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Winter T25U25: understanding the mushy middle between 13 and 18

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I was able to split them into two groups...and then not much further.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Toronto Maple Leafs
Nov 9, 2018; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New Jersey Devils right wing Joey Anderson (49) battles for the puck with Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Josh Leivo (32) at Scotiabank Arena.
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Winter Top 25 Under 25 prospect ranking continues here at PPP with a big jump from the longshots to the Mushy Middle and the maybe-probably-NHL-contributors. In our voting, there was a distinguishable gap from the first five, to Denis Malgin and Dmitri Ovchinnikov, and then another gap to this six. Hence why we’ve done the series this way. Plus, we’ve already done profiles on five of the following players so it didn’t seem useful to repeat the things from the summer again.

Who is in the Mushy Middle?

#13 - Mikko Kokkonen - LD - Drafted 2019 - Round 3, Pick #84
2020-21 Team: Mikkelin Jukurit, Liiga
2020-21 Stats: 18GP, 0G, 3A, 3Pts

Kokkonen is in Edmonton at the moment preparing for the World Juniors with Team Finland. He will be one of their top defenders in the tournament and we’ll be watching very closely as he plays against the best of his age-group. Kokkonen has been a top-four defender averaging 21 minutes a night for his hometown team Jukurit all season (and ahead of his fellow Leafs prospect Axel Rindell on the third pair) and is expected to return when the WJC and the current suspension of play due to in the Liiga due to COVID is over.

We profiled Kokkonen over the summer where he finished tied for 11th in our Top 25 Under 25 ranking. In 2019-20, the young defenseman played a full season with Jukurit and featured in the WJC as well so this season hasn’t seen much change in his level of play. He played with Rindell to start last season, but moved up after the WJC and has been in the top-four ever since.

#14 - Joey Anderson - RW - Drafted 2016 - Round 3, Pick #73
2021 Team: Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL
2019-20 Stats (NHL): 18GP, 4G, 2A, 6Pts

Anderson was acquired in the offseason in a trade with the New Jersey Devils for Andreas Johnsson that relieved the Leafs of some cap issues caused by signing TJ Brodie. The former Leafs’ seventh-round pick is expected to be on the top line for New Jersey while Anderson is in the mushy fight for a bottom-six spot. Anderson immediately signed a three-year contract for $750,000 per season, so at least he’ll be around for a while.

We haven’t done a profile on the 22-year-old before, but fellow SB Nation blog All About the Jersey put Anderson in their top 10 last summer when they did their T25U25. They consider him to have limited offensive upside, but a possession-friendly compete level, vision, and defensive ability.

“While his offensive upside is limited at the NHL level, he should hopefully be someone that can develop his game into that of a player that provides secondary scoring. His compete level, defensive responsibility, and vision allow him to play in a variety of roles and I look forward to seeing him have a healthy season that helps him further develop all aspects of his game.” - All About the Jersey

Last season, Anderson didn’t score much, indicating said offensive ceiling, but he did play against tougher competition relative to other third liners. Over his two partial seasons in the NHL, Anderson got time with the likes of Blake Coleman, Travis Zajac, Miles Wood, and Kevin Rooney (often the 4C). So he moved around the lineup a bunch and got time as said complimentary winger to some more important players.

Most of Anderson’s minutes have come after the trade deadline in the latter part of the season as the Devils are evaluating younger prospects, so it is a concern that he hasn’t yet played a full season in the NHL. Nevertheless, he was looking poised to give the roster a crack with his strong performance to end last season (before it ended first), and the Leafs seem to like him. He absolutely fit the mold of the forwards Kyle Dubas has been drafting the past two seasons.

#15 - Pierre Engvall - LW/C - Drafted 2014 - Round 7, Pick #188
2021 Team: Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL
2019-20 Stats (NHL): 48GP, 8G, 7A, 15Pts

Oh, Pierre, what have they done to you?

PE Longneck has fallen from #9 in our summer Top 25 Under 25 prospect ranking all the way down to #15, and he’s only played four games in between! It looks like an influx of young talent from the 2020 Draft along with a literal raft of depth free agent signings have pushed Engvall out of fans’ lineups, and therefore, hearts.

It’s hard to be “The Tall Guy” when Wayne Simmonds, Joe Thornton, and Jimmy Vesey are in the room.

I will say, I ranked Engvall like I did over the summer: behind the top two tiers of prospects and ahead of the longshots. I think there’s a lot to like about Engvall, who I feel got caught up on a third line last season that for some reason had a bad stink to them and no one could figure out what they were supposed to do. The way I see it, Engvall is a further along version of what we all hope Joey Anderson to be. I only ranked Anderson ahead because of the age difference. But in terms of value to the Leafs, Engvall still has a lot to give.

And did I mention he has a long neck?

#16 - Nicholas Abruzzese - C - Drafted 2019 - Round 4, Pick #124
2021 Team: Harvard University, NCAA (Season Cancelled)
2019-20 Stats (NCAA): 31GP, 14G, 30A, 44Pts

Unfortunately for Nick Abruzzese, the Ivy League cancelled all winter sports for the season, and his second Harvard year was cut short. He also had surgery in the Fall to put injury on top of insult (hah). The 21-year-old is staying in Boston this winter and will hopefully be studying hard while isolated in his dorm. I don’t really know what his current situation is, but we wish him the best and hopefully next season he can show us that he’s a year away from being a year away.

#17 - Egor Korshkov - RW/LW - Drafted 2016 - Round 2, Pick #31
2020-21 Team: Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, KHL (full season loan)
2020-21 Stats: 34GP, 12G, 11A, 23Pts

Believe it or not, Korshkov is the fourth oldest 24-year-old in our pool of under 25 Leafs. Only William Nylander, Adam Brooks, and Pierre Engvall are older (I would be fifth, and part of the 1996 gang). Korshkov famously scored a goal in his first and so far only NHL game last season, but less famously struggled with injuries on the Toronto Marlies and could never find his feet during the tumultuous tire-fire of a season.

Since then, Korshkov has returned to the KHL and his hometown Lokomotiv Yaroslavl on a full season loan that will end at the end of February (*60 games plus playoffs). Korshkov will definitely miss the start of the Leafs season and I don’t think there are plans for him to attend training camp, but considering how late everything is starting in North America, Korshkov shouldn’t miss much of the NHL season and possibly none of the AHL year.

*Covid notwithstanding

There is no doubt Korshkov has been killing it in the KHL right now, leading his team in goals and points. This season is going to be full of chaos and randomness, so while Korshkov currently looks on paper to be low on the Leafs depth chart and bound for the AHL once his season is done, he could very well come in hotter than anyone else on the fourth line and win himself a job.

#18 - Semyon Der-Arguchintsev - C - Drafted 2018 - Round 3, Pick #76
2020-21 Team: Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, KHL (loan)
2020-21 Stats: 10GP, 1G, 4A, 5Pts

SDA has also spent his season in Russia, jumping right into the KHL from junior as a 20-year-old, and from what I can tell, centering the third line on Torpedo. I’m not sure when SDA’s loan in the KHL ends (he has said himself he’s not sure if he’d stay on Torpedo after injury recovery), but I feel comfortable saying he’ll be on the Marlies once that season starts up again. I bet he can’t wait to play Belleville, Laval, and Manitoba over and over and over and over again in the Canadian Division. So much fun. At least he’ll have a beard.

Two Types of Mushy Middle

Maybe Real Prospects? - Kokkonen, Abruzzese, Der-Arguchintsev

Let me disagree with myself for a minute and say I think Mikko Kokkonen should be in the tier above this mushy middle. I’m sure you can deduce by process of elimination that the likes of Roni Hirvonen, Topi Niemela, and Mikhail Abramov are ahead of this group, but I believe Kokkonen deserves to sit at the same table. He’s going to the WJC with them and he started in the Liiga at the same age as Hirvonen and Niemela did. All three are playing top-four/top-six roles in that league so I don’t see the need to differentiate between them. Kokkonen is a year older, but he’s also better right now.

For Abruzzese and SDA, I think both are in that period where they are a year away from being a year away from us knowing where they stand in terms of NHL quality. Also, if I’m being honest, I think Abruzzese lost some lustre because he plays in the NCAA, a league that is wholly foreign to Leafs fans. And for SDA, he was enveloped by the shadow cast by Nick Robertson and I think a lot of his season was attributed to Robertson’s premier shooting ability (and it may very well have been).

For now, we’ll have to wait. These prospects aren’t longshots or slam dunks, they’re in the mushy middle.

Fringe NHLers - Anderson, Engvall, Korshkov

Anderson, Engvall, and Korshkov all contain varying degrees of NHL experience, NHL skills, and NHL barriers holding them back. Anderson is the youngest, but with not much experience on a bad team. Engvall is the oldest and arguably the most proven. And Korshkov is neither young nor proven but he’s kicking ass in the KHL.

I think we ended up with the right order of players here. Denis Malgin would be somewhere in the middle had everyone voted for him (sorry not sorry). Anderson has the most hype right now and the longest runway considering his age and contract. Engvall almost feels like the incumbent (imagine saying that a year ago) who was replaced by a bunch of vets with finishing ability. And Korshkov has that finishing ability, but he almost seems destined for the AHL once again, unless he can come back in better game shape than everyone else.

The way the roster is currently constructed, I don’t think any of these players makes the opening night lineup. But the chance of them being called upon is much higher than in any other season and all it takes is some momentum. But for right now, it’s the mushy middle for them.

How We Voted

Winter T25 Votes: 13 to 18

Player Mikko Kokkonen Joey Anderson Pierre Engvall Nicholas Abruzzese Egor Korshkov Semyon Der-Arguchintsev
Player Mikko Kokkonen Joey Anderson Pierre Engvall Nicholas Abruzzese Egor Korshkov Semyon Der-Arguchintsev
Winter 2020 Rank 13 14 15 16 17 18
Summer 2020 Rank 12 N/A 9 13 17 15
Nationality Finland USA Sweden USA Russia Russia
Age 19 22 24 21 24 20
Position LD RW LW C RW C
Species 12 13 18 14 19 16
Brigstew 13 22 17 16 18 25
Katya 18 13 16 22 15 17
Hardev 9 13 14 15 21 16
Fulemin 13 10 11 17 12 18
Kevin 14 11 15 16 21 19
Jared 14 15 16 23 17 19
Adam 16 14 15 9 10 19
Rahef 14 13 11 15 18 16
Weighted Average 13.7 13.8 14.8 16.3 16.8 18.3
Highest Rank 9 10 11 9 10 16
Lowest Rank 18 22 18 23 21 25
Spread in Rank 9 12 7 14 11 9

Let the Voters Have Their Say

Mikko Kokkonen

Brigstew: I like Kokkonen, but he’s another guy I’m not fully sure what to make of him. He’s the most trusted and used defenseman on his Liiga team. He plays lots of minutes, and a top PK role. He hovers around the best possession-driving players on the team. But his team is also really bad. You can’t blame a whole team for being bad on him, but if he’s their best defenseman and the team is bad… that doesn’t mean nothing either.

I can see some potential as a Justin Holl type player who can support a good 2nd pair, if his partner is the one doing the heavier lifting. He can move the puck, not get a lot of points, but drive good results and be an effective PKer. That’s valuable, so even if I have some uncertainty around him I still ranked him 13th — just ahead of my final tier of ranked prospects who are either much bigger question marks or have lower ceilings.

Jared: Kokkonen was a guy I wanted the Leafs to draft and was very happy when it happened. His D1 season was all over the place, but I still think he has a good shot at being, at least, a useful NHL player one day.

Joey Anderson

Brigstew: Is Anderson another Malgin or Petan? Or is he another Engvall or Hyman? Depends on who you ask, but my issue is I don’t really personally know anything about him. He has some NHL games in him with not so great results, but on a bad team. Being able to get some games on a bad team isn’t exactly a huge positive sign, but his numbers don’t mean a whole lot either. Scouting people I trust seem to like what he can bring, and he could be another guy like Zach Hyman. But I don’t know if he’ll be as good as Hyman, and could top out as a third line energy guy who doesn’t drive the line but we love all the same. Another Engvall, in other words, albeit playing a different style. I ranked Anderson in the same tier as Engvall, but lower down at 22nd due to my lack of familiarity with him.

Katya: It’s reasonable to expect Joey Anderson to progress a little at his age, but imagining big leaps is, well, no one does usually for players someone else drafted, so nevermind. He’s likely to end up off the NHL roster unless injuries pile up, and his window of opportunity is the next training camp in the fall of 2021, so it’s easy, and fair to vote him down now. But he’s a lot more likely to make a splash next fall than Malgin, Petan or Brooks.

Pierre Engvall

Brigstew: I like Engvall as a player. He’s big and can skate. He can go on scoring heaters at times. He can play center or the wing. He looked okay on a third line, but a third line that struggled and I don’t think he’d ever be considered the best player on a GOOD third line. That limits his value, and he got knocked off the roster by guys like Nick Robertson and Jason Spezza. I don’t even know if he’ll get NHL games this year, barring a taxi squad, because they signed some older former star players like Thornton and Simmonds and better depth guys like Vesey. He’ll be fighting for one of the final roster spots, and at his age that says something to me about where his value tops out. I ranked at 17th, and in the same tier as guys in a similar state as him (Korshkov, Brooks, Anderson) and higher potential guys with bigger question marks.

Katya: I have Engvall whiplash. What is he? He coasted through an unexciting tour of the Allsvenskan where his goal-scoring was taken way too seriously, and I think I overreacted out of irritation and down-ranked him. Then in the SHL, he showed this work ethic, coach’s favourite, grinder personality that was really impressive, and I had to admit when he brought that to the AHL that there was a useful role player there. And his goal scoring was taken way too seriously. And then… you know, he sucked in the playoffs. That’s the truth. He was just okay in the regular season, and is now overpaid (I thought he’d live up to the contract, and he has emphatically not) and I don’t know what he is. Traded by the end of camp? Right back on the third line?

Jared: I blame Hardev for how much I like our resident giraffe. He got a lot of heat after he stopped scoring after signing his deal, but as is most things his scoring potential is somewhere in the middle of the hot start and the lost in the sahara finish. I think he’s an OK 3rd liner who won’t put up a ton of points but could be a big part of a decent shut down line or the defensive guy on a more rounded unit.

Nicholas Abruzzese

Brigstew: He’s small and smart and skilled. He’s already 21 years old and a late bloomer, but did just put up 44 points in 31 games in the NCAA which is below the AHL as far as competition goes, maybe more like the ECHL. So there may be something there, but it’s hard to see what until he makes the jump to professional hockey and we can see how he fares against AHLers. I ranked him 16th for potential, at the front of my final tier of prospects with guys like Ovchinnikov and Miettinen.

Katya: I think I let Abruzzese get squeezed out of my list of likely players, and I feel like I ranked him a little low, but I’ve got very little certainty about this player. NCAA = ECHL to me with few and rare exceptions. And “he’s small for his age” only works for a very short span of time that expired sometime in the middle of this lost year. He’s Liljegren’s age, and… 2021 needs to be his take a leap up year or else my ranking was right on the money.

Species: Abruzzese is one of about three higher ranked prospects I had forgotten existed because of the long break since they have played. He has a friend in the coach of the Marlies who happens to be his junior hockey coach. Maybe he can kick-start something more for his career if he turns pro, but there’s nothing sufficiently impressive I’ve seen so far that says this 21-year-old will someday be in the NHL.

Egor Korshkov

Brigstew: He’s big at 6’4” but can still skate. He has some skill and can score goals (was 3rd on the Marlies last year while playing 10 fewer games than the guys ahead of him). He’s just got a taste of the NHL, and is having a career year in the KHL. But he’s also 24. I grouped him in my final tier of guys, and at 18th specifically, because I can see his value but don’t think it tops out beyond a bottom 6 guy.

Katya: Let’s play “set your expectations” again. Korshkov is one of the oldest guys on the list, and that means he needs to be a top line KHLer having the best year of his hockey career to date. That’s the minimum standard to consider him a legit NHLer of any sort. And he’s doing that precise thing. He’s scoring more than he ever has, playing more, and the only thing that would make him a really hot property is a better power play skillset. Big and can’t be moved off the net ain’t nothing though.

Jared: I think my contract states that i have to say something about Alex Debrincat here? Anyways, Korshkov has developed pretty well for a guy who was beset by a broken leg, or was that two broken legs? Either way he’s developing in an upward way and looks like he could be a useful NHL player someday soon.

Semyon Der-Arguchintsev

Brigstew: SDA is a tough one to wrap my head around. He’s only a year older than Amirov (Sep 2000 birthday vs Oct 2001). He’s also in the KHL, and playing close to the same amount of minutes (14:04 for SDA vs 13:56 for Amirov as of writing this). SDA is playing center, he has 0.5 points per game which is a better pace than Amirov albeit in half as many games. He had a down season in his post-draft year, but bounced back last year. Was that bounce back due to riding shotgun with Nick Robertson as he went on a goal scoring frenzy? He seems to have legit skill and ability, but I still have some questions. I ranked him 25th because I still see potential, but no higher because I really just don’t know.

Katya: I had two big difficulties in deciding rankings this year — four, five and six and where to put SDA. This is the junior hockey vs men’s hockey trouble. Because SDA played in the OHL, you have to add some grains of salt to those results, the same way I do with Ovchinnikov’s MHL hot play. But, now we have SDA in the KHL, on a bad team, to be fair, and not quite playing top six either. And I ask myself, if a player who had never left Russia had graduated to that spot at age 20… what would I think. I’d think Egor Korshkov, because that’s exactly what he did.

Poll

Which is real?

This poll is closed

  • 29%
    Joey Anderson
    (88 votes)
  • 29%
    Pierre Engvall
    (89 votes)
  • 41%
    Egor Korshkov
    (126 votes)
303 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Do SDA and AZ make the NHL one day?

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    Yes, both
    (31 votes)
  • 53%
    Only one of them
    (160 votes)
  • 35%
    Sadly, neither
    (107 votes)
298 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Are you excited to watch Kokkonen at the World Juniors?

This poll is closed

  • 78%
    Yes
    (217 votes)
  • 11%
    The tournament is unethical
    (32 votes)
  • 10%
    Who?
    (29 votes)
278 votes total Vote Now