Leafs Prospect Roundup: Dmitry Ovchinnikov signs, Nick Robertson finding form, quotes from Kyle Dubas presser
Photo credit:Nick Barden
By Kyle Cushman11 months ago
It’s time for another edition of the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect roundup, this time with a new prospect unexpectedly signing their entry-level contract, a final recap from the Olympics, and comments from GM Kyle Dubas from over the weekend.
Before we dive into this week’s roundup, I will be doing the first TLN prospect mailbag of the year with fellow prospect aficionado Nick Richard later this week! Be sure to submit your questions by commenting on this week’s roundup or sending them in over on Twitter (@Kyle_Cush and @_NickRichard). From Nick Robertson to Nikolai Chebykin, I’m looking forward to answering your questions alongside Nick later this week.
Without further adieu, let’s get into the week that was in the Leafs system.
Dmitry Ovchinnikov | C/RW | Toronto Marlies (AHL)
2020 fifth-round draft pick @Dmitry Ovchinnikov signed his three-year entry-level contract with the Maple Leafs on Friday morning. The contract begins immediately and he will join the Marlies upon finalizing the legalities for him to enter Canada.
It was an unexpected announcement, to say the least. Ovchinnikov had signed an extension with his KHL team, Sibir Novosibirsk, prior to the 2021/22 season that should have kept him in Russia through at least 2022/23. Early on Friday morning, it was announced on the KHL site that Sibir had terminated Ovchinnikov’s contract, making him a free agent and paving the way for the Leafs to sign him to an NHL contract.
Ovchinnikov is less than two years removed from being drafted and is still only 19 years old. It’s uncommon to see a non-first round pick out of Russia sign so quickly, but Ovchinnikov’s circumstance this season has seemed to accelerate the process for Toronto.
Despite being on a Sibir team that struggled offensively, Ovchinnikov was limited to 13th forward duties at the KHL level all season long. Upon playing just a handful of shifts by the mid-season mark, Sibir elected to send him down to their junior affiliate on off-days to simply get him ice-time. It was a frustrating year for Ovchinnikov in this regard, as he had already proven he was far too good for the MHL level over the past two seasons.
Ovchinnikov ultimately played in 17 KHL games this season, scoring one goal and three points while averaging a minuscule 4:59 of ice-time per game (which doesn’t include the vast majority of games where he dressed but did not receive a shift). When he was with their junior affiliate, he was yet again a dominant player, scoring 13 goals and 29 points in 22 games.
For context, Sibir’s junior team is one of the worst in the league. In just 22 games, Ovchinnikov took the team lead in points. The second-leading scorer on the team had 26 points…but in 30 more games.
The lack of opportunity presented to Ovchinnikov this year means we’ll see him in North America *much* earlier than I had anticipated. While he is now under contract and is set to join the Marlies, it will be at least a couple of weeks until we see him with the AHL group according to Kyle Dubas’ comments in his media availability on Sunday.
[Ovchinnikov’s timeline] is totally based on his visa process. Reid Mitchell (Toronto’s Director of Hockey and Scouting Operations) will work to try and get that done as soon as possible. It’s made more difficult with vaccine availability in Russia and which ones are compliant with coming into Canada, so we have to sort through all of that and work through the work permits. I believe he’s vaccinated now, we’re just waiting for the work permit which should be a couple of weeks and then we’ll get him up to speed with the Marlies.
Dmitry Ovchinnikov has been one of my favourite Leafs prospects to watch since his draft year. His speed and skill made him a dominant player at the Russian junior level, but we have yet to see him for any notable amount of time at a higher level.
Once he is available for the Marlies, I’m fascinated to see how he adapts to the significant increase in competition. I would imagine he will primarily be working with the development staff upon arrival in Canada rather than playing on a nightly basis for the Marlies, as is usually the case for Leafs prospects joining the Marlies later in the season.
Final Olympics Update
Congratulations to Finland and former Leafs all-star representative @Leo Komarov on taking home Olympics gold! A huge shoutout to the Canadian team that did the same on the women’s side, it was a joy to watch former Toronto Furies stars Sarah Nurse and Natalie Spooner have a superb tournament en route to gold.
As for the Leafs prospects in Beijing, all three (plus Josh Ho-Sang) come home empty-handed. Matt Knies and Nick Abruzzese were eliminated in the quarters against eventual bronze medallists Slovakia, while Pontus Holmberg’s Swedish side came up short in the bronze medal game.
Even with a lack of hardware, Kyle Dubas was impressed by Toronto’s representatives at the Games and believes the tournament is ultimately a positive experience.
I was happy with the play of all of our guys there. Obviously Matt Knies and Nick Abruzzese with the US, I thought they were outstanding. Pontus Holmberg, with Sweden, I thought had a great tournament as well. It was a great experience for those players, I think the ability to go to Beijing and to the Olympics will help them help us.
Here are the final stat lines for Knies, Abruzzese, Holmberg, and I might as well toss Ho-Sang in as well:
Finally, the likes of Max Parrot, Isabelle Weidemann, and Eileen Gu can step aside, we all know this was the highlight of the Olympics.
Nick Robertson | W | Toronto Marlies (AHL)
@Nicholas Robertson has five games under his belt since returning to the Marlies lineup from his broken leg back in October and has not missed a beat.
This past week, Robertson scored a goal and three points in three games with the Marlies, adding 10 shots on goal in the process.
Kyle Dubas was asked about Robertson’s return and status over the weekend.
Nick has come back to the Marlies after a long injury and he’s been outstanding. It’s probably the best I’ve seen him play at that level. He’s only 20 years old, I think that sometimes gets forgotten because of the strange way his development has gone. Drafted in the second round, a great season with Peterborough, and then comes into our team and plays in the bubble. Then last season as a 19 year old, in the third game of the year he was injured, injured late in the Marlies season, and then a bad injury in the second game of this season. Since he’s come back, it’s the best I’ve seen him play at that level. Not only on the puck, but off the puck and on the penalty kill. [He’s been] much more dangerous with the puck and his skating looks a lot better, which is a credit to him and the work he put in with the staff during his injury to continue to become more explosive and improve his acceleration to be able to get open and use his shot.
As per usual, Robertson’s return and strong play have some looking for him to be called up and join the Leafs. But as Dubas notes, Robertson is much younger than most realize. In “normal” circumstances, Nick Robertson would have graduated from the OHL over the summer and would be playing the first professional games of his career in 2021/22.
Combine his age, recent injury troubles, and overall lack of consistent professional experience, I want to see Robertson spend the rest of the season with the Marlies to set up a big push for an NHL spot in 2022/23. It seems like Kyle Dubas and the Leafs are thinking much of the same.
I’m very happy with [Robertson], the key for us is for him to continue to build momentum. One of the things that we’ve learned in the past with him is, last year with the taxi squad it was up and down, it tends to stunt momentum. I just see him continuing to build momentum, continuing to take on a huge role with the penalty kill and defensively for [the Marlies] while also producing offensively. It’ll be a matter of time before he forces our hand.
As noted a couple of weeks ago in the prospect roundup, Robertson has been playing on his right-wing rather than his usual left-wing. I’m very interested to see whether it is Robertson or @Alex Steeves that shifts over the left-wing once Ho-Sang returns to the Marlies lineup. In Ho-Sang’s absence, it’s been easy to run @Joey Anderson, Robertson, and Steeves down the right-wing. Someone is going to have to move over to the left when Ho-Sang comes back.
That does it for this week’s edition of the prospect roundup! A reminder to send in your questions for the TLN prospect mailbag, debuting later this week, by commenting on this article or sending them to me or Nick Richard on Twitter.
Recent articles from Kyle Cushman