The Maple Leafs pipeline has plenty of fun prospects in it, but with no top-10 first-round draft picks out there, it’s easy to lose track of who to watch, and who might sneak up and surprise you.
This is a quick overview of the minor leagues, the drafted prospects and the fate of a couple of strays, too. If all you want is points, go to the Elite Prospects “in the system” page and see all the players in the NHL system (you won’t find any on AHL contracts).
Marlies who have come up to the Leafs and actually played so far are Kirill Semyonov, Michael Hutchinson and Joe Woll.
With the cap crunch coming back whenever Ilya Mikheyev is healthy, it’s hard to imagine Semyonov can stay at that point — he is waivers exempt — but he seems to be earning some trust of Sheldon Keefe. He has only played approximately 11 minutes in each of two games, however. On the Marlies, he’s the team’s leading scorer right now with one goal and eight assists in nine games.
Names to watch in the AHL are:
- Josh Ho-Sang - he’s only one point behind Semyonov, and he’s bucking the trend of his career and getting most of his points through goals. He looks very exciting and, while only on an AHL contract, should be seen as a Leafs prospect.
- Alex Steeves is back from his season opening injury and has made an impact in only five games, getting a goal per game — which we can all assume will continue.
- Semyon Der-Arguchintsev is doing well, while Mikhail Abromov is struggling a little in the jump to pro hockey.
- Erik Källgren is their best goalie so far, and is the only one with enough starts to judge from yet. He got namedropped by Keefe in discussing his plans for handling Petr Mrázek’s injury.
- Nick Robertson is still injured.
The Marlies are in third place in the North Division after 10 games with a win % of .600, good enough for 10th in the league, so the start has been good, but not outstanding. They’re doing well in goals against, and somewhat poorly in goals for.
With a temporary solution to their need for a venue for home games, the Growlers are rolling along on the ice. After nine games, they lead the North Division with a win % of .778, which leads the league.
Names to watch:
- Keith Petruzzelli, on an AHL deal, is one of the best ECHL goalies so far, and he leads the league in save % for goalies with at least five starts. There are three others ahead of him with two games each, and two tied.
- Noel Hoefenmayer, also on an AHL deal, is doing very well.
North American Drafted Prospects
This is not an exhaustive list, just the top few:
- Ty Voit is leading the Sarnia Sting in points with four goals and 11 assists in 11 games.
- Matthew Knies, Minnesota (NCAA), is having a great year early with five goals and four assists in 12 games, which puts him just behind the older veteran top line. Deeper into the NCAA season, we’ll pay some attention to where he sits relative to his age-peers, but this is a very good start for a young player.
- Braedan Kressler (free agent signing) is doing well, but not amazing on the Flint Firebirds. He has five points in 11 games.
- Nick Abruzzese, Harvard (NCAA), is fifth on his team in points after only seven games. It’s a good start, but not indicative of what he should be able to do over a whole season.
- Veeti Miettinen, everyone’s favourite late-round pick, is doing okay with eight points in 12 games at St. Cloud State (NCAA), but also sits outside the top three forwards in points.
- William Villeneuve, on the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QHJHL has not had the point production he did when he was drafted, but is being used very heavily at 5v5, the top PK unit, and second PP unit.
Also not exhaustive, and focused on the younger prospects:
- Rodion Amirov is still out injured.
- Roni Hirvonen and Topi Niemelä are both on the Finnish U20 squad for some friendlies, and are certainly making the WJC team next month. Niemelä has had an amazing start to his Liiga season, leading his team in points with 18 in 20 games. Hirvonen has had more trouble getting points, with only eight in 19 games. In case you’ve forgotten, Niemelä is the defenceman. He’s also getting some PP time which leads to assists on a good team. They’re the cream of the European crop right now.
- My favourite late-round pick, Dmitri Ovchinnikov has played actual shifts in KHL games, after getting the dressed but not played experience. He has three points in 13 games so far, and might just stick around in the big league a little longer.
- Mikko Kokkonen, Axel Rindell and Kalle Loponen are Finnish defensive prospects who are also playing in the Liiga. They are doing okay, given their age and usage, but should not be viewed as exemplary seasons or top prospect material.
- Artur Akhtyamov started the year as the top goalie prospect in the system, but has struggled. He’s mostly played in the VHL and has an .892 sv% in 18 games.
- Vyacheslav Peksa is the newest goalie prospect drafted from the same system in the KHL as Akhtyamov, and has played entirely in the MHL. The MHL is junior hockey, so is much easier, and he is a year younger than Akhtyamov, but Peska has had a very good season with a .937 sv% and 4 shutouts in 21 games.
Waifs and Strays
- Adam Brooks is still on the roster of the Canadiens, but has only played in limited minutes in three games, with no points. If they waive him — which they will eventually have to as players return from injury — he could end up back on the Leafs.
- Michael Amadio has six games for Vegas, with no points. Vegas will have to do all sorts of clever things when Jack Eichel is ready to return, so Amadio may end up available to return to the Leafs/Marlies as well.
For both of these players, if the Leafs are the only claiming team, they can be sent to the AHL immediately upon claim, no waivers needed.
And that’s the highlights for the start to the season. The WJC should show us how much Hirvonen and Niemelä have progressed, and with Amirov and Robertson missing most of the season so far, they are the two to watch.