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We’re just about halfway through November and the hockey calendar is in full swing with hot starts turning into big seasons and early-season disappointments turning into legitimate concerns. This past week also saw a “National Team Break” in Europe, giving us a look at what some countries might have planned for the upcoming World Juniors.
The Leafs have a few candidates to make their respective countries’ rosters and a couple of players who could play starring roles at the tournament.
It’s always fun to look ahead with prospects but there is plenty to look back on from the last week as well. It’s a loaded Leafs Prospect Roundup today so let’s get to it.
@Timothy Liljegren | RHD | Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL)
Liljegren was expected to get an opportunity to play for the Leafs this season but I don’t think many people expected him to steal a job by early November, and it appears that is exactly what he has done. Liljegren has been in the lineup for each of the Leafs’ last eight games – a span in which all of @Justin Holl, @Travis Dermott, and @Rasmus Sandin have been healthy scratches.
Liljegren has gotten into 10 games for the Leafs in 2021-22 and leads the team with a 65.5 xGF% while playing just under 16 minutes per game alongside Sandin on the third pair. Liljegren and Sandin have received about the same percentage of offensive zone starts as Morgan Rielly and TJ Brodie and they have managed to keep the ice tilted in the Leafs’ favor when they’ve been out there. The two young Swedes clearly have chemistry together and are able to utilize each other to alleviate pressure on retrievals before quickly pushing the puck up ice. Sheldon Keefe has also entrusted Liljegren with a small role on the NHL’s fifth-ranked penalty killing unit and he is playing 1:05 per game while shorthanded so far this season.
He hasn’t found his way onto the scoresheet very often with just one assist through 10 games but he is beginning to create more offensive opportunities from the back end as of late. Liljegren is showing more confidence controlling the puck inside the offensive blue line and has started to activate and join the rush more frequently. His ascension up the depth chart has been one of the early-season stories for the Leafs and if he continues to play the way he has, there will be no reason for him to surrender his spot. There are sure to be bumps in the road as he continues to find his way, but it looks like Timothy Liljegren has arrived as an NHL defenseman. We may not be able to talk about him in this space for much longer.
Matthew Knies | W | University of Minnesota (NCAA)
Knies has stayed hot and is currently riding a three-game point streak in which he has picked up two goals and two assists. For the season, the Arizona native has tallied five goals and four assists over 12 games. Known more for his power game, Knies showed that there is plenty of finesse to his game with a highlight reel marker against Ohio State on Saturday night:
Knies is playing 15:12 per game through the early part of the season and has been one of Minnesota’s primary offensive drivers. According to InStat, he leads the Gophers in individual expected goals per 60 minutes played and he has also been one of their most efficient players in terms of creating controlled zone entries.
Combining a solid transition game, slick hands, and a deadly shot, Knies also plays a mature physical game. He loves to throw his weight around and his ability to protect the puck off the cycle and into the middle of the offensive zone might be his greatest attribute. It is still very early in his development process, but it looks like the Leafs got themselves a player when they selected Matthew Knies with the 57th overall pick in the 2021 draft.
Ty Voit | W | Sarnia (OHL)
Voit continues to find the scoresheet for Sarnia, and though he recently had his first pointless outing of the season, he has managed to rack up five points in his last three games. The diminutive winger now leads the Sting in scoring with four goals and 11 assists in just 11 games and is proving that he probably shouldn’t have been available to the Leafs where they selected him in the fifth round of the 2021 draft.
Voit has consistently created offense for his team early in the season, leading the team with 5.3 completed passes to the slot per 60 minutes according to InStat. He has also been a force in transition with his shiftiness and puck skills, leading the Sting in controlled zone entries while playing over 20 minutes per night.
Just about every draft pick is a lottery ticket, never mind a fifth-rounder, but Voit has performed about as well as the Leafs could have hoped for through the early part of the OHL season. He likely doesn’t have much of a shot at making the American World Juniors roster this season but he could put himself on the radar for next year’s tournament if he continues to produce like this over the course of a full season.
@Joseph Woll | G | Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL)
It was a bit curious when the Leafs recalled Joseph Woll rather than @Michael Hutchinson when @Petr Mrazek went down with another injury but the organization was ready to give their third-round selection from the 2016 draft a look in the NHL and he made his first career start on Saturday night against the Buffalo Sabres.
Woll gave up four goals on just 27 shots but made enough stops to come away with the victory. He was mostly solid and could hardly be faulted on any of the first three goals that found their way into the Leafs net, and while he might have liked to have the fourth one back, he did manage to make a couple of big saves on the night.
The stat line may not have been flattering but it was an important night for both Woll and the Maple Leafs organization. His numbers with the Marlies haven’t exactly been pretty either but that doesn’t necessarily preclude him from being able to get the job done at the NHL level. You may have noticed, but the Leafs haven’t had a lot of success drafting and developing goaltenders over the years, and having Woll develop into a viable NHL option would be a big win for the franchise.
With Mrázek on the shelf for another few weeks, it will be interesting to see if the Leafs continue to give Woll an opportunity to run with the backup job. The Leafs have two back-to-backs in the next three weeks so, at minimum, there are two starts there for the taking for Woll, Hutchinson, or Erik Källgren who has put up a .923 SV% through seven games with the Marlies.
Ryan Tverberg | W | University of Connecticut (NCAA)
Ryan Tverberg, or “your favorite prospect you don’t know about yet” as my pal Kyle Cushman
likes to call him, won’t be able to fly under the radar much longer with the way he is playing. The 2020 seventh-round pick has been a star for UConn this season and he has been on an absolute tear, scoring six goals during a five-game goal streak and adding a pair of assists in the process. The Toronto Jr. Canadiens product currently leads the Huskies in scoring with nine goals and six assists in 11 games and finds himself in the top 15 of all NCAA scorers.
Tverberg has brought an infectious energy to the Huskies’ lineup with his tenacious style of play and ability to capitalize on offensive opportunities. His motor is always running high and he gets himself into the dirty areas to come away with contested pucks or bang home rebounds but he has some soft skill as well. He shows poise with the puck on his stick in space and has started to cause trouble for opposing goaltenders with his shot.
It is still very early and Tverberg is a long way from making an impact at the pro level but he has broken out in a big way through the early part of this season. The Leafs have to be thrilled with the early returns on their decision to trade back into the last round of the 2020 draft.
Vyacheslav Peksa | G | Irbis Kazan (MHL)
Peksa entered the Leafs organization as a mostly unknown entity when they drafted him in the sixth round of the 2021 draft but his performance through the first part of the MHL season in Russia has turned heads. He is playing in the same system as fellow Leafs goaltending prospect Artur Akhtyamov in Kazan and has taken over the lead job on their junior squad this season.
Through 21 games, Peksa is 9-7-5 with four shutouts to go along with a 1.80 GAA and .937 SV% – good enough for fourth-best in the league. He was stellar in four games this past week, stopping 40 of 42 shots on Tuesday, 50 of 52 shots the following day, 20 of 22 shots on Saturday, and 39 of 41 shots on Sunday.
More than any other position, goaltenders are difficult to project, but Peksa has been a star at Russia’s junior level so far this season. It will be interesting to see if he eventually gets a chance to push the struggling Akhtyamov for playing time in the VHL if he continues his strong play.
Notes from the rest of the prospect pool
- Topi Niemelä continued his torrid pace, scoring another goal and adding an assist in his last game with Kärpät. He now has four goals and 14 assists in 20 games to lead all Liiga defenders in scoring. Niemelä joined the Finnish squad at the U20 Four Nations Tournament but was held off the scoresheet through two games.
- Roni Hirvonen also represented Finland at the Four Nations Tournament and had a strong showing with three goals and an assist through three games, including a three point outing against Sweden on Saturday.
- Joe Miller got off to a decent start in his second USHL season with Chicago but he has really turned it on as of late. In his last two games, he has picked up a goal and five assists and has now registered 10 points in his last eight games. For the season, he is fourth in team scoring with five goals and 11 assists in 17 games.
- Axel Rindell’s move to Kärpät has gotten off to a great start. After tallying five assists through 16 games with Jukurit, he scored his first goal of the season in his first game with Kärpät. He followed that up by grabbing four assists in his second game and has already matched his offensive output prior to the trade.
- @Semyon Der-Arguchintsev has been heating up for the Marlies with five points in his last six games and goals in consecutive outings, including the OT winner on Sunday.
- @Pavel Gogolev hasn’t quite picked up where he left off when he registered 12 points in 13 games with the Marlies last year. It has been a slow start for him in 2021-22 but he picked up his first goal of the season in Saturday’s 5-1 victory over the Chicago Wolves. He has three points in his first seven games.
- It has been a bit of a slow start for Veeti Miettinen in his sophomore season with St. Cloud State as well but he had a three point game on Saturday. He now has three goals and five assists in 12 games but hasn’t been quite as dynamic as he was for most of last season.
- @William Villeneuve hasn’t been able to replicate his offensive output from his draft year when he led all QMJHL blueliners in scoring but he added to his totals with a three assist game earlier this week. On the season, he has eight assists in 15 games.
(Statistics from EliteProspects.com, Evolving-Hockey.com, & NaturalStatTrick.com)