Normally, this would be the space where we get to set aside whatever is happening up with the big club and take a look towards the future but continued problems in goal for the Leafs have now crossed over and made their way into the Prospect Roundup. With the Sheldon Keefe continuing to search for consistency in net, the organization’s younger netminders are becoming increasingly viable options between the pipes.
On a more positive note, this past week saw a handful of Leafs NCAA prospects earn accolades for their strong regular seasons before kicking off play in their respective conference playoff tournaments, as well as the arrival of the Leafs’ latest ELC signing.
Without further ado…
Erik Källgren | G | Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL)
The Leafs have dealt with more than their fair share of goalie troubles over the last couple of months and things only got worse when it was announced last week that Jack Campbell would be out of action for at least two weeks with a rib injury. The injury to Campbell meant that Petr Mrázek would be given a real chance to run with the starting job and the Leafs opted to recall Erik Källgren to serve as Mrázek’s backup.
Mrázek has struggled mightily in his first season as a Leaf and in his first game after Campbell hit the injured list, he had perhaps his worst performance when his team really needed him to step up. One man’s misfortune, however, is often another man’s opportunity and after Mrázek gave up his fourth goal of the night, Källgren was called into relief to make his NHL debut.
Källgren wasn’t tested much but he was solid when called upon, allowing the Leafs to claw their way back from a 4-1 deficit to force overtime. He made his best stop of the night in the extra frame as well, before surrendering the game winner on a play he had no chance on.
Despite Källgren’s complete lack of NHL experience, that relief performance combined with Mrázek’s continued struggles led to speculation that the rookie might see his first career start at the Heritage Classic on Sunday. Understandably so, Keefe opted to give Mrázek another opportunity in a big spot rather than throwing Källgren into a difficult environment.
Mrázek was mostly solid on Sunday until giving up another soft goal in the third period that would end up being the game winner, and followed that up by letting another one squeak through his body to put the Sabres up by two. In isolation, Sunday’s goaltending performance would be of little concern but the fact of the matter is that Mrázek’s play for the season has removed any benefit of the doubt that he may have been otherwise entitled to.
Following Sunday’s loss, Keefe was fairly complimentary of Mrázek’s game but was once again non-commital in regards to who would start for the Leafs when they take on the Dallas Stars on Tuesday. Even if they are able to justify going back to him once more, the leash is growing increasingly short and Källgren, or even Joseph Woll for that matter, could be called upon at a moment’s notice.
Källgren’s AHL numbers have a taken a dip in recent weeks and might not inspire a ton of confidence but the Marlies have struggled as a whole and though it was only for a half a game against Arizona, he provided a calming presence in the crease that has been all too rare lately.
For better or worse, the Leafs are invested in Mrázek and they will want to provide him with as much opportunity as possible to find his game but they cannot continue to let points slip away due to poor goaltending. It seems like Källgren will get another opportunity, perhaps as soon as Tuesday, and a strong performance could be enough to earn him a solid run of starts, at least until Campbell returns.
The NCAA regular season is all wrapped up and a few Leafs prospects received accolades for their play. Nick Abruzzese of Harvard was named the Ivy League Player of the Year, Ryan Tverberg of UConn was named a First Team All-Star in the Hockey East Conference, and Matt Knies earned a nod as a finalist for the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year Award after an impressive first season at Minnesota.
Knies and fellow Leafs prospect Mikey Koster will also be going to the Big Ten Championship game against the Michigan Wolverines after they took down Penn State in their semifinal matchup on Saturday. Both players were held off the scoresheet over the weekend but they will be leaned on heavily as the Gophers go for their second straight conference title next Saturday.
Harvard took on RPI in a best of three quarterfinal series in the ECAC playoffs over the weekend, winning the series in three games. Abruzzese picked up an assist in the series opening win on Friday, scored the tying goal late in Saturday’s game to send it to overtime, and added another assist in the series clinching victory on Sunday. Fellow Leafs prospect John Fusco also got into Harvard’s lineup on Sunday after sitting out the first two games.
Harvard will go up against Clarkson in the conference semifinals next weekend.
Ryan Tverberg was also in action over the weekend, going without a point as UConn knocked off Boston University to earn the first Hockey East confrence semifinal birth in school history. Tverberg has been a huge part of UConn’s success and is still an important contributor for them on the rare occasions that he is held off the scoresheet. Another win in Friday’s semifinal and he’ll have a chance to add a Hockey East title to his impressive resume for the 2021-22 season.
Things didn’t go quite as well for Veeti Miettinen and his St. Cloud State Huskies on the weekend as they were swept 2-0 in their quarterfinal series against Minnesota-Duluth and will now wait to see where they get seeded for the NCAA Tournament. Miettinen was unable to build upon a strong freshman season, totalling one fewer point in five more games as a sophomore but he still has a chance to finish his season on a high note after going scoreless in the Huskies’ quarterfinal defeat.
Notes from the rest of the prospect pool
- It was perhaps a little surprising when Källgren got the call over Joseph Woll, given Woll had some degree of success in his first NHL stint earlier this year. With Källgren awaiting his shot with the Leafs, Woll will look to put together a solid run of play in the AHL and he got off to a decent start this past week. He was the best Marlie on the ice against Providence on Tuesday and gave his team a chance to win despite nearly being doubled up on the shot clock. Woll stopped 27 of the 29 shots he faced but it wasn’t enough to secure the victory. He did surrender three goals on 29 shots his next time out in a loss against Utica, but the Comets are one of the top two or three teams in the league and currently sit 18 points up on the Marlies in the standings. If Mrázek continues to struggle and Källgren isn’t able to take advantage of the opportunity, Woll could be back between the pipes for the Leafs before Campbell is healthy.
- Joey Duszak has been a big-time producer from the back end this year for the Marlies but without a path to NHL playing time, he has made it known that he would welcome a change of scenery. At least for now, that’s not the change Toronto has in mind for him as they have started playing him as a forward more regularly. Duszak has lined up on the right wing in each of the Marlies’ last three games, totaling two goals and an assist in the process. He is tied for the team scoring lead with seven goals and 33 assists in 40 games.
- Topi Niemelä has been out of action since February 25th and it was reported at the time that he would be on the shelf for approximately three weeks. Assuming his recovery has gone according to plan, he could be back in Kärpät’s lineup when they take on Tappara next Friday. Kärpät has just two regular season games remaining after that and they’ll want to get Niemelä back into game action before the playoffs if at all possible.
- The goaltending controversy continued for Irbis Kazan last week. After Kazan’s VHL team had their season end, Artur Akhtyamov was sent down to the MHL and was handed the starting job over fellow Leafs prospect Vyacheslav Peksa despite Peksa being one of the league’s best goaltenders all season. Akhtyamov got the start in game one of the playoffs but gave up four goals on 35 shots in a losing effort, opening the door for Peksa who came in and stopped all 16 shots he faced to earn a shutout in game two.
- Ty Voit had another productive week, tallying five points in three games, including a hat trick against the London Knights last Wednesday. He is now up to 18 goals and 44 assists in just 49 games on the season and continues to look like a steal of a fifth-round pick.
- Three weeks after terminating his contract with Sibir in the KHL and signing an entry level contract with the Leafs, Dmitry Ovchinnikov has finally arrived in Toronto. He is expected to join the Marlies this week and could make his AHL debut when they take on the Hershey Bears on Thursday.
- Joey Anderson had another strong outing for the Marlies on Saturday, scoring his AHL leading fifth shorthanded goal of the season and adding an assist before scoring the eventual shootout winner. He leads the Marlies with 20 goals on the campaign and currently sits in a tie with Alex Steeves for the second most points on the team with 33 in 41 games.
- After a highly productive late season stint with the Marlies earned him an entry level contract last spring, things haven’t gone quite as well for Pavel Gogolev so far this season. He managed just eight points through 30 games with the Marlies before being demoted to the ECHL’s Newfoundland Growlers but it looks like the move has helped spark Gogolev’s offensive game. He scored a goal in each of the Growlers’ four games last week and added a pair of assists in Saturday’s blowout victory. He was held without a point in his first game with the Growlers but has put up five goals and six assists in the six games since. If Gogolev keeps up this pace, he should be back with the Marlies sooner rather than later.
(Statistics from EliteProspects.com)