versatile skill sets that could lend them to a future bottom six role but also have shown enough intriguing upside that rolling the dice on them makes more sense than searching for AHL help in NHL free agency later this year.
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