TLN’s 2022-23 Midseason Leafs Prospect Rankings: Prospects 10-6
Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
By Nick Richard10 months ago
With the calendar turning over to 2023 and the World Juniors signaling the unofficial halfway point in the hockey calendar, it’s an excellent time to reassess the Leafs’ prospect pipeline. There have been some standout performances by players throughout the system and underwhelming starts for others, leading to some noteworthy changes from TLN’s most recent prospect ranking in the offseason.
If you’ve missed out on the beginning of the rankings, you can catch up here:
Today, we get into the top 10, which features players who are either on the cusp of the NHL or players who project to be more than just depth pieces. None of these players are likely to develop into NHL stars, but they all have attributes that give them a chance to be more than replacement-level players. For an organization that has struggled to inject young, homegrown talent into their lineup in recent years, this crop of prospects could help to round out the Leafs’ lineup and help them sustain success in the coming years.
While I have consulted TLN colleagues and others who are familiar with the Leafs’ prospect pool, these rankings are purely my own. Following the criteria from past TLN Prospect Rankings, only players who are under the age of 24 and have played fewer than 42 NHL games are considered “prospects.” As a result, players such as Mac Hollowell, Joseph Woll, and Joey Anderson weren’t considered. 2020 first-round pick Rodion Amirov has also been excluded, as the primary focus remains his health and well-being as he continues to undergo treatment for a brain tumor.
10 | Nick Abruzzese | C/W | Toronto (AHL)
5’11” | 183 lbs | Shoots: L | Drafted 2019 round 4, 124th overall
Drafted as an overager out of the USHL, Abruzzese is one of the earliest links in the Leafs’ connection to the Chicago Steel that has been so well established over the last few years. After an underwhelming campaign in his first year of draft eligibility, he went on to lead the entire USHL in scoring with 29 goals and 51 assists in 62 games before being chosen by the Leafs in the fourth round of the 2019 draft.
Abruzzese kept up the torrid pace in his freshman year at Harvard, leading his club with 14 goals and 30 assists in just 31 games. He racked up plenty of accolades in the process, including ECAC Rookie of the Year and a nod to the Ivy League’s First All-Star Team. Unfortunately, he was unable to keep that momentum going and didn’t play a single game in the 2020-21 season, undergoing hip surgery while Harvard’s winter sports programs were on hiatus due to the pandemic.
He would return as one of Harvard’s captains in 2021-22, netting 33 points in 28 games, and represented the United States at the Olympics before signing his entry level contract with the Leafs that spring. Ineligible to play in the AHL last season, Abruzzese got into nine games with the Leafs down the stretch and netted his first career goal.
Now in his first full season of pro hockey, Abruzzese is working to adjust to the pace of the AHL. He hasn’t been quite as productive as players like Alex Steeves or Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, but his pedigree and overall offensive upside were enough to bump him into the top 10. He is probably owed a bit more than the 22 points he has registered in his first 33 games and he has been generating more opportunities for himself and his linemates as the season progresses.
Abruzzese is a highly intelligent player who understands how to attack opposing defenses. He manipulates passing lanes, can complete creative passes through layers of traffic, and he has a sneaky good shot, especially coming down his off-wing. Abruzzese’s greatest deficiencies are his smaller frame and lack of high-end skating ability, making it a little more difficult for him to regain or maintain possession than it was at the collegiate level. Working in his favor is his processing speed, which allows him to quickly identify his options as well as impending threats.
With a deep forward group for the Leafs and a handful of Marlies ahead of him on the depth chart, it seems unlikely that we will see Abruzzese in the NHL this year. Despite his age, the best thing for Abruzzese is to continue developing with the Marlies for the time being, and with the way he thinks the game, there is still a chance that he could grow into a solid top-nine forward if the Leafs are patient with him.
9 | Semyon Der-Arguchintsev | C/W | Toronto (AHL)
5’10” | 173lbs | Shoots: R | Drafted 2018 round 3, 76th overall
The Leafs selected Der-Arguchintsev in the third round of the 2018 draft with the pick they acquired by trading down to select Rasmus Sandin at the end of the first round. His progress certainly hasn’t been linear, but he has continued to develop to the point where the Leafs rewarded him with his first NHL game earlier this season.
Lauded for his playmaking abilities coming out of the draft, SDA struggled in his draft+1 season with Peterborough, finishing the season with just six goals, but he still managed 40 assists – illustrating his extreme pass-first mentality. He would go on to form a deadly duo with fellow Leafs prospect Nick Robertson the following season, tallying 12 goals and 63(!) assists in just 55 games, aiding in Robertson’s explosive 55-goal campaign.
SDA got his first taste of pro hockey in 2020-21 with the Leafs loaning him to Torpedo of the KHL at the height of the pandemic, notching two goals and four assists in 17 games before joining the Marlies to close out the season. Last year was his first full season in the AHL, and much like 19th-ranked prospect Mikhail Abramov, was probably tasked with too much on a depleted Marlies roster. He did manage a respectable 13 goals to go along with 19 assists in 51 games playing mostly top-six minutes, but he wasn’t prepared for the responsibilities away from the puck that came with that role.
This season has marked a notable improvement on the defensive side of the puck for SDA, and he has nearly matched last season’s production in 20 fewer games to this point. It isn’t a stretch to say that Der-Arguchintsev has world-class hands and puck skills, and with added experience, those tools have helped him become a much more disruptive defensive player, routinely lifting pucks off of opposing players. He is incredibly shifty with the puck on his stick and has the ability to beat defenders one-on-one with his puckhandling ability, which creates lanes for him to find open teammates, and he has become more willing to pull the trigger when he gets into scoring areas himself. He displays great creativity, not only with his puck skills and passing but with the routes he takes in transition, making him a difficult player for opposing defenders to lock down.
SDA is one of the most interesting players in the Leafs’ system. He is a true boom-or-bust prospect, and if everything clicks, he could be an impactful offensive forward at the NHL level. But while I don’t typically believe in pigeonholing players, I don’t think he will ever hold down a regular role as a checking forward, even with the improvements in his two-way game.
8 | Ty Voit | W | Sarnia (OHL)
5’9″ | 151 lbs | Shoots: R | Drafted 2021 round 5, 153rd overall
Voit is similar to SDA in a lot of ways with his exceptional vision and passing ability but gets the edge here as my eighth-ranked Leafs prospect. After going his entire draft year without playing a game due to the OHL’s canceled season, he fell to the fifth round of the 2021 draft before the Leafs scooped him up, and he has been piling up points for Sarnia ever since.
He had a great 2021-22 season, with his 26 goals and 54 assists in 67 games putting him more than 20 points clear of Sarnia’s second-leading scorer. As impressive as he was last season, he has taken his game to another level in 2022-23 and has been leading the OHL in scoring for practically the entire first half, already with 11 goals and 49 assists in just 36 games.
As the numbers suggest, Voit is a high-end playmaker who makes those around him better. He has incredible vision, always scanning the ice around him and identifying seams in coverage while moving in and out of possessions to stay a step ahead of the defenders. He can pick apart defenses from the perimeter, but he routinely takes pucks into the middle of the ice, drawing in defenders before finding a teammate in prime scoring position. The puck just seems to find Voit, and he’s shown an incredible knack for quickly turning ordinary plays into dangerous scoring chances. He is undersized but plays with pace and competes hard to force the opposition into turnovers which he can turn into offense in short order, but he will have to bulk up to handle the rigors of pro hockey.
Already under contract with the Leafs and set to turn 20 years old this summer, there is little left for Voit to prove at the junior level. The next test will be making his game translate to the AHL against stronger, more talented, and more experienced competition. There is sure to be an adjustment period, and his size could be more of a hindrance than it has been to this point, but Voit also has some offensive attributes that are difficult to teach.
Voit shares a bit of that boom-or-bust profile with Der-Arguchintsev, but he has been more productive and shown a more diverse offensive profile at the junior level, and despite his size, plays with a bit more tenacity. It could take a while, but Voit has the potential to develop into an offensively-minded top-nine forward in the NHL.
7 | Nick Moldenhauer | C/W | Chicago (USHL)
5’10” | 170 lbs | Shoots: R | Drafted 2022 round 3, 95th overall
The Leafs dipped into the Chicago Steel program once again in the 2022 draft, trading down to select Mississauga native Nick Moldenhauer at the tail end of the third round. Moldenhauer’s draft year was a difficult one, derailed by a mystery illness that forced him to miss the beginning of the season and a horrifying cut to the face from an errant skate in his first game back that led to another extended absence.
Even after battling all that adversity, Moldenhauer managed to put together a solid season and finished the campaign with 18 goals and 25 assists in 41 games. His strong play, coupled with the organization’s familiarity with the player, led the Leafs to target him on day two of last summer’s draft. Newly appointed assistant GM Ryan Hardy had been hired from the Steel and was part of the regime that brought Moldenhauer to Chicago.
With a clean bill of health to start the 2022-23 season, Moldenhauer got off to a scorching hot start and was one of the USHL’s top scorers through the early part of the schedule. He has also been playing center more frequently this season after spending most of his draft year playing on the wing, taking on more responsibility and still improving his offensive output. He was once again forced to miss some time due to injury in late November/early December but hasn’t missed a beat and, at the time of this writing, has recorded at least in point in each game since his return. For the season, he has put up 14 goals and 21 assists in just 25 games.
Moldenhauer has the ability to impact the game in a variety of ways. He is a skilled puck handler who can beat defenders one-on-one, chain dekes into quick passes for open teammates, and drive the middle lane effectively in transition. He executes difficult plays under pressure, finding even the tightest lanes to slip passes through defenders, and he excels at playing through contact. Moldenhauer can bounce off checks, maintaining possession to extend the play, and he works hard for his space in the offensive zone. He also has strong shooting mechanics, and his shot should only become more of a weapon as he adds strength to his frame.
Moldenhauer is committed to the University of Michigan for the 2023-24 season, where he will continue to round out his game for one of the top programs in college hockey. His blend of offensive talent, physical skill, and competitive fire project well to the NHL, and if he continues to develop, he could be a versatile middle-six forward for the Leafs down the road.
6 | Roni Hirvonen | C/W | HIFK (Liiga)
5’9″ | 172 lbs | Shoots: L | Drafted 2020 round 2, 59th overall
The Leafs went into day two of the 2020 draft holding the 44th overall selection but traded down from that spot, acquiring the 59th and 64th overall picks from Ottawa. They promptly selected Hirvonen with the 59th pick, landing a player who was considered a fringe first-rounder by some public scouting outlets.
Hirvonen has been playing professional hockey since his draft year, when he netted five goals and 11 assists while playing a limited role for Ässät. Following another season with Ässät, Hirvonen made the move to HIFK and enjoyed a career year in 2021-22, finishing with nine goals and 17 assists in 46 games. He also captained Finland to a silver medal at last summer’s rebooted World Juniors, tallying three goals and four assists in the process.
HIFK have struggled this season, and Hirvonen’s production has taken a dip, but he has been heating up a bit as of late, and he is still doing a lot of things to drive play for his club. He has been one of his team’s most productive players, sitting second in overall scoring and tied for the team lead in goals while posting strong underlying numbers.
Hirvonen drives play through his elusiveness and quick reads, both in transition and off the cycle. He isn’t an elite skater, but he plays between checks to effectively support play, and his processing speed allows him to execute with impressive pace. He does a lot of his best work down low around the net, showing good anticipation and a willingness to battle in the dirty areas, but he also owns a quality release that can beat goaltenders cleanly. Hirvonen won’t cheat you for effort at either end of the ice, either, adding to his versatility.
The Leafs signed Hirvonen to an entry level contract last spring and with HIFK on the outside looking in at the Liiga playoff picture, we could see him suiting up for the Marlies later this season. He will likely require a couple of years of seasoning, but I’m of the belief that Hirvonen will actually benefit from playing on the smaller ice, and his wealth of pro experience could potentially accelerate his NHL timeline. He and Moldenhauer have similar projections as complementary middle-six wingers at the NHL level, but Hirvonen’s game is more advanced at this stage, giving him the edge.
|16||Nikita Grebyonkin||19||W||Amur Khabarovsk||KHL|
|20||Artur Akhtyamov||21||G||Neftyanik Almetievsk||VHL|
|HM||Dmitry Ovchinnikov||20||W||Sibir Novosibirsk||KHL|
|HM||Veeti Miettinen||21||W||St. Cloud State||NCAA|
|HM||Vyacheslav Peksa||20||G||Bars Kazan||VHL|
(Statistics from EliteProspects.com)
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