Robertson recalled, Peksa proving himself at the next level: Leafs Prospect Roundup
Photo credit:Nick Barden
By Nick Richard1 year ago
I jumped the gun a little bit in last week’s edition of the Prospect Roundup, penciling Nick Robertson into a roster spot with the Leafs after his stellar preseason. The assumption was that John Tavares would have to miss a few games, forcing the Leafs to play a forward short in their opener before using an emergency recall on Robertson. Tavares, however, was cleared to return ahead of the season opener, and Robertson was with the Marlies to begin the season.
Now it appears another injury has cleared the way for Robertson to join the Leafs, with netminder Matt Murray placed on long-term injured reserve. While it is obviously a nightmare start to Murray’s Leafs tenure, there is a silver lining for the club. With Murray on LTIR, the Leafs have the flexibility to carry a 23-man roster, which now includes Robertson after he was recalled along with Wayne Simmonds and Victor Mete on Sunday.
After being relegated to the Marlies due to the Leafs’ cap crunch and the fact that he was exempt from waivers, Robertson appears primed to receive the opportunity he earned with his fantastic showing in the preseason.
Robertson notched a goal and an assist in two games with the Marlies and will look to continue building on his strong start to the campaign when he makes his season debut with the Leafs. It remains to be seen just when that will be – Robertson skated in place of William Nylander alongside Tavares and Denis Malgin while Nylander was given a maintenance day on Sunday, but he may be forced to wait a bit longer if Nylander is ready to go when the Leafs take on the Coyotes on Monday night.
Malgin would be the most likely candidate to come out for Robertson if everyone is healthy. Following a great preseason of his own, he hasn’t been quite the same dynamic force through three games, despite scoring a goal on opening night. It has been a long road for Robertson to this point but don’t be surprised if he takes this opportunity and never looks back.
Ryan Tverberg | C/W | UConn (NCAA)
Tverberg has been one of the biggest risers in the Leafs’ prospect pool over the last year and a bit. He staked his place as a legitimate NHL prospect during his sophomore year in 2021-22, leading UConn with 14 goals and finishing second in overall team scoring with 32 points in 36 games.
The 2020 seventh-rounder brings more to the table than raw offensive production, however, and his high-energy, relentless style of play gives him a higher floor than some similarly ranked prospects in the Leafs’ system. Tverberg has also shown some versatility this season, lining up at center in the Huskies’ first few games before moving back to the wing.
The Huskies matched up against Ohio State this past weekend, skating to a 0-0 tie on Friday night before earning a 6-1 victory on Saturday. Tverberg got on the board in Saturday’s contest, scoring his second goal and fifth point in six games.
A handful of prominent players from last year’s team have since moved on, pushing Tverberg into an even more prominent role for the Huskies, and he has answered the call through the first few weeks of the season. If he is able to maintain his strong play and put up another big season at the college level, the next logical step might just be for him to sign his entry level deal with the Leafs and turn pro next spring.
Vyacheslav Peksa | G | Bars Kazan (VHL)
Peksa had a great season for Kazan’s junior team last year and was one of the top goalies in the MHL. Now 20 years of age, he is getting his first look at the VHL level and is making good on the opportunity through the early part of the season.
He started in back-to-back games for Bars over the weekend, allowing just a single goal in each contest to improve his record on the season to 6-3-1. Through the first 11 games of his VHL career, he currently sits second in the league among qualified goaltenders with a .928 SV%.
Peksa has appeared in 11 of Bars’ 12 games so far and appears to be the clear starter. It has been a continuation of the steady upward trajectory he has been on since being drafted by the Leafs as an overager in the sixth round of the 2021 draft. It is still early in his VHL career, but Peksa has checked all of the boxes so far and is beginning to make a name for himself in the Leafs’ prospect ranks.
Kazan’s KHL team has struggled to begin the season, but it hasn’t been because of their goaltenders, so Peksa might be in tough to break into Russia’s top level this year, barring injury to one of the club’s top two netminders. For now, he will continue to ply his trade and develop his game in Russia’s second-tier pro league, and the Leafs have to be pleased with how he has acquitted himself early on.
Alex Steeves | W | Toronto (AHL)
Steeves had a great first year of pro hockey with the Marlies in 2021-22, scoring 23 goals and 23 assists in 58 games. He even earned a brief three game audition with the Leafs, notching an assist in limited action.
He seemed to carry that momentum into his second season and was among the depth forward options who stood out for the Leafs through the preseason. Already possessing a quality release and heavy one-timer to go along with his high compete level, Steeves appears to have added a step and looked noticeably quicker during the exhibition schedule.
Steeves was unable to crack a deep forward group on a team with salary cap limitations, but he certainly put himself in the conversation as a potential call-up option with his play in the preseason, and he hasn’t missed a beat to begin the AHL season. He scored the Marlies’ first goal of the season and added an assist on Friday night in a 4-2 loss, and found the back of the net once again in Saturday’s 3-1 win over Rochester.
It will likely require a couple of injuries for Steeves to get another look at the NHL level this season, but the undrafted free agent signing looks plenty capable of filling a bottom-six role for the Leafs should the need arise. The Leafs have struggled to inject young contributors to their NHL lineup in recent years, but with the likes of Robertson, Steeves, Abruzzese, and Holmberg showing well early on, that next wave of potential NHLers is finally knocking on the door.
Notes from the rest of the prospect pool
- The Leafs had their home opener on Thursday, and fans got a bit of a pleasant surprise when 2020 first-round pick Rodion Amirov was on the bench to be introduced along with the rest of the Leafs’ roster. Amirov recently traveled to Toronto following his fourth round of chemotherapy to treat a brain tumor he was diagnosed with last February and has been familiarizing himself with the organization. The timetable for his return to game action is still uncertain, and there has been no indication whether that will take place in North America or back home in Russia, but this was a positive step and a great moment for a young man who has been through a lot.
- Matt Knies and the Minnesota Golden Gophers had the weekend off, but they will be back in action against another highly-ranked program in North Dakota next weekend.
- Ty Voit continued to find the scoresheet this past week, registering four assists in three games. He is now up to five goals and eight assists through just seven games, good for a share of first place in OHL scoring, and he is doing it in highlight-reel fashion.
- Nicholas Moldenhauer also continued his remarkable start to the season, notching a goal in each of his last two games. The Leafs’ 2022 third-rounder now has an eye-popping nine goals and three assists in only eight games for the Chicago Steel.
- Topi Niemelä has struggled offensively to begin the Liiga season, and his assist in Friday’s win over KooKoo was just his third point on the campaign. He was held scoreless the next time out and is a long way off from how he started what was a breakout season for him in 2021-22. In his first 12 games last season, he already had two goals and 10 assists, compared to a goal and two assists in his first 12 games this season.
- Semyon Der-Arguchintsev picked up a pair of assists for his first points of the season in Saturday’s win over Rochester but perhaps more notable than the assists was the fact that he fired seven shots on goal. To say SDA has earned a reputation as a hesitant shooter would be an understatement, but he has shown improvement in that area dating back to the midway point of last season. He is as skilled with the puck as just about anyone but continuing to diversify his game will give him the best chance of breaking into the NHL someday.
- Brandon Lisowsky scored his first two goals of the season in Sunday’s 4-2 win over the Calgary Hitmen. The Leafs’ seventh-round pick from the 2022 draft scored 33 times last season, but it took him eight games to get into the goal column in 2022-23. He does have five assists and has been generating chances so the goals should start falling for him with more regularity.
- The Leafs’ fifth-rounder from the 2022 draft, Nikita Grebyonkin, began the season in the KHL but saw little action as Magnitogorsk’s 13th forward. Having already dominated at the junior level but unable to earn a regular role with his KHL club, Grebyonkin was loaned to Yuzhny Ural Orsk in the VHL in order to get him more consistent minutes. Through four games, he tallied a goal and two assists while playing top-six minutes and has since been loaned to another KHL team, Amur Khabarovsk. Amur isn’t nearly as stacked up front as Magnitogorsk is, so it appears Grebyonkin will be in line to receive regular playing time with his new team.
- The Leafs traded up into the fourth round of the 2022 draft to select Swedish netminder Dennis Hildeby and promptly signed him to an entry level contract before loaning him back to Färjestad in the SHL for the 2022-23 season. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been the start to the season that the Leafs or Hildeby had envisioned, and he has gotten into just two of Färjestad’s 10 SHL games, sporting an ugly 3.88 GAA and .843 SV%. He has gotten into four games in the Champions League, however, and has fared much better with a .910 SV%, albeit against some inferior competition.
(Statistics from EliteProspects.com)
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