clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Thoughts on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 2020 NHL Draft Picks

New, comments

I’ve had some time to have thoughts about the Leafs’ draft picks, and I want to share them.

2020 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Kyle Brown/NHLI via Getty Images

The Toronto Maple Leafs concluded a blood marathon of a draft and have several new prospects to show for it. I’ve taken some time after to read up a bit more on each prospect who I was more unfamiliar with and write out some thoughts on each pick, and their draft overall.

Let’s skip the long intros and get right into it!

Round 1, Pick #15: Rodion Amirov

I admit I was hoping that someone I considered to be a top-10 prospect would fall to the Leafs, or maybe we’d trade up a bit to nab someone like Anton Lundell. Unfortunately, the first half of the round went pretty much as expected. When the Leafs were on the clock at 15th overall, Rodion Amirov was clearly the best player available to me.

While he’s listed as 6’0” and pretty light, the Leafs clarified later in the day on Wednesday that his information was out of date. They consider him to be closer to 6’1” and around 180 lbs, so he is not necessarily the small, skinny winger that the Leafs are stereotyped to draft. He’s also not just an all-offense zippy winger, as many scouting reports note he is a complete 200-foot player. He harassers puck carriers and works hard to steal the puck back.

But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have skill on offense either. He is great at offensive transitions, whether he carries the puck through the neutral zone because he is a very good skater, or makes a pass to a teammate. He can be used in all situations (powerplay, penalty kill, even strength) but on the Leafs would likely wind up being a PK1 and even strength specialist.

Kevin Papetti from MLHS did a good job outlining why he likes the pick so much, and I admit that he is one of the scouting people whose opinions I trust a lot. I see Amirov as a high energy, highly effective supporting winger who can play up on their top lines and help in all situations — a Russian Zach Hyman, I guess, but with more skill.

Round 2, Pick #59: Roni Hirvonen

Roni Hirvonen is another solid all-around player, but unlike Amirov he is smaller at 5’9”. He was ranked 54th by Bob McKenzie but usually higher by most public scouting people — as high as 22nd by Future Considerations. The Leafs getting a borderline first rounder or at least mid-second rounder so late was a great move, especially since they traded down with Ottawa to do it.

Hirvonen spent all of last season playing in the Liiga, Finland’s top professional league. He had 16 points in 52 games playing a smaller role, and is there to start this season as well with one point and 12 shots in three games while averaging 16:20 per game. I view him as an Alexander Kerfoot type player. He’ll likely be a middle-six center who doesn’t necessarily rack up a lot of points but can drive possession and be good defensively.

He’s someone I would have been happy for the Leafs to have taken at 44th overall, so I’m ecstatic we got him later AND got another pick.

Round 3, Pick #64: Topi Niemelä

Honestly, I like Niemela more than Hirvonen. He is someone I would have written a profile about before if I had more time. He is an excellent skater, both in terms of north-south speed and east-west mobility. He uses his skating to be an excellent transition defender, closing gaps quickly and preventing teams from getting through the neutral zone.

He had only seven points last year, but he was a surprise to make Karpat’s Liiga lineup out of camp and stuck the whole year because he was able to play such effective defense. He played a pretty safe and simple game, not taking much risk offensively. It helped him play the whole season in the Liiga as a 17-year-old, which is very impressive.

However, that doesn’t mean he has no offense at all. When playing for Team Finland among his peers of the same age, he’s averaged 0.46 points per game. Over a full 82 NHL season that would be 38 points. And so far this season he started playing on the U20 junior team before the Liiga season started, and had four points in four games.

So there could be some untapped point production from him as he develops. He’ll never be a top power play quarterback — but Team Finland did use him on their second PP unit. He is also able to actually push the puck up the ice adequately at the professional level, although again that won’t be his speciality. He’ll be a defenseman that his coaches will always love because he’s not necessarily high risk, he’ll just make plays. I LOVE this pick, since I thought he’d for sure be off the board even before our original 44th pick. He could turn into the Leafs’ John Marino as a solid defensive defenseman to play on your second pair.

Round 4, Pick #106: Artur Akhtyamov

I’m going to admit right out, I don’t know much about Artur Akhtyamov. He’s a Russian goalie, and there are a lot of those that were rated pretty high this draft. Askarov was the big one, but there was also guys like Amir Miftakhov, who was the other goalie Team Russia used with Askarov, and Dmitri Nikolayev who got some games internationally. In fact there has been a pretty large influx of young Russian goalies starting to take over in the NHL: Alexander Georgiev (NY Rangers), Ilya Samsonov (Capitals), Igor Shestyorkin (NY Rangers), and Ilya Sorokin (NY Islanders), following the likes of Andrei Vasilevsky.

Akhtyamov, on the other hand, never played for Team Russia — not one single game. That’s likely one of the main reasons no one really knew him going into the draft. But He has flat out excelled in every level he’s played. His WORST season on record on Elite Prospects was a 2.30 GAA and .921 save percentage back in 2018/19, when he would have been a 17/18 year old in the MHL. He improved the next year in the MHL to a 1.80 GAA and .931 sv%. Then this year he was at 1.67 GAA and .926 sv% in the MHL, but has gotten into four games in the VHL — Russia’s AHL essentially, one level below the KHL — and has a 0.98 GAA and .957 sv%.

The dude just flat out stops pucks. In our article about the pick, there are some good quotes from Scott Wheeler and TPE Hockey, a Twitter account that is one of the more knowledgeable public scouts on goalies. He seems to be a decent size for a goalie at 6’2”, but his calling card seems to be quickness in the crease to get around and be in position to make saves easier than they could be for other goalies.

Despite not knowing much about him, I do like the pick. There may have been other goalies I preferred but all of them had already been taken, and I’d have rather the Leafs made sure they got Amirov, Hirvonen and Niemela.

Round 4, Pick #122: William Villeneuve

Kyle Dubas made me feel really smart after I wrote this profile on Villeneuve back in July.

So there are two things I want to make clear right off the bat: First, that I love this pick. But second, that this does have some risk and Villeneuve will be a pretty significant project for the Leafs to work on. I love it because he has tons of upside to him — he led the QMJHL in points for defensemen for a reason. But it’s risky because there are some big flaws he’ll need to work on. His major issues are: his skating mechanics, his strength, and his defensive play in certain areas.

Why I still love the pick is I can see all of those problems as something that are easier to fix with a lot of coaching from specialists like Barb Underhill to improve his skating mechanics so they’re smoother. That will help him get faster, quicker, and easier to react quickly while on defense. He can work with strength and nutrition coaches to get stronger and more powerful, which will also help his skating and help his defense.

As for his defense, that’s something the Leafs can also work on with him. Something I’ve heard from more than a couple of people is that the team he played for — Saint John in the QMJHL — was an absolute tire fire in terms of systems and coaching last year, in the sense that they didn’t seem to have any. They were chaos on the ice. Villeneuve’s most common partner was Poirier, another top defensive prospect this draft, and they had two of the worst defensive ratings in the draft. Was some of it on them? Probably, but I can see the tools that Villeneuve has that a team with good coaching can improve.

If you can improve his flaws enough, there’s an NHL defenseman there to me. His passing and offense alone would make him a decent play-driving defenseman who can put up some points by setting up plays for the Leafs’ forwards. Watching him make stretch passes and get knocked for his defense makes me think of Jake Gardiner, but the best comparison might be to Cody Franson, with the potential to be a bit better.

Round 5, Pick #137: Dmitry Ovchinnikov

Ovchinnikov is another guy I never wrote about, but was someone on my radar as a good late-round pick. In the video breaking him down as a prospect I’ll embed below, he is a guy who was used in all forward positions — including center. He was used defensively as a center, but more offensively as a winger.

He’s a bit raw, but is also a younger prospect with an August birthday. The raw skill helped him put up 55 points in 54 games in the MHL last season, and was a bit of a late bloomer — with 22 points coming in the last 14 games he played and having his ice time rise to the point he finished playing 17 minutes a game at even strength. He has seven points in six games so far this season, and he’s also gotten into three KHL games so far. He’s been in a small handful of international games for Russia — 10 the past two years, with nine points in those games.

He has a decent amount of skill, and is a very good and very fast skater. Learning how to harness his speed and make plays while he’s going full tilt (or close to it) will be the big test for him — just ask Kasperi Kapanen how your career can be hampered by that. This is like Villeneuve for me, in that there is some very nice tools and skills in Ovchinnikov but he’ll be a project.

What you should like about Ovchinnikov is the potential offensive upside. He can be a very creative player, he makes a lot of passes to dangerous areas on the ice, and he has a high volume and percentage of his shots from dangerous areas as well. He’ll take some work to harness his skill, but I love the roll of the dice on that type of player in the fifth round.

Round 6, Pick #168: Veeti Miettinen

Hey, speaking of gambling on high skill and upside in a later round...

Veeti Miettinen is the second player I wrote a profile about back in July, making me two-times lucky that Dubas made me look really smart. The funny thing is I said I wouldn’t mind Miettinen as a second round pick, where some people had him ranked, or MAYBE a fourth rounder if we were lucky enough for him to fall that far. El oh el.

He might be this year’s Nicholas Robertson in terms of being a steal and a prolific goal scorer. He set the league record in the U20 Liiga with 42 goals in 52 games. His 42 goals led the league by 14, and led his team by 21. His 73 points led the league by 12, and his team by 24. He averaged 5+ shots per game, and scored on around 14% of them. All of this was done on one of the worst teams of the league, where he basically was his team’s offense and created all of it for himself or for his teammates.

He was clearly too good for the level, and in normal circumstances he would have likely advanced to the Liiga or at least the Mestis (Finnish AHL) with his former teammate Roni Hirvonen. But Miettinen had committed to play in the NCAA during the 2020/21 season, and to maintain his eligibility he could not play at any professional level. So he stayed behind, and broke records.

That probably hurt his rankings as people wouldn’t see him at a higher level, and wondered how much of his numbers were inflated playing in an inferior league. But for a 6th round pick? Absolutely make that gamble. I don’t care if he’s 5’9”, anymore that anyone cares how Brad Marchand, Brayden Point, or Johnny Gaudreau are. There are likely some wrinkles on his game to work on, and he could get stronger to make sure he can survive against bigger, older players. But there are plenty of smaller players who showed that if you have the skill, and you are willing to put in the work, you can make it in the NHL.

Round 6, Pick #177: Axel Rindell

I had heard of Axel Rindell at least as a double-overage defenseman (April 2000 birthday) who could make a nice potential late round pick. But I hadn’t read a lot about him. I decided to after he was drafted, and I do think he’s an intriguing option for a late 6th round pick. He’s a 6’0” right handed defenseman, so that was a good start!

In his first draft eligible season, he played most of the year in the U20 Liiga level for HIFK, and had 16 points in 46 games. Not great for a guy playing in a European junior league, and who never played for Finland in any international tournaments. The next year he had a bit of a breakout, putting up 41 points in 50 games... but in the same level, on the same team and he was passed over again.

But this year, he wound up on Jukurit’s U20 team to start the year and had eight points in his first 13 games. After that he was promoted to their Liiga team and had 22 points in 47 games at the top level in Finland. He also got into six games for Team Finland’s U20 team, and had two points.

If the Jukurit team sounds familiar, it’s because that’s where Leafs prospect Mikko Kokkonen has been playing the past few seasons. The Leafs probably got to see Rindell up close a lot more often as they followed Kokkonen, and getting into some international games with him likely helped as well.

He’s a good offensive defenseman — he can skate the puck through the neutral zone, or fire off hard stretch passes with good accuracy. If you subscribe to the Athletic, check out the second video highlight in Scott Wheeler’s piece here. Tape to tape, from the faceoff circle in his own end to the other team’s blueline for a breakaway goal. His weakness is, you guessed it, his defense. He had the best possession on the team last year, but was outscored 41-22 at even strength. Jukurit was by all accounts a bad team, but how much of that was on Rindell and how much ice time he was given? He could be another project to work on even though he’s already 20. But, again, for the 177th pick overall? I don’t hate it.

The Rest of the Picks

  • Round 6, Pick #180: Joe Miller
  • Round 7, Pick #189: John Fusco
  • Round 7, Pick #195: Wyatt Schingoethe
  • Round 7, Pick #213: Ryan Tverberg

I don’t have a lot of thoughts on the rest of the picks the Leafs made. There were guys I was hoping the Leafs would take that they passed on, but some of these guys do sound intriguing. A lot of them were either drafted out of American leagues, or are committed to play at Harvard University in the NCAA. I’d say the Leafs have a clear connection to the Chicago Steel-Harvard University pipeline at this point.

Miller is literally as young as a player can be this draft, born on the cutoff date of September 15th, 2002. He’s also pretty tiny at 5’9” and 146 lbs. But he had 25 goals and 59 points in 25 games for his Minnesota high school. He was picked to play for the Chicago Steel in the USHL next year, who have a good history with small skilled forwards (Abruzzese, Sean Farrell, Gunnarwolfe Fontaine, etc). That’s swinging on a smaller, skilled guy to put on some muscle and be a late bloomer. Funnily enough, literally as I was writing this we had a US scout for the Guelph Storm (thanks @petejudge9!!!) reach out to the PPP twitter account and share this video:

John Fusco is an overage RHD who, like Miller, also played in high school last year, with 31 points in 24 games. He committed to play the 2020/21 season at Harvard University, which has been postponed because of the pandemic. I know almost nothing about him otherwise, but his dad did play in the NHL for the Whalers... so that’s neat. Here’s a video of an interview with him, and some highlights of practices with him:

And we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel, so here is a full game he played back in January 2018 at his high school (he’s #7 in the white jerseys):

Wyatt Schingoethe is another guy with a hell of a surname. He’s a 5’11”, 200 lb center from the Waterloo Black Hawks in the USHL. He’s another later(ish) birthday at August 3rd, 2002, so perhaps the Leafs are going for another late bloomer who already has a good amount of bulk to him. From the little I can find on him, he’s a good two-way center who is responsible defensively and contribute offensively. He was third on his team in total points, behind two players born 2+ years before him, but ahead of fellow 2020 draft prospect Ryder Rolston who the Avalanche took in the fifth round. I missed this when we published our initial article on him, but here is a full scouting report from Future Considerations who had him ranked 141st:

Schingoethe is a well-rounded player showing a hockey IQ that makes him better than he appears and that’s not a knock on his skills; it’s a compliment on his smarts. His skating is powerful, as shown by his ability to hold off defenders while in the offensive zone. He does a great job of keeping his feet moving through checks and has a bulldog attitude trying to retrieve pucks.

He appears to take some shifts off, but this should not be alarming as most shifts he does play at break neck speed, which can be hard to sustain. He knows how to play in all three zones and has just enough offensive skills to be dangerous on the rush. That offensive skill starts with his vision.

He plays a simple game at times and tends to find the teammate that most would not be able to. When he finds himself in scoring areas, he uses a wrist shot that is strong and accurate. He could stand to use a shoot first mentality more at times as he can overthink the play from time to time. Solid puck handler who uses his body well to shield off bigger defenders. His stickhandling is solid, and he moves well, not slowing down with the puck on his stick.

Defensively, he plays his position well and supports his defense. A stocky athlete, he can be hard to knock off the puck as he develops at the next level. There is not one skill that jumps off the chart for him but he does play a solid overall game. His effectiveness will depend on where he is at in the lineup.

A good skater who’s a smart, two-way center is something that does sound right out of the Kyle Dubas “Build-a-Player” manual. I’m surprised he wasn’t another Harvard commit, or from the Chicago Steel. Reading about him I do like what I see, that could be a potential steal in the seventh round.

Finally, we have Ryan Tverberg — the local Toronto boy who played in the OJHL and is the second Harvard University commit we drafted in the later rounds this year. He’s a 5’11” center, and finished sixth in the league among U18 players in points per game. Scott Wheeler left him off his top 100, but did add him to his 10 honorable mentions where he remarked that he showed a lot of speed and skill and was a capable center. He seems like a long-term project, but Scott did add that “I wouldn’t be surprised if he emerges from a four-year college career worthy of a pro contract”. For a pick right at the end of the draft? Sure, why the hell not! Take the long-shot local boy.

Although I am starting to suspect that Kyle reads the Harvard University commitment list like a drive-thru menu.

Overall Draft Grade & Thoughts

Through the first seven picks the Leafs made, I thought it was an amazing job by Kyle Dubas. They got some great value players who were also at positions they need. He didn’t reach on anyone. He took some good long-shots who may be projects and more risky, but that’s exactly what I think you should do once you get to the fourth round or later.

Once it got after Miettinen though... reading a bit about the last four or five picks they had seemed confusing and underwhelming at first. I had no idea who any of them were. Meanwhile, some other good long term gambles with high upside were available like Alex Pashin, Ronan Seeley (of course Carolina took those two), Oskar Magnusson, or even Devon Levi the goalie.

There were a bunch of guys that I really liked who didn’t even get drafted, like Karri Aho or Victor Mancini. In fact there are quite a few guys who went undrafted this year who I would have liked, and may do a list on that later. The good part is that since they went undrafted, they will still be available to be drafted next year! Having read some more on the four of them, I can see the ideas the Leafs were going for. They’re late round picks, and the guys I liked would have had their own question marks, so for now I’m undecided on them. They may turn out great, they may not. They’re long shots too.

Overall draft grade: A-

It was as close to a perfect draft with the hand they were dealt as I could have asked for. The only “misses” were not clearly bad, I just have no information to go on for them.

Poll

What grade would you give the Leafs’ 2020 draft overall?

This poll is closed

  • 35%
    A - absolute great job done by Dubas and company
    (436 votes)
  • 32%
    B - better than expected but a few head scratches late
    (396 votes)
  • 17%
    C - could have done better but had a few good choices
    (214 votes)
  • 8%
    D - didn’t like it at all
    (100 votes)
  • 7%
    F - I’m Don Cherry.
    (90 votes)
1236 votes total Vote Now