Grebyonkin gets coach’s blessing, Minten making moves, Hirvonen returns: Leafs Prospect Roundup
By Nick Richard22 days ago
With players like Nick Robertson, Pontus Holmberg, and Bobby McMann making their way to the Leafs and Matthew Knies bypassing the AHL altogether, Toronto doesn’t have a ton of readymade help waiting in the wings with the Marlies. The likes of Ryan Tverberg and Topi Niemelä could push for spot duty at some point next season, with Easton Cowan and Fraser Minten likely to garner extended looks in training camp, but there could be additional help coming from overseas as well.
Nikita Grebyonkin established himself as a legitimate NHL prospect last season, locking down a top-six role with Amur Khabarovsk on his way to winning the KHL’s Rookie of the Year award. He returned to Metallurg Magnitogorsk for the 2023-24 season after playing on loan with Amur a season ago and has once again carved out a prominent role with his club, only this time he’s playing for the best team in the KHL.
Grebyonkin tallied a goal and an assist to help Magnitogorsk secure a victory over Amur on Sunday, bringing him to 15 goals and 18 assists in 57 games so far this season. His 33 points are tied for the third-most on his team, and he is tied for fourth in scoring among all U21 players in the KHL. Despite going undrafted in his first year of eligibility and falling all the way to the fifth round the following year before the Leafs snatched him up, Grebyonkin has already shown clear NHL potential, and he could be a part of the equation in Toronto sooner rather than later.
With no contract extension in place with Magnitogorsk for next season, the door will be open for Grebyonkin to sign his entry-level deal with the Leafs this spring, and his head coach seemingly encouraged the move when asked about it last week.
It is still far from guaranteed that Grebyonkin will sign with the Leafs before next season, and he will probably require a bit more time before suiting up with the big club, but he has gained valuable experience in one of the top leagues in the world over the last two seasons, and there is no question that he is one of the organization’s most NHL-ready prospects.
Notes from the rest of the prospect pool:
- Easton Cowan extended his point streak to 14 games with back-to-back multi-point efforts against Peterborough and Erie over the weekend, and he has now recorded at least two points in each of his last six games. He sits 12th in OHL scoring with 20 goals and 39 assists in 32 games, but he missed time while attending Leafs training camp and again while suiting up for Canada at the World Juniors, and his 1.84 points per game are the most in the OHL.
- Fraser Minten had a big game for Saskatoon on Sunday, scoring a pair of goals, including a gorgeous overtime winner, as the Blades took down Swift Current by a score of 3-2. The goals were his 10th and 11th of the season, and he is now up to eight goals and 10 assists in 15 games since being acquired from Kamloops. Minten is looking more comfortable in his new surroundings with each passing game, and he will be relied upon heavily as the Blades look to maintain their place atop the WHL standings down the stretch.
- Ryan Tverberg had another strong week for the Marlies, picking up three assists in a losing effort against Cleveland on Wednesday and adding another helper in Saturday’s shootout win over Lehigh Valley before extending his point streak to five games with a primary assist on Kieffer Bellows’ 18th of the season on Sunday. The 2020 seventh-rounder has put together an impressive rookie season in the AHL and has now rattled off 14 points in his last ten games. A lot can happen between now and then, but don’t be surprised to see Tverberg earn a long look at Leafs camp next fall with his blend of tenacity and offensive ability.
- It has been a long and uncertain road back, but Roni Hirvonen returned to the Marlies’ lineup on Sunday for the first time since October 15th. Hirvonen suffered a serious eye injury in that game against Utica, and there were concerns about what it would mean for his future, so it was great to see him get back into game action. Sporting a full face shield, he wasted little time making an impact and registered his first AHL point with an assist on Logan Shaw’s first period goal. It’s never easy to jump back in after missing so much time but look for Hirvonen to carve out a significant role for the Marlies as he continues to work his way back in the second half of the season.
- Dennis Hildeby has been a big story for the Marlies all season, but he struggled in both of his starts this past week, allowing six goals on just 18 shots against Cleveland on Wednesday before surrendering four goals on 32 shots in Sunday’s overtime loss to Hershey. Hildeby’s play has taken a dip since returning to the Marlies after sitting on the bench for the Leafs for a couple of weeks, and he will need to get back on track as the Marlies try to get back into the playoff picture down the stretch.
- Nick Moldenhauer had his four-game point streak snapped as Michigan took down Wisconsin on Friday, but he got back on the board with his sixth goal of the season as the Wolverines dropped Saturday’s rematch in overtime. Moldenhauer has been productive of late, tallying eight points in his last 10 games, and he is now up to 16 points through 24 games in his freshman season.
- One of the biggest risers in the Leafs’ prospect pool through the first few months of the season, Noah Chadwick continued to showcase his offensive abilities when he notched his ninth goal of the campaign in a 6-1 win over Regina on Friday. He currently sits ninth among WHL defencemen in scoring, and his 37 points are the fourth most among WHL blueliners drafted in 2023.
- Alex Steeves was held off the scoresheet in both games over the weekend, but he notched a goal and an assist against Cleveland on Wednesday, and he is currently tied for the Marlies’ scoring lead with 16 goals and 18 assists in 33 games. With Calle Järnkrok and Bobby McMann hitting the injured list this past week, Steeves figures to get the first look if the Leafs turn to the Marlies for reinforcements after the All-Star break.
- After Steeves, Nick Abruzzese would presumably be next in line for a look with the big club, and he helped his case with a pair of assists in Sunday’s overtime loss to Hershey. Abruzzese isn’t the most fleet of foot or physical player, and his game is built around playmaking, so it could be more difficult for him to make an impact in a bottom-six role than it would be for someone like Steeves, but he has the offensive vision to make plays at the NHL level.
- Brandon Lisowsky scored twice as Saskatoon lost to Prince Albert in a shootout on Friday, extending his goal-scoring streak to seven games. That streak was snapped as Lisowsky registered a lone assist in his next two games, but he is still on pace to surpass his career highs in every offensive category. It’s difficult to imagine the Leafs allowing him to re-enter the draft with the way he has played for the Blades this season.
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