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Leafs Prospect Roundup: Kressler’s Game 7 heroics, Marlies end of season recap

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Photo credit:Nick Barden
Kyle Cushman
6 months ago
One more, folks! With most leagues around the world wrapped up or in the midst of their playoffs, just about every Toronto Maple Leafs prospect has finished their 2021/22 season. As such, rather than give you the same update every Monday morning on the three Maple Leafs prospects that are playing in their respective playoffs, this will be the last prospect roundup for the season.
Don’t worry, though, as we’ll still have lots of prospect coverage here at TLN as we look back on various prospects’ seasons in the coming weeks and look ahead to the 2022 NHL Entry Draft.
But before we get to all of that, I’ve got one more prospect roundup in store for you! And we’ve got quite a bit to get to.

Braeden Kressler | C | Flint Firebirds (OHL)

Undrafted free agent signing @Braeden Kressler had a tough 2021/22 campaign, interrupted with injury and a move down the Flint Firebirds’ lineup after a strong development camp and rookie tournament performance with the Maple Leafs that saw him earn a contract.
A huge showing that helped Flint prevail in Game 7 of their first-round series against the Owen Sound Attack made that disappointment and frustration go away.
Lining up as the fourth line centre, Kressler was instrumental in Flint surviving a first-round upset at the hands of the Attack with two assists and the game-clinching empty netter.
Kressler didn’t have the offensive season he would’ve hoped for, scoring just 16 points in 28 games as a DY+1 forward in the OHL, but has still been a strong two-way player for Flint this season. One of his assists came while shorthanded and was obviously on the ice late in the game defending the Firebirds’ lead before he scored on the empty net.
Kressler now has two goals and four points in nine postseason games and Flint currently holds a 2-0 series lead over Sault Ste. Marie in the second round.

Toronto Marlies end-of-season availabilities

As noted last week, the Toronto Marlies season came to an abrupt end as they missed out on the final spot in the playoffs with their loss to Belleville in the regular-season finale. Last Tuesday, general manager Ryan Hardy and head coach Greg Moore spoke in their end-of-season availabilities. Here are a few interesting quotes, edited for clarity, from those two availabilities.
“The three centres that we most primarily deployed were @Curtis Douglas, @Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, and @Mikhail Abramov. I looked before and they had played a combined 17 AHL games and they were carrying the mail for us down the middle.” – Ryan Hardy
The Marlies have been a team that has tried to balance success with development in recent seasons. With Ryan Hardy coming in over the summer, the organization made a clear shift to prioritizing development even if it came at the expense of results. This was most evident in the centres used for a vast majority of the season, as noted by Hardy. The situation wasn’t exactly helped when @Adam Brooks and @Michael Amadio were claimed on waivers, followed by the injuries to @Marc Michaelis and @Antti Suomela, but the Marlies leaned heavily on a youthful core of centres, to mixed results over the course of the season.
“For Bobby [McMann] and Curtis [Douglas], it’s their work ethic and their mindset of wanting to get information from the staff and wanting to apply the information they are given. It’s a hunger to compete, a hunger to continue to grow, and a willingness to get better every day.” – Ryan Hardy
Having two AHL signed players earn entry-level contracts this season is one of the biggest positives to come out of the Marlies season. It was clear all season long that @Bobby McMann and Curtis Douglas were two players that were willing to go above and beyond on the ice and were rewarded with NHL deals after fantastic seasons for both players.
“[Curtis Douglas] came in here and had a lot of confidence early. He probably produced to a level I didn’t expect, I thought his offensive productivity was quite impressive . . . When you look at him and start to project what he could be, he’s a young kid, 22 years old with a 6-foot-8 body, so it’s going to be a few years before he fully grows into his body and becomes what he will be. If we can have patience with a player like that, when he gets to be 24 or 25 years old with all that he brings, he can be a tremendous asset to this organization.” – Ryan Hardy
Curtis Douglas went from an intriguing project signing on an AHL contract to a legitimate prospect over the course of this season. I’m not sure anyone expected Douglas to outscore someone like Mikhail Abramov, but that’s exactly what happened. I thought Douglas might split time between the Newfoundland Growlers and the Marlies, but instead was a fixture in the Marlies lineup and scored over 30 points in his first full season in the AHL.
If Douglas is to play a game in the NHL, he would be the largest forward in the league’s history. He’s a fascinating prospect who absolutely exceeded expectations in 2021/22 and has put himself on a trajectory to be a very interesting depth option for the Leafs in a couple of seasons.
“We had expected a couple more forwards to clear waivers and our team may have had a little bit of different makeup. Then with the injury to @Nicholas Robertson early, our team started to change. When I met with Bobby [McMann] early, I challenged him. I said “Hey, I love your work ethic, I love your mindset, I love the power you bring. I want you to evolve your game, make more east-west plays, and be a little more creative.” He got the opportunity to come back really quick and quite frankly, made me look a little foolish, so he and I have had a laugh about that a few times.” – Ryan Hardy
Bobby McMann started the year in the ECHL and finished it as the Toronto Marlies record holder for goals in a season by a rookie. After struggling in the AHL last year in a handful of games, McMann added energy and scoring to the bottom-six upon being recalled early in the season and never looked back. The 25-year-old is easily one of the best stories from the Maple Leafs organization this past season.
“[@Alex Steeves] did a really good job of problem-solving his way through the schedule, the season, and the workload. If he found himself in a bit of a dip or a very short slump, since he had a lot of production this year, he was quick to come out of it by asking the right questions, going through the right process of figuring out what was needed from himself, and if he wasn’t producing, how else he can have an impact on the hockey game.” – Greg Moore
Alex Steeves had an incredibly underrated season with the Marlies. Coming in as a college free agent, Steeves shined in development camp before an injury at the rookie tournament kept him out of training camp. Despite this early setback, Steeves made an immediate impact upon returning to action. Finishing the season with 46 points in 58 games, he’s a dark horse to push for more NHL game time in 2022/23 after getting a three-game taste back in the first half of the season.
“It’s tough when a player misses that much time due to an injury . . . Whether it’s skating or training by yourself, the days can feel long and monotonous and [Nick Robertson] did a good job of inserting himself back into our lineup and having a big impact.
Within his game, he always had his strong attributes, one thing he really elevated was his shot selection and choosing when and where to shoot the puck. It was a little more volume last year, just shooting from anywhere, which can be good at times given the situation and where he is on the ice, but he was a lot more selective in getting into the right areas, extending the possession to get those better looks and those higher quality chances, and I think it showed with his point production per game.” – Greg Moore
He was limited to just 28 games with the Marlies in 2021/22, but Nick Robertson showed a lot of promise that should feature on the 2022/23 Maple Leafs roster. Late in the season, Robertson was a force to be reckoned with offensively, consistently slicing his way through opposing teams and creating dangerous chances for the Marlies.
“[Semyon Der-Arguchintsev] was one of the most improved players of the year. Early in the season, he was getting used to the consistency, the pace of play, and the strength of the league. He started to put in a lot of work in the weight room and practice. The consistency of how hard he pushed himself to elevate physically and building strong habits started to show up in the second half of the year. [He was] way more competitive in game, really strong on pucks.
Obviously when he gets the puck through the middle of the rink he’s pretty special in what he can create and what he can do, how he can think off of his teammates, how he can make his teammates look really good with getting them the puck in really tight areas. It’s unfortunate he had a couple of injuries when he was gaining that momentum, but he put in a lot of good work this year and I’m really excited about the progress he made and where that can lead into next season.” – Greg Moore
SDA had a good overall rookie season in the AHL. He scored 32 points in 51 games, was leaned on as a top-six centre all year long, and actually had solid two-way results despite horrendous on-ice goal results, a victim of a poor on-ice save percentage. Der-Arguchintsev still has a long way to go before he’s even a thought on the Maple Leafs roster, but overall, it was a good season for the 21-year-old with lots of experience to build off of in his sophomore year.

News and notes from the rest of the pool

  • Joe Miller and the Chicago Steel lost in three games against Madison, ending Chicago’s hopes of repeating as champions and Miller’s USHL career. Miller had a quiet postseason with one assist in the three-game series after a breakout campaign in the regular season, where he scored 68 points in 62 games. For context, he scored just 18 points in 40 games the previous season as a DY+1. Miller will join the Harvard Crimson in the fall.
  • @William Villeneuve and the Saint John Sea Dogs have begun their pursuit of a QMJHL championship. Their best of five series against Rimouski is tied 1-1, where Villeneuve has one assist in the two games. Regardless of how their playoffs go, Saint John will feature in the Memorial Cup as hosts.
  • The Newfoundland Growlers survived a first-round scare against Trois-Rivieres in Game 7 to maintain their perfect franchise postseason record. After dropping Game 1 against Reading, the Growlers bounced back in a big way to take Game 2 as the series shifts to Newfoundland for Games 3-5.
  • Not that the highest-scoring team in the ECHL needed any more help, Leafs prospect @Pavel Gogolev was added to the Growlers playoff roster prior to the start of the second round. He has two assists in two games since joining the team in the playoffs. Tyler Boland, loaned from the Winnipeg Jets organization with Manitoba, has been Newfoundland’s best player so far with nine goals and 14 points in nine games.
Finally, I would just like to say thank you to everyone who has read our prospect roundups all season long. Every week since the beginning of October, Nick Richard and I have kept you up to date on everything regarding Toronto’s prospects, from the Marlies to Russian junior hockey and all that is in between. We’ve got more prospect content coming as we approach the entry draft, but that does it for the prospect roundup until the fall!
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