Two of the Maple Leafs’ most exciting new faces in @Nicholas Robertson and @Mikko Lehtonen found themselves on the outside looking in when the puck dropped on opening night but both made their NHL regular season debuts this past week.
Unfortunately for the Leafs and Robertson, he played just 2:20 before suffering a knee injury that will keep him on the shelf for upwards of four weeks. It’s a tough break for a kid that has worked so hard to to crack this lineup as a 19 year old, staying in Toronto all through the summer and offseason while skipping the World Juniors to better prepare himself for his shot at the Leafs roster, but it sounds as though he may have been fortunate it wasn’t worse.
The timing of Robertson’s injury only got worse when Joe Thornton left Wednesday’s game with what appeared to be a significant injury of his own, opening a spot in Toronto’s top nine forward group that the young rookie certainly would have been given a chance to seize.
Lehtonen got into his first game on Monday night against Winnipeg as Sheldon Keefe decided to dress seven defencemen for the first time this season but was clearly being eased into the lineup, playing less than seven minutes in his NHL debut. He saw a few more shifts in his second game against Edmonton on Wednesday night and though he looked more comfortable, he is clearly still adjusting to the pace of the NHL game. Unsurprisingly, Lehtonen has looked poised in limited action quarterbacking the second powerplay unit and he may be in line for more ice time after skating on the third pair alongside Travis Dermott at practice on Thursday.
Let’s catch up with a few Leafs prospects that are a bit farther away from pushing for ice time with the big club.
Rodion Amirov – LW/RW – Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL)
Amirov is getting back into the swing of things with his KHL club, now with six games under his belt since returning from the World Juniors where he was one of Russia’s top players. As I mentioned last week
, he was held off the scoresheet in his first three games back in Ufa’s lineup but he managed to pick up a nice assist on Saturday. Amirov’s minutes have remained steady since his return, skating on the third line, and that will be paramount if he is going to return to the level of offensive production we saw at the beginning of the season.
Roni Hirvonen – C/LW – Assat (Liiga)
The Leafs’ second round pick in the 2020 draft had an impressive showing representing Finland at the World Junior Championships, finishing the tournament with two goals and four assists in seven games. He returned to Liiga play last week and has picked up where he left off with two assists through three games while bringing energy on the forecheck, much like we saw at the World Juniors. He was used as a winger on Finland’s first line that featured top prospect Anton Lundell but is back playing in the middle since returning to Assat where he has now tallied five goals and six assists through 24 games.
Yegor Korshkov – RW – Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (KHL)
Korshkov was one of Lokomotiv’s most productive players through the early part of the season but he has slowed down in recent weeks, scoring just two goals and two assists in his last 11 games. He is still having a respectable season with 14 goals and 14 assists for 28 points through 47 contests – good enough for third in team scoring but he will surely be looking to regain his early season form as Lokomotiv prepares for the stretch drive. Korshkov will finish out the season in the KHL and it remains to be seen what the future holds for him in the Leafs organization.
Artur Akhtyamov – G – Bars Kazan (VHL)
Between backing up Yaroslav Askarov at the Karjala Cup and the World Juniors, and being shuffled through the Bars system in Russia, Akhtyamov has seen very little game action in the last couple of months. He finally got back into the net for their VHL squad this past weekend but struggled in his first appearance since the WJC, allowing four goals on 23 shots before being pulled in the second period of a 5-3 loss. Even after a poor performance such as that, Akhtyamov’s VHL numbers are still strong this season. In nine games, he has a 1.91 GAA and a save percentage of .924 to go along with his 3-3-3 record. Hopefully he doesn’t have to wait long for a chance to bounce back from his rough outing and he can begin to settle into a regular role rather than being caught in the goaltending purgatory of the Bars system.
Ryan Tverberg – C/W – University of Connecticut (NCAA)
Last week I mentioned that Tverberg had joined UConn for the second semester but had not yet gotten into a game. Well, it just so happened that he would go on to make his NCAA debut that night lining up at left wing on the Huskies’ third line. It didn’t take long for the Leafs’ seventh rounder to make his presence felt either, playing a high energy game and bringing some physicality to the lineup. He was held pointless in his first game but picked up a goal and an assist his second time out for his first points in the NCAA. Tverberg is a long-term project who will likely spend the next few years at UConn but there are some intriguing traits there and he could be a prospect worth keeping an eye on moving forward.
John Fusco – RHD – Sioux City Muskateers (USHL)
Fusco has piled up the points for Sioux City early on in his first USHL season, now with two goals and seven assists in 10 games. He has been effective as a puck mover in limited minutes and has shown no hesitation jumping into the play at the offensive end of the ice as he gets his feet wet in a new league. One of the lesser known prospects from Toronto’s 2020 draft class, Fusco will be an interesting player to monitor as he continues his development with Harvard of the NCAA in the coming years.
Wyatt Schingoethe – C – Waterloo Blackhawks (USHL)
Speaking of lesser known prospects, 2020 seventh rounder Wyatt Schingoethe is off to a decent start for Waterloo in the USHL this season but isn’t producing at the same rate he did for the Blackhawks in 2019-2020. He scored at a .81 points per game pace last season and is down to about a .62 points per game pace through his first 13 games this year. It’s still early and points aren’t everything but a step back in production during his third full USHL season isn’t what he or the Leafs were hoping for. Schingoethe is another player that is several years away from potentially factoring into the Leafs’ plans and he will continue his development at the University of Denver next season.