Leafs Prospect Roundup: World Juniors begin this week, Ty Voit signs, two streaks snapped
Photo credit:Nick Barden
By Kyle Cushman11 months ago
It was a slow week of games for Toronto Maple Leafs prospects as teams reach their holiday break, but there was plenty of news to go around.
Before we dive into the roundup, be sure to check out my full Leafs prospect rankings from last Thursday. I ranked every prospect in the organization, from #1 through to #34, giving an update and thoughts on each prospect. With the prospect rankings in your second tab for future reading, let’s dive into this week’s roundup.
World Juniors (Roni Hirvonen, Topi Niemelä, Matthew Knies)
We’re days away from the 2022 World Junior Hockey Championships getting underway and three Toronto Maple Leafs prospects will feature for two strong teams.
Leafs fans, prepare to become Team Finland fans over the next two weeks. Roni Hirvonen and Topi Niemelä return to the team looking to lead their country to a medal. Hirvonen, a hero in last year’s tournament when he scored the game-winning goal against Sweden to knock out their arch-rivals, was named captain over the weekend. Niemelä will serve as an assistant, the tournament’s reigning top defenceman award winner.
While we know that Niemelä will star on Finland’s top pairing, it remains to be seen where Hirvonen will slot in. Hirvonen has almost exclusively played on the left wing with HIFK this season but Finland’s lack of centre depth may force him to move back to the middle of the ice. He will almost certainly pair with Kasper Simontaival (LAK) on the right wing, his linemate from last year’s tournament (@Anton Lundell played in the middle of the two).
Aatu Räty (NYI) being ineligible due to a COVID outbreak is a massive blow to Finland’s already weak centre depth, so I imagine we see Hirvonen slide back to the middle, where he was playing last year with Ässät. Simontaival will almost certainly be on his right wing, with Roby Järventie (OTT) potentially filling in that 1LW position.
Over with Team USA, Matthew Knies has been bouncing between lines in practices, via Jon Morosi. Early in camp, he was on a line with Logan Cooley (2022) and Mackie Samoskevich in a potential secondary scoring line. More recently, though, Knies has practised with Dominic James and Carter Mazur (DET) in more of a bottom-six, hard to play against type role.
It appears as though 1LW duty will go to Brett Berard (NYR) to begin the tournament, but don’t be surprised to see Matthew Knies factor in a big way for Team USA over the next two weeks.
Ty Voit | C | Sarnia Sting (OHL)
It was a special Sunday for @Ty Voit, the Leafs 2021 5th round selection, as he signed his entry-level contract.
Voit has been fantastic for the Sarnia Sting this season, transitioning to centre and posting 29 points in 24 games to start the year. A diminutive player, listed at a generous 5-foot-10 and 161 pounds, Voit’s vision and playmaking have been on regular display in Sarnia as he has been the offensive catalyst scouts hoped he would be in returning to action this year.
As an OHLer Voit did not play in 2020/21, so scouts only had his Draft -1 season to go off of in evaluating him as a prospect. This year, Voit has already surpassed his Draft -1 production (28 points) in 27 fewer games.
According to PuckPedia, Voit’s ELC is worth $835k per season, a total that will drop over the next two years as the contract will slide due to him remaining in the CHL. The signing of Voit means all three Leafs prospects playing in the CHL this year are now under contract, as Voit joins @Braeden Kressler and @William Villeneuve on the Leafs payroll.
Dmitry Ovchinnikov | C | Sibirskie Snaipery (MHL)
A frustrating season took an unfortunate turn for Dmitry Ovchinnikov on Friday. Sent back down after Sibir continued to not play him at the KHL level, Ovchinnikov returned to Sibirskie Snaipery on what could be looked at as the equivalent of a conditioning stint on Thursday.
In the first of back-to-back games, Ovchinnikov played over 20 minutes and scored a goal, but it’s the second game on Friday where things take a turn. Midway through the first period, Ovchinnikov was looking to receive a pass entering the offensive zone when he was hit with a blindside check to the head.
He did not return to the game and it remains to be seen if he will miss any time. He was not recalled for Sibir’s KHL games over the weekend, while Sibirskie’s next game following their Friday matchup is not until Tuesday. Fingers crossed for Ovchinnikov, while I love watching him play hockey, it’s his health that is the most important thing here.
Streaks snapped (Joe Miller, Mikko Kokkonen)
One point streak ends, one pointless streak ends for two Leafs prospects this past week.
Joe Miller’s amazing 13 game point streak in the USHL came to an end on Saturday in the Chicago Steel’s 3-2 victory against Cedar Rapids. Over this stretch, Miller has been lights out and vaulted himself into the top five in league scoring. He’s scored 26 points over these 13 games, the breakout play we’ve been waiting to see from the Harvard commit since being elevated up the lineup this year.
It sure helps to be on a line with top 2023 prospect Adam Fantilli, but Miller’s been accomplishing exactly what you hoped he would in electing to return to the USHL in 2021/22 rather than begin his NCAA career.
On the other end of the spectrum, Mikko Kokkonen finally snapped his 18-game pointless streak on Thursday. He picked up two assists in Pelicans’ 4-3 loss to KalPa, bringing his totals to eight points in 28 games on the season.
After a hot start in which Kokkonen began to climb back up my prospect rankings, his lack of offence over the last two months saw him plummet back down. Kokkonen has a strong track record of being a good defensive defenceman, but the lack of offence to his game limits his NHL potential. Over this stretch, his Corsi-for results began to slip as well, ultimately leading to the decision to drop him seven places on my rankings.
He has the weight of the pointless streak off his shoulders, now it’s time to turn that into consistent play as the season goes along.
Strong week for Russian goaltenders (Artur Akhtyamov, Vyacheslav Peksa)
It’s been a disappointing season if you look at overall numbers for Artur Akhtyamov. The Leafs 2020 4th round pick had a fantastic Draft +1 season, bouncing between the KHL, VHL, and MHL, and has been a starting goaltender at the VHL level all season.
After struggling for much of the season, Akhtyamov has found his game again as of late. Over the past week, he picked up two wins against Zvezda and Yugra, stopping 57 of 59 shots. His season-long numbers have recovered to a .909 save percentage in 28 appearances in large part due to his stretch of good, consistent results. In eight of Akhtyamov’s last nine games, he has posted a save percentage above .900. This is the consistency the Kazan organization will need to see from him before promoting him to the KHL level.
Back in the MHL, Vyacheslav Peksa’s incredible season continued for Irbis Kazan in two wins over Dmitry Ovchinnikov’s Sibirskie. He stopped 47 of 50 shots over the two games, rebounding from a three-goal against performance on Thursday to record his fifth shutout of the season on Friday. Peksa remains with a .935 SV% in 35 games for Irbis and if not for the organizational depth in net for Kazan, he would be playing VHL games.
That’s going to wrap things up for the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect roundup for this week, and the final one before the World Juniors commence on Sunday. Have a safe and merry Christmas if you celebrate and we’ll be back next Monday.
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