Knies comes up clutch, Niemelä nets a pair, Abramov out: Leafs Prospect Roundup
By Nick Richard9 months ago
A lot of the focus that has been placed on the Leafs’ prospect pool in recent weeks has centered around the trade market and what the Leafs might have to give up in order to improve their current roster. Well, Kyle Dubas took his swing on Friday night when he acquired Ryan O’Reilly and Noel Acciari in a three-team deal with St. Louis and Minnesota, but it was primarily draft picks and not prospects that he used to get it done.
The Leafs did include 2019 fourth-rounder Mikhail Abramov in the trade, along with Adam Gaudette, but the top of their prospect pool remained untouched as they shipped out a first, second, third, and fourth-round pick scattered across the next three drafts. Abramov began his pro career with some promise, but the adjustment to the AHL has been a difficult one for the diminutive forward, and he landed in the 19th spot on my midseason ranking of the top prospects in the Leafs’ system.
Moving that much draft capital only makes the progress and development of the players the Leafs already have in their system more crucial. As Dubas alluded to following the acquisition of O’Reilly and Acciari, moving picks rather than the club’s top prospects was the obvious move given where the Leafs are currently at in their competitive cycle. The players chosen with those picks are still multiple years away from contributing at the NHL level if they even make it that far, whereas a player like Matthew Knies could be ready to step into Toronto’s bottom-six as early as this spring, and players like Topi Niemelä or Fraser Minten are known quantities to the organization who represent clearer projections than nameless draft picks do.
Let’s catch up with what some of those prospects were up to over the last week.
- Matthew Knies put together a weekend that had to make the Leafs even happier that they were able to get their biggest piece of business done without sending him the other way. Minnesota’s top line was dominant in a 7-2 win over Penn State on Friday, with Knies netting a goal and two assists in the blowout, but he was just getting started. With the Gophers trailing late in Saturday’s rematch, Knies corralled a slick backdoor feed from Jimmy Snuggerud and fired it into the net to tie the game with 41 seconds left in regulation. Then, in overtime, Logan Cooley worked his magic and made a great play to shake his check along the wall before finding Knies alone in the slot, and the Leafs’ top prospect made no mistake, netting his NCAA-leading seventh game-winner of the season. Knies now has 20 goals and 16 assists in 32 games this season, and he’ll have a chance to add to those totals when the Gophers wrap up their regular season schedule with a weekend series against Ohio State.
- Topi Niemelä had a two-goal outing on Friday as Kärpät fell 6-5 in overtime, bringing him to four points in his last six games. His first goal of the contest was the result of intelligent offensive activation and solid positioning as he pounced on a puck in the slot and buried it, but his second marker was a gorgeous individual effort that showcased his deception and puck skills. Kärpät wraps up their regular season on March 11th, and they’re currently holding down a playoff spot but look for Niemelä to join the Marlies whenever their season comes to an end.
- With the additions of O’Reilly and Acciari, Pontus Holmberg was reassigned to the Marlies, at least for the time being. Holmberg has given the Leafs solid minutes in their bottom-six this year but has been less noticeable as of late, and Acciari is undeniably an upgrade who solidifies the bottom of the Leafs’ lineup. That’s no slight on Holmberg, who has been something of a revelation, and he will likely factor into the mix once again down the stretch. For now, he’ll log big minutes with the Marlies as he continues to grow into a full-time NHLer.
- Fraser Minten extended his point streak to three games with a pair of assists in Friday’s win over Red Deer but was held off the scoresheet against Calgary on Sunday. The Leafs’ 2022 second-rounder has been shuffled around Kamloops’ lineup in the last few weeks, but he has still found a way to make a positive impact on most nights, and he is now up to 25 goals and 24 assists in 42 games so far this season.
- Roni Hirvonen broke a four-game pointless streak over the weekend, notching an assist in each of HIFK’s two victories. It has been a much more productive second half for Hirvonen, and he is now up to 13 goals and 13 assists in 51 games. Like Niemelä, he is expected to join the Marlies at the conclusion of his Liiga season.
- Nick Moldenhauer picked up an assist on Friday before tallying an empty-netter for his 25th goal of the season in a win on Saturday. Chicago’s offensive attack has been led in large part by 2023 draft-eligible Jayden Perron and 2024 draft-eligible Macklin Celebrini as of late but Moldenhauer has still been a consistent producer. He currently sits fifth in team scoring with 45 points in 37 games despite missing time earlier this season.
- Ty Voit had another big night as Sarnia beat up Guelph on Wednesday. He registered three assists in the 9-1 blowout win and is now up to 15 goals and 62 assists in 52 games. After leading the OHL in scoring for most of the season, Voit has slipped to fourth in league scoring, 11 points back of Islanders prospect Matthew Maggio for the lead.
- Joseph Woll made his NHL start of the season against Montreal on Saturday and was solid on the way to his first win on home ice. The Leafs played well in front of him but Woll had to make a couple of big stops in key moments when the game was still close, and he was up to the task. He stopped 29 of 30 shots directed his way, with the lone blemish coming on a screened deflection off a shot from the point. There is still no timetable for Matt Murray’s return from injury, so the Leafs might need a few more performances like that from Woll in the coming weeks.
- Artur Akhtyamov closed out his spectacular regular season this past week. He finished the season with the best save percentage in the VHL, putting up a sparkling .943 while going 20-12-6 in 39 appearances. He is yet to sign a contract extension for next season with his KHL club, so his situation will be one to monitor as we get closer to the offseason.
- Keith Petruzzelli had a great game on Saturday, stopping 26 of the 27 shots he faced in a 5-1 victory over Rochester. His play has been up and down this season, but he could be in line for more playing time while Woll is filling in for Murray at the NHL level. Petruzzelli will certainly be looking to improve upon his current .899 SV%.
- Joe Miller has quietly put together a solid freshman season for Harvard, and he was productive again over the weekend, picking up a goal on Friday before adding a pair of helpers in Saturday’s win over RPI. Miller is currently fifth on his team in scoring with 13 goals and 10 assists in 27 games.
- It went a bit under the radar when the trade was announced, but the Leafs also acquired a prospect from the Wild who retained 25% of O’Reilly’s salary. Josh Pillar is an overager for Saskatoon in the WHL who has missed most of the season due to injury and hasn’t really dominated the way you’d hope a player his age would at the junior level. He is a player the Leafs would be familiar with, however, as he played in Kamloops with Fraser Minten before being dealt to Saskatoon last season, where he now plays with Leafs 2022 seventh-rounder Brandon Lisowsky. Pillar will be in tough to earn an entry level contract, but he could be a candidate to start with the Marlies on an AHL deal. He is a strong skater who can play an energetic, physical game, but he doesn’t project to produce much offense at the pro level.
(Statistics from EliteProspects.com)
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