Photo credit:Christian Bonin/TSGphoto.com
Noel Hoefenmayer could be the next ECHL to NHL player in the Maple Leafs’ system
By Nick Barden11 months ago
Noel Hoefenmayer is an AHL All-Star, a point-producer, and a physical specimen who’s next stop could be the on the Maple Leafs.
Ever since the 24-year-old landed in Toronto, there was a chance he could earn himself an NHL contract.
Hoefenmayer began his tenure with the Marlies back in February of 2021, immediately standing out to me. Though at the time, his point totals didn’t show his true potential.
After spending the season in Toronto, and then Wichita later on, it was clear that another step was needed. The 24-year-old jumped to the higher platform the next year, being one of the Newfoundland Growlers’ top defencemen over the course of the 2021-22 season.
His 40 points in 46 games was the starting point of a player who was finding confidence in his first full professional season.
Then we enter this year, one where Hoefenmayer wouldn’t let his chances get away from him. Immediately — in a season as important as ever — the 24-year-old stepped into the Marlies lineup, starting on the third pair with Maple Leafs prospect William Villeneuve.
Ever so slowly, Hoefenmayer found his way up the lineup. Injuries and call ups had a bit to do with it, but so did the fact that he was taking full advantage of the opportunity when it was given to him.
“I think there’s a lot to learn throughout a full season,” Hoefenmayer said in early February of what he’s learned in the AHL.
“I played in junior so there was a similar long season, but the grind is different in this league, so it’s good to learn, just even simple things like taking care of your body, preparing yourself every day for a new challenge.”
The biggest tool that Hoefenmayer has is his slap shot. I can remember watching him with the Marlies during the pandemic-shortened season and his shot was effective then.
Now, though, after a number of years of adding strength and learning new techniques, his shot — plus a lot more of his game — has improved drastically.
At this moment in time, the 24-year-old has put up 34 points (11 goals, 23 assists) in 53 games with the Marlies this season. You might think he’s all offense, though he is tough to play against in other areas of the ice, too.
Hoefenmayer, over the course of this season, has improved his defensive game drastically. Whether it’s cutting off lanes, clearing the front of the net, or using his stick to take the puck from an opponent, there’s been a lot of development from him in the AHL.
“He brings it every night.” Villeneuve said of Hoefenmayer earlier this season. “I think his defensive play and his physical game is very underrated. I think he’s really hard to play against.”
The biggest surprise from the 24-year-old is his willingness to stand up for anything on the ice. He’s on the smaller side, standing at six-feet tall and weighing 192 pounds. But he’s not afraid to throw big hits or drop the gloves, if needed.
Along with all of that, Hoefenmayer is a great puck mover. That’s one of the best aspects of his game to date. And it’s something that he could use very well if he ever got an opportunity at the NHL level.
There is work needed in a couple areas, such as being more defensively responsible and knowing when to jump into the rush without getting caught. But each of those things will come with more experience, and he’s getting that when playing top-four minutes with the Marlies.
When you look back to last season, the Maple Leafs signed two players in Curtis Douglas and Bobby McMann to a “Future two-year contract.” With 13 players in the Maple Leafs organization headed to unrestricted free agency this summer, a contract slot could likely open up for Hoefenmayer.
If that in fact becomes a reality, the 24-year-old could add some offense to a blue line that just lost the likes of Rasmus Sandin in a trade.
I won’t say that he’ll be the next Sandin, because that’s unlikely, but there is a chance, that if Hoefenmayer finds confidence in the NHL, he could put up decent numbers.
Add his physicality, toughness, and the fact that he can quarterback a power play unit to the mix, and you’ve got a pretty good defenceman on your hands.
I also wouldn’t put past Toronto to continue to look at Marshall Rifai and Timmy Miller as future signings as well. They’ve been very solid, and very important players for the Marlies and Greg Moore this season.
We’re nearing the point in the season where the Maple Leafs could begin to lock up a few potential players. And they wouldn’t be making a mistake signing any of the three that I’ve mentioned.
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