Up and down weekend for Knies, Abruzzese stays hot for Marlies: Leafs Prospect Roundup

Photo credit:Steven Ellis/DailyFaceoff
Nick Richard
1 year ago
We are now just a little over a month away from the NHL’s trade deadline, and much of the talk surrounding the Leafs has been centered on how they can improve their current roster before March 3rd.
Speculation about potential trade targets naturally leads to discussion regarding exactly what the Leafs have in terms of trade assets and which ones they might be willing to move. The Leafs will almost certainly have their 2023 and 2024 first-round picks on the table, but will they will be willing to move off the organization’s top prospect in Matthew Knies if that’s what it takes to land an impact player for a crucial playoff run? What about other highly regarded young pieces like Nick Robertson, Topi Niemelä, or Fraser Minten?
What the Leafs have working in their favor is that despite a lack of high draft picks in recent years, there is depth in their prospect pool, and many of their recent picks have performed well enough to raise their stock, not only in the eyes of the Leafs but amongst other NHL organizations as well. Will other teams have interest in some of the Leafs’ middle-tier prospects like Ty Voit or Nick Moldenhauer, who are both putting together impressive seasons?
I recently published a series ranking the top prospects in the Leafs’ organization if you’re looking for a more holistic view of what they could offer up to sellers before the deadline, but with trade talks heating up around the league, let’s catch up on what the Leafs’ up and comers have been up to lately.

Matthew Knies | W | Minnesota (NCAA)

Knies and the #2 ranked Gophers took on #8 Michigan, and it was a tale of two games for Knies and his linemates. The trio of Knies, Logan Cooley, and Jimmy Snuggerud led the charge in Friday night’s win. They opened the scoring on the man advantage when Knies took a puck to the front of the net and Snuggerud was there to clean it up. Knies got into the goal column a little later on with a great power move off the rush, and after Minnesota tied it up late, he would finish off a fantastic performance by pouncing on a loose puck in the crease to secure the overtime winner.
Things didn’t go nearly as well for the Gophers’ top line in Saturday’s rematch, with the trio going a combined -9 and Cooley registering a lone assist in a losing effort. Snuggerud was also assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for a check to the head near the end of the second period, adding to what was a frustrating night for the team.
Even with Saturday’s disappointing showing, Knies has been hot as of late. In his last 13 games, he has tallied eight goals and eight assists, taking over the BIG10 goal-scoring lead with 15 for the season. His numbers haven’t taken a massive leap this season, but he has been an even bigger focal point for Minnesota in his sophomore season, and he has done nothing to lose his place as the Leafs’ top prospect. You can bet that his name will be the first that comes up from opposing teams in any trade discussions, but it would take a massive return for the Leafs to consider moving their most prized prospect.

Nick Abruzzese | C/W | Toronto (AHL)

Abruzzese took a little bit to find his footing in his first full season of pro hockey, but he has been on fire with the Marlies as of late. With a pair of goals in Saturday’s shootout win over Laval, he extended his point streak to seven games, notching five goals and seven assists in that span.
Now with 13 goals and 18 assists through 39 games, Abruzzese finds himself just one point shy of Sammy Walker for the AHL rookie scoring lead. He is looking more and more confident with each passing game, and the offensive skill and intelligence that were ever apparent over his two seasons with Harvard have started to show up in the AHL with more consistency.
Abruzzese is in tough to crack the Leafs’ lineup down the stretch, especially with the recent emergence of Bobby McMann, who is a better theoretical fit in a bottom-six role. Never mind the fact that the Leafs are likely to make an addition to their forward group ahead of the deadline. With his recent uptick in production and the fact that he is a more mature player at 23 years of age, Abruzzese could be part of the solution in another regard as a player who rebuilding teams with openings in their forward group might be interested in ahead of the deadline. Either way, the Leafs have to be impressed with how Abruzzese has progressed so far this season.

Notes from the rest of the prospect pool:

  • Another difficult season for Nick Robertson came to an unceremonious end when the Leafs announced last week that he had undergone season-ending shoulder surgery. It is another devastating blow for a young player who has had his development path disrupted at practically every turn and another hit to his value on the trade market. Teams will likely still ask about the young sniper in trade discussions, but it feels like the Leafs would be selling low in any move involving Robertson at this point.
  • He still hasn’t popped on the scoresheet like he did last season, but the points are starting to come a little more frequently for Topi Niemelä in recent weeks. He scored a goal and an assist in last Wednesday’s 4-0 victory over Jukurit, and is now up to six goals and six assists in 39 games. The Leafs don’t have much coming on the blue line behind Niemelä so they’ll be hesitant to move him, but he might end up being their best trade asset if they are truly unwilling to move Knies.
  • Kamloops have loaded up in recent weeks, and Fraser Minten has been pushed down the lineup a little bit, but he still managed to find a way to be productive over the weekend. He picked up a goal and an assist as the Blazers split a two-game set with Tri-City and now has 14 points in his last 10 games. Minten has been productive this season with 41 points in 32 games, and his blend of size and skill is sure to draw interest from sellers in the lead-up to the trade deadline.
  • After going scoreless a couple of weekends ago, Nick Moldenhauer got back on the board this past weekend. He tallied a pair of assists in a losing effort on Friday against Waterloo and scored his 15th goal of the season in Saturday’s victory over Des Moines. For the season, he is up to 38 points in 29 games.
  • Ty Voit has slowed down a bit lately but “slowed down” for Voit still means 12 points in his last 10 games. He scored a goal in Saturday’s win over Kitchener and had an assist against Erie on Friday, bringing him to 12 goals and 52 assists in 41 games. Voit still leads the OHL in scoring, but that lead has narrowed to just three, with Ottawa’s Logan Morrison nipping at his heels.
  • Semyon Der-Arguchintsev had a two-assist game last Wednesday in a shootout win over Belleville. He has gone 11 games without scoring a goal but has tallied seven assists over that span, still doing his part to create offense for a streaking Marlies team.
  • Alex Steeves also notched a couple of points over the weekend, scoring his 13th goal of the season against Belleville on Friday before adding an assist against Laval on Saturday. He’s got 33 points in 38 games and could be next in line for a look in Toronto’s bottom-six if Bobby McMann can’t stick.
  • Joseph Woll just keeps winning games, even with a couple of subpar outings last week. He has given up eight goals in his last two appearances but came away victorious in both contests, and he currently owns a sparkling 11-0-0 record to go along with a 2.55 GAA and .925 SV%. One has to believe he has surpassed Erik Källgren on the depth chart and would be next in line should injuries arise in the Leafs’ crease.
  • It’s been a quiet January for Ryan Tverberg, but after going without a point in his first three games of the month, he helped lead UConn to a 3-1 win over UMass on Saturday with a goal and an assist in the contest. Tverberg leads the Huskies in scoring with 11 goals and 11 assists in 25 games. All of the focus is on Matthew Knies, but there is a chance Tverberg also turns pro when his college season comes to an end.
  • Nikita Grebyonkin picked up a couple of assists in a 3-1 win over Admiral last Wednesday, taking over the scoring lead among U20 players in the KHL with 17 points in 33 games. He was handed an opportunity with the early season loan to Amur, and he has taken full advantage of it to this point. Producing at a half-point-per-game pace in the KHL as a teenager is impressive, and the Leafs have to be thrilled with the early returns on their 2022 fifth-rounder.
  • Brandon Lisowsky broke a three-game goalless drought on Friday and followed it up with another tally on Saturday. The 2022 seventh-round pick is putting together a solid season with Saskatoon, already with 23 goals and 20 assists in 39 games.
  • Artur Akhtyamov has had a light schedule in January and was coming off a poor outing in his last game but rebounded by stopping 24 of 25 shots he faced in a 5-1 win on Sunday. For the season, he is at an eye-popping .944 SV% in 32 games.
  • Vyacheslav Peksa posted a pair of strong performances this past week, stopping 46 of 50 shots in a losing effort on Thursday after stopping 20 of 21 in a 5-1 victory on Tuesday. Following a bit of a dip in December, Peksa has been solid as of late, with a .924 SV% in his last five games.
(Statistics from EliteProspects.com & TheAHL.com)

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