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TLN’s 2023 Offseason Leafs Prospect Rankings: #18 Vyacheslav Peksa

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Photo credit:(Photo by Steven Ellis/Daily Faceoff)
Steven Ellis
8 months 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.
Projecting goaltenders can be an absolute wild card.
It’s easily the hardest position to scout and one that teams get very, very wrong quite often. But it’s always good to have a handful of notable options in the system. The Toronto Maple Leafs learned that last year, with injuries to Ilya Samsonov and Matt Murray causing problems at points.
Luckily, Joseph Woll is ready to take the next step forward and become an impact player for the Leafs after a year of spot duty. Matt Murray is on long-term injured reserve to start the season and could very well never skate with the team ever again.
The Leafs have a solid goaltending pipeline to work with. There’s Woll, Keith Petruzzelli, Dennis Hildeby, and Artur Akhtyamov. And near the bottom of the totem pole, there’s 20-year-old Vyacheslav Peksa – an intriguing long-term project option.
Drafted 106th overall in 2020, Peksa is the youngest goaltender in the system, turning 21 later this month. Prior to being drafted, he was a star in the top Russian junior league. He stepped into some KHL duty over the next two years but mostly spent time playing in the second-tier Russian pro system.
For those unaware, the Vysshaya Hokkeinaya Liga – or the VHL, as it’s better known – is one step below the KHL. The quality can be varied, to say the least, with defensive play being more of a suggestion than a rule.
But it’s still difficult for a young goalie prospect to get adequate playing time, so Peksa getting into 40 games – and thriving – with Bars Kazan is solid. Peksa recorded a 13-19-6 record with two shutouts and a .921 save percentage in his first season in the league. The team missed the playoffs by nearly 20 points, but Peksa wasn’t the reason. The team’s two other goalies, Vladimir Mosin and Ilya Golubev, combined for a 1-10-1 record.
Peksa’s save percentage was midpack compared to the rest of the league, but only Chelmet Chelyabinsk’s Vyacheslav Buteyets (Anaheim Ducks) had a better save percentage (.933) among U-21 goaltenders with 30 games played. Chelyabinsk was a playoff team, for comparison.
So far, so good.
There’s also Peksa’s frame – he’s 6-foot-3 and has learned to use that size more to his advantage. Not every big goaltender is athletic, but Peksa can move swiftly and efficiently. Still, he relies heavily on quick movements and positioning to deflect pucks away. Stylistically, there isn’t anything that really stands out as a negative. Peksa can allow the odd bad goal, but he’s got a good head on his shoulders that allows him to bounce back.
In terms of Russian goalie prospects, Artur Akhtyamov – who had the best numbers in the VHL, period – is slightly ahead of Peksa. Part of that is due to age and experience, but the difference is honestly quite close. Peksa has the size advantage going for him by two inches.
As for what’s next, Peksa will likely return to the VHL with Kazan’s roster being full in the KHL. Getting playing time in the KHL would be great, but playing time, in general, is preferred. Especially since once he eventually comes over to North America, he’ll need some time with the Toronto Marlies. The Leafs signed him to an entry-level contract in May, so they’ll have easy control over him moving forward.
It’s harder for scouts to get in-person viewings of Russian players, given everything going on. Ideally, they’d be playing in North America and getting chances there. The Marlies have a crowded crease with Keith Petruzzelli and Dennis Hildeby, as well as Luke Cavallin and Dryden McKay also being available. With no insider knowledge at all, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Leafs go with a Hildeby/Akhtyamov combination for 2024-25, and maybe see where Peksa fits in. The good news? He’s still young, and there’s no rush.
At this point, Peksa is still quite a ways down the depth chart, but his early pro hockey career has been promising. There are still some steps to go, and it would be nice to see him get back into some KHL action. But at the bare minimum, Peksa has shown enough potential to warrant keeping a close eye on him. We won’t really know what he’s capable of until he comes over to North America, but there might be something here.
 
(Statistics from EliteProspects.com)

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