TLN’s 2023 Offseason Leafs Prospect Rankings: #15 Artur Akhtyamov
Photo credit:(Photo by Steven Ellis/Daily Faceoff)
By Filipe Dimas1 month ago
We have updated the criteria from previous editions of TLN’s prospect rankings regarding who is considered a “prospect” for the purpose of this exercise. Rather than hard and fast limits on age or NHL games played, our group decided on a more nuanced approach to include any reasonably young player who is either under contract with the Leafs or on the club’s reserve list, who has not yet established himself as a full-time NHLer. This includes players such as Matthew Knies and Joseph Woll, who made strong impressions in limited NHL action last season and are expected to make the 2023-24 opening day roster but does not include late-bloomer Bobby McMann, who will also be vying for an NHL roster spot heading into his age-27 season.
TheLeafsNation would also like to acknowledge and honor the memory of 2020 first-round pick Rodion Amirov who tragically passed away after a courageous and inspiring battle against cancer. We offer our sincerest condolences to Rodion’s teammates, friends, and family in this difficult time.
Thanks to a recent prioritization of drafting netminders, the Toronto Maple Leafs have found themselves benefitting from some surprising depth at the position within the system. With the emergence of Joseph Woll last season, and 2022 draft pick Dennis Hildeby joining the Toronto Marlies to start this upcoming campaign, the future of goaltending in Toronto looks bright. With all that said, one goaltender in particular may be Toronto’s best kept secret.
Artur Akhtyamov is a Russian netminder that was selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the fourth round of the 2020 NHL draft. Since then, he’s continued to play overseas where he’s put up some outstanding numbers at all levels of play. After being drafted, Akhtyamov excelled while bouncing between the MHL and VHL levels (Russia’s junior and minor leagues), earning himself a spot on Russia’s bronze medal winning World Juniors team. Though he was only a backup to Nashville’s Yaroslav Askarov, Akhtyamov looked excellent when called upon, stopping 17 of 18 shots in a win against Austria during his lone start of the tournament. His performance at the tournament and VHL, even earned the netminder a brief callup to the KHL that season at only 19 years old.
After becoming a full-time VHL starter in 2021/22, Akhtyamov needed only a single season to once again dominate among his peers, with his save percentage jumping from .912 in 2021/2022 to a league leading .943 last season, improving even further to .952 over six playoff games.
At only 21 years old, Akhtyamov is expected to graduate to the KHL this season, and has looked sharp thus far in preseason with his club Ak Bars Kazan. Two other goaltenders are competing with Akhtyamov for the team’s starting role, but last Friday he showed why the starter’s net should be his by stopping 41 of 43 shots during his first preseason start.
As someone who has consistently ranked Akhtyamov within my top 10 Leafs prospects since he was drafted, I believe there are a few significant reasons why the 6’1″ goaltender has mostly flown under the radar when it comes to discussing Toronto’s farm system. The aforementioned depth at the goaltending position within the system has left Akhtyamov far down the depth chart, especially when compared to netminders who local fans see daily playing for the Marlies. The political turmoil in Russia accounts for some of his anonymity as well, as there’s less media surrounding players within the Russian system, especially when considering the nation’s ban from the World Juniors tournament.
However, the main reason why I believe Akhtyamov has received little to no hype from the fanbase and local media, is that he’s simply an extremely boring goaltender. Luckily for Maple Leafs fans, being boring is one of the greatest compliments a goaltender can receive.
Like defencemen, goalies are often at their best when you don’t notice them. While highlight reels love the diving save, those don’t usually happen unless the netminder is far out of position, and it’s extremely rare for Akhtyamov to be out of position. His positioning and hockey IQ are absolutely phenomenal, to the point that often while watching him, I’m left wondering if his opponents are actively trying to shoot the puck into his glove.
Akhtyamov excels at reading the play as it’s coming towards him and being proactive in his movements, easing himself into high-danger shooting lanes and getting squared up to make a save, seemingly before the puck carrier has even decided they’re going to shoot the puck. The result is often an amusing sequence where a playmaker dances around the defense and threads a pass towards his teammate, only for that teammate to bounce the puck off a waiting Akhtyamov’s pad, who had already read the pass and got himself in position to make the seemingly routine save.
When necessary, Akhtyamov also has enough athleticism to bail himself out of bad situations, or save a puck that seemed destined for the back of the net after a few wild bounces left an opponent with a premium scoring chance. However, it’s the superb positioning and play-reading vision that make Akhytamov the kind of player that is thrilling for Leafs fans and an absolute bore for anyone else to watch.
With league-leading numbers and a pass of the eye test, there’s good reason to believe that the Toronto Maple Leafs have found a diamond in the rough in Artur Akhtyamov. While many players who sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs, even as prospects, find themselves overhyped and overrated from day one, Akhtyamov has found a way to fly under the radar since first being drafted three years ago.
Though he’ll be playing another year in Russia, don’t be surprised if he gets called over to play a few games for the Marlies once the KHL season ends. While Joseph Woll seems to be the goalie of the future for Toronto, the 21-year-old Artur Akhtyamov has been steadily showcasing why he deserves consideration for a future spent between the Maple Leafs’ pipes as well.
(Statistics from EliteProspects.com)
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