Top 5 European free agents the Toronto Maple Leafs should target

Photo credit:KHL
Steven Ellis
18 days ago
Remember all the excitement when the Toronto Maple Leafs signed top European free agent Mikko Lehtonen in 2020?
After months of hearing how incredible he was in the KHL, it was exhilarating. Toronto got the man the whole NHL was chasing after. He even made the team to start the season.
But after nine games, it was all over. He was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Veini Vehvilainen, who went on to win one game in four starts with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.
(Side note: despite never playing a game for Toronto, there are multiple variations of Vehvilainen rookie cards in a Leafs jersey, for whatever reason.)
So, yeah. More often than not, the European UFAs are just depth additions at best. And it makes sense – the fact they’re often breaking out in their mid-20s after years of going under the radar typically means they’re not the hidden gems you’d be hoping for. For every Artemi Panarin out there, you’ll find many more Vadim Shipachevs.
But you still need depth, no matter where it is in your lineup. And finding someone who’s on the older side who can step in immediately without hindering the development of one of your young bucks is always a benefit.
Here’s a look at five players the Maple Leafs should consider signing this spring:

Maxim Tsyplakov, RW, 25 (Spartak, KHL)

This is the carrot Toronto – and just about everyone else – is chasing this year. Tsyplakov is a 6-foot-3, 200-pound winger with Spartak Moskva. He’s having a breakthrough season, scoring a career-best 31 goals and 47 points in 65 games. Tsyplakov is a good skater, but lacks high-end NHL speed. Tsyplakov is a finisher, and his ability to drive to the net and win physical battles could be useful in a team’s middle six. There’s size and skill, but he hasn’t shown that in spades before 2023-24 – is he the real deal? Maybe he’s Nick Robertson’s replacement next season.

Oscar Eklind, LW, 25 (Lulea, SHL)

If the Leafs feel they need to beef up in the bottom six, Eklind could be their guy. Standing tall at 6-foot-4 and 220-pound, he had a breakout season with 17 goals and 28 points in 48 games with Lulea while serving a real feisty, physical presence. He’s a good skater for his size, which, mixed with his overall strength, makes him intriguing. Eklind’s ability to be a finisher has been beneficial for Lulea, and he’s a good net-front presence who can be difficult to move out of the way. His overall makeup makes you think he’s ready to step into an NHL role right away, even if his offensive numbers don’t jump off a page. Eklind has another year left on his deal in Sweden, but many think he’s ready to make the move.

Filip Larsson, G, 25 (Leksands, SHL)

Toronto could look to move on from Keith Petruzzelli with the Marlies next year, but might still want to retain the services of an experienced goalkeeper to work alongside Dennis Hildeby. Larsson was a Detroit Red Wings draft pick eight years ago but never really seemed to make it work in the AHL. Once viewed quite highly, Larsson wasn’t able to build upon a great year at the University of Denver in 2018-19 after turning pro and his rights eventually expired after returning to Sweden a few years later. Larsson has been one of the SHL’s top goaltenders this year, leading the league with five shutouts and a .920 save percentage with Leksands. At 25 and 6-foot-2, he’s got the size teams like and the experience to potentially factor into a team’s backup conversation. He has another year left on his SHL contract, but teams have been keeping an eye on him.

Arttu Hyry, RW, 22 (Karpat, Liiga)

There’s a lot to like here. Hyry doesn’t do anything exceptional, but he’s a Swiss army knife in the way he can handle just about any situation thrown his way. He’s an animal – built strong, aggressive and quick. Hyry has great top speed that allows him to win puck battles and generate a scoring chance, although he doesn’t project to be much of an offensive threat in the NHL. What you’re hoping to get out of Hyry is someone who wants to prove himself every shift and do whatever it takes to stay in the lineup. After a couple of good games with Finland’s national team earlier this year, he could look to sign a deal after the men’s World Championship – assuming he makes the team, of course.

Arto Leppänen, LHD, 25 (Sport, Liiga)

This is one that’s really intriguing. Leppänen spent four years in the second-tier Mestis before getting his first shot with a Liiga club, and he didn’t disappoint with a solid 12 goals and 28 points in 55 games – and his first action with the Finnish national team. The offensive defenseman has always had the puck skills to shine, but after some truncated seasons a few years ago, he might be the best skater of anyone on this list. Mix in a great shot and good hockey sense and he could be a decent depth addition for Toronto – especially with Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie, Ilya Lyubushkin and Joel Edmundson set to become UFAs.

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