Catching up with the prospect pool: Leafs Prospect Roundup
Photo credit:Nick Barden
By Nick Richard1 year ago
Welcome to another edition of the Leafs Prospect Roundup here at The Leafs Nation! We’re going to do things a little differently this week, and rather than highlighting a handful of players in the system and their accomplishments over the past week, we’re going to do a rapid-fire round and bring you up to date on some of the bigger names in the Leafs’ prospect pool.
Let’s get to it.
Nick Robertson | W | Toronto (NHL)
Robertson was a star for the Marlies down the stretch last season after recovering from a broken leg suffered early on, finishing the season with 16 goals and 12 assists in just 28 games. He carried that into training camp for the Leafs and had a stellar preseason, ranking among the top scorers from the NHL’s exhibition schedule.
Due to cap restraints, he was sent back to the Marlies to begin the season but was quickly recalled when injuries to the main roster opened up salary cap space. He started with a bang, scoring two goals in his season debut – including the overtime winner – but it has been an up-and-down ride for Robertson since then. He has been in and out of the lineup and has now been a healthy scratch for three straight. With the Leafs starting to round into form and head coach Sheldon Keefe gaining more confidence in players like Denis Malgin and Pontus Holmberg, Robertson could be in tough to reclaim a regular role.
Even with their recent surge in November, the fact remains that the Leafs have struggled to generate offense at times this season. Robertson represents the club’s highest upside internal option, and he has shown that he can produce when given the opportunity. He currently has five points through 10 games with the Leafs this season, and it is worth noting that he received minimal ice time in a few of those contests. With the offensive potential Robertson obviously possesses, it might be time for the team to learn to live with the growing pains that come with integrating a talented young offensive contributor into the lineup.
Matthew Knies | W | Minnesota (NCAA)
Knies was the story of the Leafs’ prospect pipeline last season. The 2021 second-round pick had a stellar freshman season with the Minnesota Golden Gophers and represented his country at the World Juniors, as well as the Olympics. Turning pro and joining the Leafs after just one season of college hockey was a real consideration, but Knies ultimately opted to return to school for another year.
Knies has taken on an even greater role for the Gophers as a sophomore, averaging over three minutes more of ice time than he did last season. He has typically skated on a line with 2022 third-overall pick Logan Cooley and 23rd-overall pick Jimmy Snuggerud while taking up regular powerplay and penalty kill duties.
He has been an impact player for the number two ranked team in college hockey, but his production hasn’t yet taken the leap that some may have expected after last season. Knies has still been quite productive, however, and is currently clipping along at the same point-per-game pace as his freshman year with eight goals and six assists in 14 games while bringing a consistent physical presence. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Knies appears on track to make the leap to pro hockey next spring and could potentially inject a different element to this Leafs lineup.
Topi Niemelä | RHD | Kärpät (Liiga)
Last year’s offensive outburst was always going to be tough for Niemelä to match, but it is fair to say that he has had an underwhelming start to his 2022-23 season. After registering an eye-popping 32 points in 48 games during his age-19 season, he currently has just three goals and two assists through 22 games to start the season.
He is still posting solid underlying numbers, perhaps buoyed by a high percentage of offensive zone starts, but he hasn’t been the same consistent and dynamic offensive threat from the back end as he was last season. Some of it has been the result of poor shooting luck at times, as he has a 56.4 CF% but an on-ice shooting percentage of just 8.5%. Last year, he posted a 50.0 CF% but his on-ice shooting percentage was 12%.
As is often the case, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle of last season and this season for Niemelä. He may not be a top-pairing guy but make no mistake, he still has legitimate top-four potential, and there is more to his game than his contributions in the offensive zone. In fact, it was Niemelä’s defensive game that the Leafs raved about after drafting him his proactive nature on the ice should translate well as he climbs the ranks.
Kärpät has been a middle-of-the-road team so far this season, and depending on how deep they go, we could see Niemelä make his North American debut with the Marlies later this season.
Fraser Minten | C/W | Kamloops (WHL)
Minten was a bit of a surprise pick at 38th overall in the 2022 draft, but it is easy to see why the Leafs, in particular, were drawn to him. The selection of Minten, a big-bodied center who plays a strong two-way game with a physical edge and a decent scoring touch, helped to diversify the organization’s prospect pool.
Minten wasted little time making an impression on his new club, impressing staff and players alike with how he handled himself in his first NHL training camp. Unfortunately, he played just one game before suffering a wrist injury that ended his camp and delayed his start to the WHL season.
He returned to the Blazers’ lineup late in October and hit the ground running, tallying a goal and two assists in his season debut. He currently has five goals and 11 assists through just 10 games, on pace to nearly double last season’s point total while playing fewer games. It remains to be seen whether or not Minten can sustain his current level of production over the course of a full season but the Leafs have to be feeling good about the early returns from their first pick in the 2022 draft.
Roni Hirvonen | C/W | HIFK (Liiga)
Hirvonen enjoyed a solid campaign with HIFK last season after making the jump from Ässät, registering new career highs with nine goals and 17 assists in 46 games. He also played a key role for Finland at the World Juniors, captaining the team in his second crack at the tournament.
Like Niemelä, Hirvonen has struggled to match last year’s output in the early going this season. He did have a two goal game this past week, bringing him to five goals and four assists in 22 games. The second half of the season will be big for Hirvonen as he, too, could be set to make the trip across the pond and make his debut with the Marlies later this season. For what it’s worth, I think Hirvonen will benefit from playing on the smaller ice but the pace of the North American game could be an adjustment for him.
Nicholas Moldenhauer | C/W | Chicago (USHL)
The Leafs’ second choice in the 2022 draft, Moldenhauer started the season on fire for Chciago in the USHL. He has since cooled off ever so slightly but still sits fourth in league scoring with 11 goals and 10 assists in 16 games. The Steel have been a dominant offensive team in the early going and Moldenhauer has been a big part of that.
Moldenhauer recently committed to the University of Michigan and will begin his collegiate career with the Wolverines next fall. Time will tell what kind of role he will be able to carve out on such a deep roster, but playing for one of the top programs in the country should be a positive thing for his development.
Pontus Holmberg | C | Toronto (NHL)
Holmberg has been on a steady rise for the last couple of years, beginning with an SHL Championship run that saw him earn playoff MVP honors. Drafted in the sixth round back in 2018, Holmberg is now on his way to establishing himself as an NHL regular and has caught the attention of the Leafs’ staff in short order.
He debuted with the Marlies late last season, putting up four points in six games, and had a strong showing in his first NHL preseason, even without posting big numbers. His defensive habits, intelligence, and forechecking abilities have endeared him to the Leafs’ coaches, and with just 15 AHL games under his belt, he is already pushing for a regular role with the big club, having suited up in each of the Leafs’ last three games.
Holmberg might never grow into a big-time offensive contributor at the NHL level, but he has the hockey IQ to play with skilled players and maintain his defensive responsibilities. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if he eventually steps into the David Kämpf role if Kämpf moves on via free agency next summer. It has been a long time coming, but Holmberg is among the first wave of Dubas draft picks that are beginning to push for regular NHL roles, and turning a late-round pick into a reliable defensive center would be a nice bit of business.
Alex Steeves | W | Toronto (AHL)
Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame, Steeves had a strong rookie season with the Marlies last season and even earned a three game audition with the Leafs. He posted 23 goals and 23 assists in 58 AHL games, and tallied an assist in his brief NHL stint.
Steeves came into training camp buzzing this season, looking a step quicker than he did in his first year of pro hockey. His tenacity was noticeable throughout the preseason, and he showed that he could chip in with a bit of offense as well. Steeves was always facing an uphill battle given the number of players vying for jobs but he made a positive impression in camp and has carried that into the AHL season.
Already with five goals and 10 assists in his first 15 games, he is on pace to surpass last season’s totals by a significant margin. The biggest threat to him doing just that could very well be his own play earning him a call to the big club at some point. Based on his play thus far, Steeves should be at the top of the Leafs’ list should injuries arise, and he looks like a player who should, at the very least, be able to contribute on an NHL fourth line if he were thrust into immediate action.
Nick Abruzzese | C/W | Toronto (AHL)
Abruzzese joined the Leafs late last season after a stellar college career at Harvard but the pace of the NHL game was a big adjustment for him. He did manage his first NHL goal while getting into nine games to close out the season but likely would have been assigned to the Marlies had he been eligible.
This season, the focus for Abruzzese was getting a little bit quicker. He processes the game at a high rate but his foot speed was holding him back and like Steeves, he looks a bit quicker so far this season. Playing at a level better suited to his current development stage, Abruzzese has tallied four goals and five assists in his first 15 AHL games while playing a top-six role on most nights.
Abruzzese still has some developing to do before he is a legitimate candidate for a regular NHL job but he is another homegrown player who could hold his own in a bottom-six role should the need arise for the Leafs. For now, the best thing for Abruzzese is continuing to develop and grow into a prominent player for the Marlies.
Ryan Tverberg | C/W | UConn (NCAA)
Tverberg was a bit overshadowed by the likes of Knies and Niemelä last season, but he is perhaps the biggest riser in the Leafs’ prospect pool over the last year. He broke out in a big way for UConn last season, scoring 14 goals and 18 assists in 36 games, and even earned an invitation to Team Canada’s selection camp for the World Juniors.
He has taken his game to another level so far this season, taking on greater responsibility for the Huskies, and looking every bit the part of a legitimate NHL prospect in his junior season. Tverberg has been playing center more regularly this year, adding to his versatility, and he already has 10 goals and six assists in 15 games to lead his club in scoring.
Tverberg is another player who blends offensive skill with tenacity and physical play, helping to provide a relatively safe developmental floor. The focus will likely remain on Knies leading up to the conclusion of the college hockey season, but Tverberg is a prime candidate to sign his ELC with the Leafs next spring as well.
Filip Král | LHD | Toronto (AHL)
Král has been a steady riser for the Leafs over the last year, too. Another late-round pick from Dubas’ first draft in 2018, he grew into a key part of the Marlies lineup in his first full AHL season last year, tallying 21 points in 58 games along the way but his adjustment to the defensive aspects of the pro game was perhaps the most impressive part of his season.
Along the way, he surpassed players like Mac Hollowell on the depth chart and earned his first taste of NHL action earlier this season with the Leafs’ blue line riddled with injuries. Král handled himself well in limited action, providing the Leafs with another homegrown, internal depth option who still has the potential to develop further. It might not seem like much but being able to round out the NHL roster with late-round picks developed by the organization is key to sustainable success.
Ty Voit | C/W | Sarnia (OHL)
Ty Voit has been straight-up dominant for Sarnia this season. Last season was impressive enough when he finished with 80 points in 67 games but he is on pace to shatter those numbers this season, currently leading the OHL with six goals and 30 assists in just 21 games. Over a full 68 game OHL season, that is a 116 point pace.
As dominant as Voit has been at the junior level, questions about his size and strength will persist. The physicality and speed of the pro game will be a significant adjustment for him whenever he begins his pro career but his offensive vision is elite and should allow him to keep up when he makes the jump. In the meantime, look for Voit to be in consideration for a spot on Team USA’s roster at the upcoming World Juniors.
Semyon Der-Arguchintsev | C/W | Toronto (AHL)
SDA is another player who looks to have taken a step forward in the early part of the AHL season. After tallying 13 goals and 19 assists in 51 games during his first full AHL campaign last season, Der-Arguchintsev already has four goals and 11 assists in 15 games so far this season.
The diminutive Russian pivot looks more assertive and more confident this season, and the club has been using him on the wing a bit more as of late, perhaps lessening his defensive responsibilities and allowing him to focus on creating offense. There is still a long way to go for Der-Arguchintsev, but there is no questioning his raw offensive skill and vision as a playmaker.
Mikhail Abramov | C/W | Toronto (AHL)
Abramov missed camp and the beginning of the season recovering from an injury and made his season debut with the Marlies at the end of October. He had his best game of the season this past weekend, scoring his first goal of the campaign and adding an assist in a 5-3 win over Abbotsford to bring him to five points in seven games.
Abramov’s rookie year in the AHL was a difficult one where he was probably tasked with too much in a depleted Marlies lineup, so bouncing back in his second season will be key in reestablishing himself as one of the organization’s better prospects.
Artur Akhtyamov | G | Neftyanik Almetievsk (VHL)
Akhtyamov has been fantastic for Neytyanik in Russia’s second-tier pro league so far this season. He has arguably been the league’s best goaltender, sitting at a .938 SV% through 20 games. That mark is good for second among qualified netminders but he has played in nine more games than the goaltender occupying first place.
After posting solid numbers in the VHL last season, Akhtyamov appears to have taken a step with his new club in 2022-23. He is still just 21 years of age and the Leafs own his exclusive rights indefinitely so they have time on their side but it is worth noting that Akhtyamov visited Toronto in the offseason to get a glimpse at what his future could hold. A return to Russia for at least one more season, where he can hopefully earn significant KHL minutes, seems likely but he is squarely on the radar for an entry level contract at some point.
Joey Anderson | W | Toronto (AHL)
Now 24 years old and in his fifth pro season, time is running out for Anderson but he continues to produce at the AHL level. He led the Marlies with 26 goals in 56 games last season, and he is once again leading the way so far in 2022-23, tied for the team lead with 10 goals in 15 games.
Pace and foot speed are the main things holding Anderson back from breaking through to the NHL, but he has proven to be a reliable two-way player in the minors and could probably handle fourth line minutes for the Leafs in a pinch.
William Villeneuve | RHD | Toronto (AHL)
Villeneuve made the jump to pro hockey this year and has performed admirably in limited action with the Marlies in the early part of the season. A big-time offensive producer in junior, Villeneuve has already managed a goal and four assists through his first 10 games of the season.
Already entrusted with a significant role on the powerplay, the Marlies are leaning into Villeneuve’s strengths as they bring him along slowly. A fourth-round pick of the Leafs in 2020, he is still very much a long-term project who will have to improve his mobility and round out his defensive game, but he has already taken strides in those areas since his draft year.
Mikko Kokkonen | LHD | Toronto (AHL)
It has been a slow burn for 2019 third-round pick and the beginning of his AHL career has been much of the same for Kokkonen. With plenty of competition for playing time on the Marlies’ blue line, he was actually demoted to Newfoundland in the ECHL for six games, where he registered a goal and two assists.
Known more as a stout defender than an offensive driver for the back end, his play away from the puck will be his ticket to consistent playing time with the Marlies. He has since been recalled and has played 20+ minutes in each of his last three appearances for the Marlies but is still a good way down the organizational depth chart.
Keith Petruzzelli | G | Toronto (AHL)
It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks for Petruzzelli. Playing with the Marlies on an AHL deal, he was signed to an NHL deal in what can only be describes as emergency fashion after Ilya Samsonov joined Matt Murray on the injured list. He backed up Erik Källgren for a handful of games but he was never called into game action before Murray returned.
Petruzzelli has since been reassigned to the Marlies and it’s been a rough couple of starts for him with a solid relief appearance mixed in. Still just 23 years of age, he was likely in line for a contract at some point regardless but the Leafs would prefer not to rush him into NHL action. His pro resume consists of just 23 ECHL games and 14 AHL games so the focus will be on his continued development at the minor league level.
Dmitry Ovchinnikov | W | Sibir Novosibirsk (KHL)
Ovchinnikov was loaned back to his KHL club after signing with the Leafs and finishing last season with the Marlies. It’s been a bit of a mixed bag in terms of his deployment but he is seeing more ice time than he has at any point in his KHL career in the last couple of years. Still, the production has been limited as he has just three goals and three assists in 34 games to this point.
It remains to be seen whether or not he will rejoin the Marlies later this season but this is a player who will need significant time honing his craft in the AHL before he is in consideration for a look at the NHL level.
Brandon Lisowsky | W | Saskatoon (WHL)
Lisowsky was a big time goalscorer in his draft year and despite being a consensus top-100 prospect in the 2022 class, he fell all the way to the seventh round before the Leafs scooped him up. He likely slid due in large part to his small stature and average mobility but his shot and overall finishing ability are legit.
He got off to a slow start in the goal department but he has been tearing it up in recent weeks, bringing his season totals to nine goals and 13 assists in 19 games to this point. Another high-upside bet in the late rounds, Lisowsky is a long-term project but he has looked good in the early part of his draft+1 season.
Veeti Miettinen | W | St. Cloud State (NCAA)
Miettinen burst onto the scene with an impressive freshman season in which he notched 24 points in 31 games but he failed to take a step forward in his sophomore season. While the goal totals haven’t been quite on par with his first two seasons, Miettinen has been generating offense for himself and his teammates, currently sitting with three goals and nine assists in 14 games.
He has real offensive upside but he hasn’t quite put it all together just yet and barring a second half explosion, he will likely return to St. Cloud State for his senior year in the hopes of securing an NHL contract with the Leafs.
Vyacheslav Peksa | G | Bars Kazan (VHL)
Peksa was keeping pace with Akhtyamov in the race for the VHL’s top netminder early in the season and while he has tailed off slightly, he still owns a .926 SV% to go along with an 11-8-2 record in 22 games. His situation mirrors that of Akhtyamov in that the Leafs have time on their side and can wait to see how Peksa handles KHL duty if and when he is able to earn a job at Russia’s top level.
Though they aren’t likely to factor into the Leafs’ roster plans in the near future, it’s looking more and more like the Leafs might have something in their young Russian netminders.
Mac Hollowell | RHD | Toronto (AHL)
Hollowell is in a similar situation to Anderson with the Marlies. Now 24 years of age, he is teetering between prospect and quad A player status. He has been productive for the Marlies this season, however, with nine assists through 11 games and earned a call-up to the Leafs’ roster just recently. He didn’t get into a game but he is knocking on the door and could eventually get a chance if the Leafs suffer an injury to one of their more offensively inclined blueliners.
Nikita Grebyonkin | W | Amur Khabarovsk (KHL)
Grebyonkin has been well-traveled so far this season, beginning the year with Magnitogorsk in the KHL before being before being loaned to the Amur organization to facilitate more playing time. All told, he has played games for one MHL team, one VHL team, and two KHL teams already this season.
The loan to Amur has worked out for Grebyonkin in the early going and after a couple of games for their minor league squad, he was elevated to a prominent role in the top-six with their KHL team. He has played 11 games for Amur to this point in the season, tallying a goal and four assists. Those numbers might not jump off the page but for Grebyonkin to hold down a top-six role and produce near a half-point per game as a 19-year-old in the KHL is noteworthy.
Joseph Woll | G | Toronto (AHL)
Woll is behind the eight ball to begin the season, missing all of training camp and the first month plus of the schedule. He returned to the active roster last week and served as the backup to Petruzzelli on Sunday but it sounds like the organization would like to give him a longer ramp up before throwing him back into game action.
Regardless of when he returns to the crease, Woll will have his work cut out for him to reclaim his place in what is becoming a crowded Marlies crease when everyone is healthy.
Dennis Hildeby | G | Färjestad (SHL)
Hildeby was a prospect the Leafs clearly targeted, trading up to select him in the fourth round in the 2022 draft and signing him to an entry level contract just days later. He was loaned back to Färjestad in the SHL this season and has struggled to steal playing time from Matt Tomkins, despite posting better numbers.
His first few starts of the season didn’t go the way he had hoped but he has performed better as of late, raising his SV% to .914 through six league games. He has also outperformed Tomkins in Champions League action, posting a .910 SV% over four games. Already under contract, Hildeby could further complicate the picture in the Marlies crease if the Leafs decide to bring him over in the spring.
Braeden Kressler | C/W | Flint (OHL)
Kressler has dealt with his fair share of injury troubles since signing with the Leafs as an undrafted free agent last fall but he is healthy and performing at a high level for Flint so far this season. In 13 games, he has tallied 10 goals and six assists while playing a consistently energetic style.
An interesting bet as an undrafted player, Kressler has the makings of a tenacious bottom-six forward if everything clicks for him. He will likely begin his pro career with the Marlies full-time next season.
(Statistics from EliteProspects.com & Liiga.fi)
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