Robertson rewarded, Moldenhauer & Voit stay hot: Leafs Prospect Roundup
Photo credit:Nick Barden
By Nick Richard1 year ago
Last week’s leading story was Nick Robertson and his pursuit of a spot on the opening night roster. He got off on the right foot with three goals and an assist through his first three exhibition contests and only cemented his case further by tallying four more assists in his final two games of the preseason this past week to finish in a tie for second in NHL preseason scoring.
Robertson was held out of the Leafs’ final preseason game on Saturday as the club opted for one last look at some of the other depth options, signaling that a decision had already been made on the 21-year-old sniper. That decision was seemingly confirmed on Sunday when the Leafs placed veteran forwards Wayne Simmonds, Kyle Clifford, and Adam Gaudette on waivers.
There are still some salary cap hurdles to climb in order to make Robertson’s $796k cap hit fit, and he will likely be assigned to the Marlies in a paper transaction ahead of the roster deadline and then later recalled on an emergency basis with John Tavares still expected to miss some time.
Making the opening night roster is a nice feather in Robertson’s cap and a deserving reward for his strong play thus far, but he will have to be equally as impressive when the real games get going in order to hold onto his spot. Working against him is the fact that he can be assigned to the AHL without having to pass through waivers, unlike his most direct competition for a roster spot in Denis Malgin, who just so happened to earn a spot for opening night with a stellar preseason of his own.
Spending ample time together on a line with William Nylander during the exhibition schedule, both players appear to have established solid chemistry with the star forward – as well as with each other. It is an interesting dynamic and one that we could see continue into the beginning of the regular season.
Barring injuries to the forward group or a slow start for Malgin, Robertson could be in tough to maintain his place on the roster once Tavares is healthy. If, however, he is able to carry his strong play into the regular season and continue to build a rapport with Nylander, Robertson could force the Leafs to ensure there is a spot for him in the NHL lineup.
Nicholas Moldenhauer | C/W | Chicago (USHL)
Moldenhauer was a focus of last week’s Prospect Roundup, and he continued his fantastic start with another big week. Chicago played just two games, with the Leafs’ 2022 third-round pick picking up a goal in their 6-4 loss to Dubuque before leading the Steel to a 6-4 victory over Madison, netting a hat trick in the process.
Through six games, Moldenhauer currently leads the USHL with seven goals and nine points. He is averaging just under four shots attempts per game, so he has certainly had some good shooting luck, but he is also doing other things to help create chances and drive play for his team. He is a relentless competitor and has helped to create more than his fair share of takeaways, and he has the offensive skillset to make the opposition pay more often than not.
In last week’s edition of the Prospect Roundup, I noted that Moldenhauer had been playing center after spending most of his draft year on the wing. He was moved back to the wing for the game against Madison, skating alongside top prospect for the 2022 NHL Draft, Jayden Perron, and 16-year-old phenom Macklin Celebrini. The switch paid off as the chemistry between the three was evident, with Moldenhauer’s three goals leading the way.
Coming into the season healthy, Moldenhauer was primed for a big year, and he has more than delivered early on. He won’t score at this rate all season, but he is still well on his way to outplaying his draft slot.
Ty Voit | W | Sarnia (OHL)
The Leafs’ fifth-rounder from the 2021 draft has also continued his hot start to the season. After tallying two goals to go along with two assists in Sarnia’s first two games of the season, Voit doubled down in the Sting’s two games this past week.
Voit notched a goal and an assist in a 7-4 loss to Saginaw and followed that up with a two goal, two assist night in a 6-2 win over the Soo Greyhounds. With five goals and five assists through his first four games, he has a share of second place in the OHL scoring race to begin the season.
Voit torched the OHL last season, and with another year of experience under his belt, he looks even more dominant. Already an elite playmaker with outstanding vision, he has proven equally as dangerous as a goal scorer early on this season.
It will be interesting to see if Voit can maintain this level of play and perhaps draw the attention of Team USA brass heading into the World Juniors in December. For now, he is doing everything he can to put himself on the radar.
Dmitry Ovchinnikov | W | Sibir Novosibirsk (KHL)
A dominant force in the Russian junior league over the past couple of seasons, Ovchinnikov struggled to break into the KHL and earn the trust of his coaches. With Sibir being one of the few KHL clubs without a VHL affiliate, there was no middle ground for Ovchinnikov, and he was caught in purgatory.
Though he suited up for 17 KHL games for Sibir last season, he averaged just around five minutes of ice time per game and saw less than two minutes of playing time in five of those games. Seeing the negative impact this lack of playing time could potentially have on Ovchinnikov’s development, the Leafs made a move to help facilitate having his KHL contract terminated so that he could sign his entry level deal with Toronto.
Ovchinnikov joined the Marlies late in the season and scored a pair of goals in his first seven games in North America. It came as a bit of a surprise when it was announced during the offseason that the Leafs had loaned Ovchinnikov back to Sibir in the KHL, but it turns out that was part of the agreement when his contract was initially terminated.
He still isn’t playing huge minutes, but his role has increased in his return to Russia, averaging just under 10 minutes of ice time per game, and he netted his first goal of the season on Saturday.
His overall production has been underwhelming, with just a goal and an assist over 17 games, but it is important to remember that he just turned 20 years of age a couple of months ago, and he is playing a depth role in what is largely considered to be the second best league in the world.
Ovchinnikov’s raw talent is undeniable – he is a beautiful skater who sees the ice well, he can make skilled passes to set up teammates, and he has great hands to go with a quality release. The hope is that those skills will begin to shine through on a more consistent basis as he gains experience and perhaps a greater offensive role in the KHL.
Notes from the rest of the prospect pool
- After a slow start offensively, Topi Niemelä’s strong play was finally rewarded when he scored his first goal of the season as Kärpät defeated Ässät 5-3 on Wednesday. He has received favorable deployment early in the season and has maintained solid underlying numbers but his two points through nine games are a far cry from his production to begin the 2021-22 campaign.
- Matt Knies started the season strong, putting up three points in two games against upstart Lindenwood, but he was held off the scoresheet in the Gophers’ weekend set against Minnesota State. He did have his chances, firing seven shots on goal over the two games, and just missed burying a shorthanded breakaway chance in Friday’s 4-1 win. Knies will look to get back in the scoring column when Minnesota takes on third-ranked North Dakota next weekend.
- Ryan Tverberg maintained his point-per-game pace to start the year, notching an assist in each of UConn’s two victories over Union College. He also moved back to the wing after playing in the middle to start the year and is currently averaging just under 19 minutes of ice time through four games.
- Roni Hirvonen also added a pair of points through two games for HIFK this past week. He scored his second goal of the season and now has six points through ten games while seeing around 15 minutes of ice time per game.
- Goaltending prospect Vyacheslav Peksa had an up-and-down week. He began the week stopping 30 of 31 shots in a 2-1 victory over Rostov but was pulled his next time out after surrendering four goals on 15 shots against Buran. Despite the rough outing, Peksa has a 2.45 GAA and .921 SV% through his first eight appearances in the VHL.
- Drafted in the seventh round back in 2019, Kalle Loponen is something of a forgotten man in the Leafs’ prospect pool, but he had a strong week for KooKoo in Liiga. Seeing increased ice time, he has registered an assist in each of his last two games after being held pointless in his first five games. He also finished with a +3 rating and more than doubled his shots on goal total from the previous five contests.
(Statistics from EliteProspects.com, Liiga.fi, & vhlru.ru)
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