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The Leafs’ season is well underway and the NHL is getting back into the swing of things, but they aren’t the only ones. A number of leagues throughout the hockey world have been forced to go on hiatus or postpone games in recent months, including the QMJHL which returned to action this week – well, partially anyway. Most teams are back in action but others are still sorting through provincial restrictions and the logistics involved with a safe return to play. One of Toronto’s fourth round selections from the 2020 draft, William Villeneuve of the Saint John Seadogs, is among those that has yet to take the ice again following the league’s pause and precisely when the New Brunswick based teams will be permitted to hold games again is still up in the air.
In the meantime, let’s catch up with some Leafs prospects who are getting into game action.
Rodion Amirov – LW/RW – Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL)
Amirov is still skating on Ufa’s third line and playing 12-15 minutes per game but has struggled to produce despite generating scoring chances at a high rate, including five individual scoring chances in a game against Severstal last week. He finally got back in the goal column on Thursday, using his high end agility and puck handling to take the puck into the middle of the offensive zone before wiring a shot passed the opposing netminder. Highlights like this one show why it is important to focus on the projectable traits a player has in his toolbox and not get too hung up on box score numbers.
Mikhail Abramov – C – Victoriaville Tigres (QMJHL)
Unlike the aforementioned Villeneuve, Abramov and his Victoriaville Tigres have returned to action in the QMJHL. It was just about two months between QMJHL games for Abramov, broken up by four appearances representing Russia at the World Junior Championships. He was held off the score sheet in his first game back but racked up a goal and an assist the next night to bring his totals to five goals and 11 assists for 16 points in just 11 games. Abramov hasn’t been able to play as much as he or the Leafs had hoped this season, but that is the case for so many young players this year. He and the Leafs are surely looking forward to next season when he can begin his professional career.
Dmitri Ovchinnikov – C/W – Sibir Novosibirsk (KHL)
Ovchinnikov’s dominant MHL season has been well documented in this space, as has his inability to crack the KHL lineup in any meaningful way. Well, after 45 points in 34 games it appears as though the Leafs’ fifth rounder has finally earned a real shot to stick at the next level. Sibir recalled Ovchinnikov to the KHL this week and he saw over 10 minutes of ice time in his first game but was held without a point. Considering that his previous recalls have resulted in almost zero ice time, never mind points, this is an exciting development for the Leafs and their young prospect. Here’s hoping this will be the last of his goals that come in the MHL:
Veeti Miettinen – LW/RW – St. Cloud State (NCAA)
Miettinen just keeps racking up points in his freshman season with St. Cloud State. After a three game stretch where he went scoreless, he bounced back with a goal and an assist in each of his next two games on his way to earning NCHC Rookie of the Week honors. The young Finn is now up to nine goals and nine assists in just 17 games to lead the Huskies in scoring during his first season of North American hockey and the Leafs have to be feeling pretty good about him falling into their laps all the way in the sixth round of the 2020 draft.
Artur Akhtyamov – G – Irbis Kazan (MHL)
Akhtyamov is finally seeing regular playing time again, albeit in the MHL, and started all four games for Irbis Kazan this past week. He picked up a pair of shutouts and stopped 116 of 121 shots he faced for a .959 SV% in the first MHL action he has seen in months. Akhtyamov has now played seven games at the MHL level for the season with a 5-2-0 record, 1.42 GAA, .947 SV%, and three shutouts. Kazan has plenty of goaltending depth in their system and while Akhtyamov probably deserves to be tested against stiffer competition in the VHL or KHL, it is exciting just to see him getting regular starts again.
Pontus Holmberg – C – Vaxjo Lakers (SHL)
Holmberg has been productive as Vaxjo has enjoyed a 6-0-1 stretch in recent weeks. During his team’s hot streak, he has picked up a goal and four assists to bring his totals for the season to six goals and nine assists in 33 contests. The 2018 sixth round pick will turn 22 years old in March and though the clock may be ticking on his chances to earn that coveted entry level contract, his play this season is giving the Leafs management group something to think about.
Axel Rindell – RHD – Jukurit (Liiga)
Rindell has been enjoying a breakout season for Jukurit after being selected by the Leafs with a late round pick in the 2020 NHL draft. His offensive production has slowed down a bit recently but he still has four goals and 13 assists from the blue line in 29 games. Rindell had hinted earlier this season that he would like to sign his entry level contract and make the jump to North America as soon as next fall but it appears that will have to wait with news of a possible one-year contract extension being signed with Jukurit. He will turn 21 in April and another step forward in Liiga next season should put him on his way to the AHL.