Leafs Prospect Roundup: Robertson nearing return, Peksa putting up numbers, Leafs in on OHL netminder
Photo credit:Nick Barden
By Nick Richard1 year ago
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It was a bit of a quieter week in the world of Leafs prospects but with it came some positive news. You can quibble over who the organization’s top prospect is but there is little debate that among that group of young players, Nick Robertson is the closest to being a viable option for the Leafs, and his pending return could potentially influence their plans down the stretch.
Perhaps we shouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves but hey, this is the Prospect Roundup after all.
Nick Robertson | W | Toronto Marlies (AHL)
It has been a difficult couple of years for Robertson since making his NHL debut against Columbus in the playoff bubble during the summer of 2020. He was hurt just minutes into his first appearance with the Leafs last fall and dealt with nagging injuries throughout the rest of the season as he tried to settle into his first full professional campaign in less than ideal circumstances.
He managed to finish the season strong and carried that momentum into development camp, as well as the Leafs’ main camp this past fall. It looked like it was going to be a big year for Robertson in his quest to become an impact player for the Leafs, but then disaster struck in just the Marlies’ second game of the season. While battling for a puck down low in the offensive zone, he was taken down awkwardly and suffered a broken fibula on the play.
It was encouraging when Robertson began skating again last week and it appears he could finally be nearing a return to game action after participating in a full-contact practice with the Marlies on Sunday. It was his first full practice since he was injured all the way back on October 17th. Marlies head coach Greg Moore said the team is hopeful that Robertson will be ready to return to the lineup for Wednesday’s matchup with Grand Rapids, but it could take longer than that for him to get back up to full speed. We’ve seen in the past how difficult it can be for players returning from long-term injuries and Robertson will be playing catchup with his teammates, as well as the rest of the league.
Missing so much time has certainly thrown a wrench into Robertson’s development but the season is far from lost. You can bet that when he does return to game action, it will be in a top-six role with plenty of powerplay time and if he is able to regain his form in short order, there is still a chance that Robertson could factor into the Leafs’ plans later this season. For now, seeing Robertson back on the ice at all is a welcomed sight.
‘I just missed the game’ Nick Robertson on what he’s learned as he returns to full contact with Marlies
Matthew Knies | W | University of Minnesota (NCAA)
Another weekend, another pair of points for Matthew Knies. The Arizona native picked up an assist in each game as the Gophers defeated Notre Dame 5-1 on Friday night before falling 3-2 in overtime on Saturday, landing on the highlight reel with this slick feed to Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Sammy Walker:
Knies has been on an absolute heater for Minnesota in recent weeks, picking up nine points in his last eight games while being held off the scoresheet just twice in his last 14 games. Not only has he been productive, but he has consistently been an impact player for the Gophers in his freshman season.
His ability to sustain offensive possessions with strong board play and puck protection skills has helped make his line a threat almost every time they step on the ice. Knies excels at taking pucks off the wall and getting into middle ice to create scoring opportunities – a trait that should help him sustain this level of production as he progresses up the ranks, and could be even more pronounced as he gets away from some of the wider rinks that NCAA teams play on.
Theoretically, Knies’ skillset as a powerful but slick puck handler would lend itself more to the smaller ice surface where he can impose his will on opposing defenders and play through traffic to create offense. With the way he has performed in his first year of college hockey, the Leafs have to be looking forward to seeing their 2021 second-round pick on an AHL or NHL-sized sheet sooner rather than later.
Vyacheslav Peksa | G | Irbis Kazan (MHL)
Drafted in the sixth round of the 2021 draft, Peksa is quietly putting up one of the more impressive seasons in the Leafs’ prospect pool. He has been one of the top goaltenders in the Russian junior league all season long and improved upon his stellar numbers with a huge week for Irbis Kazan, including back-to-back shutouts against Reaktor and Sputnik. His one loss on the week came in a 3-2 overtime defeat in which he stopped 41 of the 44 shots he faced.
Over his last five games, Peksa is sporting a .962 save percentage, and if you expand that sample to his last 10 games, he has put up a .939 save percentage. For the season, he currently sits sixth in the MHL in save percentage with a mark of .936 but some context is important. Peksa has played 47 games so far this season while no one ahead of him on the list has played in more than 29, and three of them have played less than 15 games. Simply put, Peksa has been the best number one goaltender in the MHL this season.
MHL success doesn’t necessarily guarantee that Peksa will find success at the next level and continue on a linear upward trajectory, but it is better than the alternative. Kazan has a crowded goaltending depth chart, including fellow Leafs prospect Artur Akhtyamov who has been playing in the VHL, and it will be interesting to see what kind of opportunities await Peksa next season. He has certainly done just about everything the Leafs could have hoped for at the junior level this season.
Notes from the rest of the prospect pool
- Speaking of Artur Akhtyamov, he has started to find his game after a rough start to his first full VHL season. Over his last two games, he has stopped 82 of the 85 shots directed his way, increasing his save percentage for the season to .915 through 34 games. Akhtyamov managed a .927 save percentage over 14 VHL games last season as well and if he can finish the season strong, he could be pushing for a job on the KHL squad next season.
- Sticking with goaltenders but straying just a bit from actual Leafs prospects, Jeff Marek reported on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night that Toronto is one of a handful of teams trying to sign netminder Mack Guzda to an entry level contract. Guzda is an undrafted, overaged goaltender who turned 21 a couple of weeks ago. The Barrie Colts acquired him from Owen Sound in November and he has been lights out ever since. His .931 save percentage over 14 games with the Colts and his .915 save percentage over 10 games with Owen Sound currently stand as the first and fourth-best marks, respectively, in the OHL.
- Dmitri Ovchinnikov kept up his torrid pace this week. He racked up six points in three games, including a four assist performance last Monday. Ovchinnikov now has 10 points in his last five games and 28 points through 18 MHL games this season. It is an unfortunate situation for the young forward as Sibir is one of the few KHL teams without a VHL affiliate so there is no middle ground for Ovchinnikov between the KHL and MHL. Sooner or later, however, Sibir’s coaching staff won’t be able to deny him a regular place in their KHL lineup any longer.
- @Ty Voit continued his ascension up the Leafs’ prospect ranks as well, staying hot with two goals and an assist in a pair of games this week. The 2021 fifth-rounder now has 45 points in just 32 games to lead Sarnia in scoring, with all but three of those points being goals or primary assists. Voit won’t turn 19 until June so there is still plenty of time for him to continue his progression before stepping into the pro ranks but it’s easy to see why the Leafs wasted little time getting him signed.
- Veeti Miettinen notched his eighth goal of the season and his fifth in five games on Saturday. After scoring just once in his first 12 games this season, he has picked it up as of late and is on track to surpass his goal total from his freshman season.
- There haven’t been many misses among Kyle Dubas’ recent draft picks and while it is still too early to close the book on him entirely, 2020 seventh-round pick Wyatt Schingoethe has been a disappointment – even for a late-round selection. After being drafted, he returned to the USHL for a third season and actually saw his production decline. Schingoethe managed just 21 points in 44 games after putting up 38 points in 47 games during his draft year and things haven’t gotten much better for him this season as a freshman in the NCAA. It’s worth noting that Western Michigan is one of the best teams in college hockey but Schingoethe has gotten into just 12 of their 21 games, going pointless while averaging just over five minutes of ice time per game. With him going the college route, the Leafs will be afforded plenty of time to make a decision on Schingoethe but this is looking like a rare miss for this management group.
(Statistics from EliteProspects.com)
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