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Maple Leafs Prospect Update: Checking in on all Leafs prospects at mid-season

Everyone except AHL prospects, that is

IHOCKEY-EURO-CUP-SWE-RUS Photo by VESA MOILANEN/Lehtikuva/AFP via Getty Images

I occasionally give little updates of a few Leafs’ prospects now and then, but it’s usually done based on recent performance and it’s never really been everyone. I’ve also done more full profiles on a small number of specific prospects, like Knies or Niemela. Now that we’re around halfway through the season for everyone’s seasons, I wanted to give a quick blurb on how everyone is doing — everyone except the Marlies, who I haven’t really watched much. I’ll leave that to Hardev and Species.

Here we go! I’ll list them all by league/level/region.

NCAA

Matthew Knies (LW) has been arguably Minnesota’s best player as a freshman. His line with fellow-freshman Chaz Lucius (18th overall pick) and undrafted senior Ben Meyers (23 years old) has gone from their 3rd line, to their top line this season. And Knies is arguably the driving force on the line. Since returning from the cancelled WJC, Knies had back to back games with two assists and eight total shots on goal. He’s now a point per game player with 20 in 20 as a freshman, and as Mitch Brown from Elite Prospects recently wrote, Knies is by far and away their best play driver for offense, transitions, and defensive contributions. Can’t ask for much more from any prospect, but the fact that the Leafs got him in the second round is a superb case of drafting.

Mike Koster (LD) has had a quiet but effective year. He plays on the second pair and powerplay for Minnesota, and has 5 points in 17 games. That’s a lower pace than last season, but raw offensive production isn’t really his bread and butter. He’s a good puck mover and decent all-around defenseman for the NCAA, but doesn’t really have a lot of high end offensive skill. I think he’s a longshot for the NHL, but if the Leafs sign him he could make for a fun AHLer.

Veeti Miettinen (RW) has had a bad year, no way around it. I don’t know if he’s been playing through something, but not only has his point pace declined (13 in 18 games) compared to his freshman year, but he hasn’t looked particularly good to the point you’d say he was just unlucky. In most games I’ve watched, he’s looked invisible for the whole game or at least most of it. His best game that I’ve seen was his most recent one, here he had 2 goals, and assist, and seven shots on net. I really liked what I saw from his last year, but much less so this year. If he can look more like he did last game, even if he doesn’t catch last year’s production, that would still go a long way for me.

Ryan Tverberg (RW) has had a slow go of it since attending Canada’s World Junior camp in December. He has one assist and one shot on goal against two tougher opponents than UConn has played for most of the year — Boston College, and Harvard. That’s been the big red flag of caution for his breakout season, where a lot of his production has come against much weaker NCAA teams. He has 9 goals and 8 assists in 16 games to lead the team, which is good no matter how you look at it. But this isn’t in the same tier as Matthew Knies or even Nick Abruzzese. What it’s done is made a case for his potential as a fourth line energy guy, albeit still a bit of a long shot.

Nick Abruzzese (C/LW) won ECAC player of the week for his team’s conference because he had three straight games with three points — giving him 9 points in one week. He’s up to 21 points in 13 games to lead his team. There are also rumours that he will be added to Team USA’s Olympic team — hard to have a better week than that, if true.

John Fusco (RHD) has played in 10 games for Harvard, with one goal in his first game back in October and one assist on January 1st. Hasn’t played in every game and is often used as their 6th/7th defenseman, while getting occasional powerplay time.

Wyatt Schingoethe (C) has not played for Western Michigan since November 6th. He had no points in eight games, so it’s been rough for him.

CHL & USHL

Ty Voit (C) has had a solid season in the OHL. He’s leading his team with 31 points in 22 games, while also acting as their first line center. He’s used on the top powerplay, and on the penalty kill. I wouldn’t say he’s looked dominant, per se, but a model of consistently very good. He’s only gone without a point in five games all season, and has made some good strides this year in his play beyond his playmaking. Playing center is a lot more responsibility, let alone playing as their 1C against the rest of the team’s top lines. So it’s not like he’s an all-offense player with just merely good numbers.

William Villeneuve (RD) has also been producing a good amount of points, but developing more of the rest of his game. He has 23 points in 26 games, and was on a real hot streak before COVID put a long pause on the QMJHL season — which won’t resume until later this month. He’s also playing on the top penalty kill unit, their PP2 unit, and regularly plays close to 30 minutes per night. At the QMJHL trade deadline, Saint John went bonkers and acquired several players as part of their Memorial Cup push — since they are hosts. That big ice time is a testament to how his defense has come along, but he is also in his D+2 season so he should be a lot better in junior by now. His points will probably tail off for the rest of the season, as I expect all those trades will mean they don’t rely on him as much and his ice time declines. But it’s a nice development for him.

Braeden Kressler (C) was the Leafs’ undrafted ELC signing following their rookie camp, he plays as the top line center for Flint. He’s a smaller center, but is known for being a solid two-way center despite it. He also plays in all situations, on the PP and PK, but has 13 points in 23 games. He’s also been missing games of late, due to injury and/or COVID protocol. He’ll need to start developing more offensive play in junior to take his NHL chances seriously, but it is good to have the rest of the game with a solid foundation already.

Joe Miller (C/LW) is one of the biggest breakouts this season for Leafs’ prospects. After missing a chunk of time last year due to injury, he played time as a depth center on a very deep Chicago Steel team. This year, most of their top players left for college, and Miller eventually filled their first line left wing role next to uber prospect Adam Fantilli. Miller has gone on a big run since joining that line, putting up 39 points in 31 games — good for 5th in the league and tied with Fantilli. While Fantilli is definitely the driving force of the line, his numbers also took off when Miller joined him. I chalk that up to Miller as a playmaker working well with Fantilli as a goal scorer. Miller also plays on the PP and PK, and does well with both.

Finland

Topi Niemelä (RD) is arguably the biggest breakout star in the Leafs’ system this year. At one point, well into the season, he led all of Liiga in points and was at a point per game. Not surprisingly, he hasn’t quite kept up with that pace. But he’s still at 24 points in 33 games to lead the league in points for defenseman and good for a tie for 12th among all players. He’s getting ice time, he’s more active offensively, and getting PP1 time. He was set to lead Finland at the World Juniors that was cancelled due to COVID. His growth offensively is a huge development for his future, considering he was drafted mostly for his defense.

Axel Rindell (RD) was the top defenseman for a bad Jukurit team to start the season, but was eventually moved to Karpat to join Niemelä’s tam. While he had 5 points in 16 games with Jukurit, he has 12 points in 18 games for Karpat. He plays on the second or third pair, and on the powerplay. He’s a pretty good defenseman in the Liiga, but since he’s already 21 that’s not pointing to good chances at him being a good defenseman in the NHL.

Roni Hirvonen (C/RW) was captain of Finland at the WJC, and did well in the three total games (including the one warmup against USA) he played. In the Liiga, he’s had a rougher go of it. He’s played 28 games for HIFK and has 6 goals and 16 points. He has been producing more of late, and for what it’s worth he has the second highest Corsi% in the league (excluding those who have only played in one or two games) with 63.6%. That basically sums up Hirvonen, he is a good play driver with a wicked shot but he may not ever be a top point producer at higher levels.

Mikko Kokkonen (LD) was the partner in crime with Rindell on Jukirit’s top defensive pairing last year, but this year moved to the Pelicans — a much better team. He plays on the top or second pairing, on the PK and with the odd time on the PP. But in general he is who he always was, a decent defensive defenseman who can drive play. If he makes the NHL, it will be as a third pairing PK specialist.

Kalle Loponen (RD) was a late round pick of Toronto’s in 2019. He played a decent but unspectacular season in the OHL, then moved back to Finland because of COVID where he was the Defenseman of the Year in Finland’s U20 league — which sounds good but any good defense prospect in Finland plays their draft year in Liiga, let alone their D+2 season. This year he’s been in Liiga all year for KooKoo, where he has 4 points in 35 games on their third pair. To put it in perspective, he’s a year younger than Rindell who at the same age was about 2-3 times more productive.

Russia

Rodion Amirov (LW) has had a rough season. He played in three games to start the season before suffering a serious shoulder injury that kept him out until December. He played one minute in his first game back, then missed the next few games until later in the month. Since then he has been back and playing around 10 minutes a night. And now he tested positive for COVID and missed the next game or two before the whole team was shut down for a big breakout. Hard to read too much into his season, it’s been one big stall.

Dmitri Ovchinnikov (C/LW) has been healthy all year, unlike Amirov, but he’s probably played even less. He’s been the team’s extra forward pretty much all year, which means he dresses but either doesn’t play at all, or gets into maybe a minute or two for the odd shift. He had one stretch in the middle of the season when there was an injury above him, and he had 7 of 8 games with 5 to 10 minutes on the fourth line. Since then he’s only had three games of under 4 minutes of ice time. On days where the KHL team hasn’t played but the the MHL junior team is playing in the same city, Ovchinnikov has been sent down to get playing time as their top forward. It’s been a bit frustrating for him, but as Amirov has shown it’s not always a smooth ride to get regular playing time in the KHL.

Nikolai Chebykin (LW) is a 24 year old prospect whose rights the Leafs still technically own. He’s played on two KHL teams this year, after a mid-season trade. He has 8 total goals and 3 assists in 34 games between Dynamo and Spartak. He’s basically a non-prospect at this point.

Artur Akhtyamov (G) entered this season as arguably the Leafs’ top goalie prospect, but his season has been up and down. He’s played primarily in the VHL for Ak Bars, where he has a .910 sv% in 32 games. He’s gotten called up to the KHL occasionally to either back up their starter when the other goalie is hurt, and has gotten into part of one game. He started the season really rough, with a save percentage well under .900. He’s been hot of late, which is more encouraging and he may salvage the season somewhat. He hasn’t proven he’s too good for the level, however, which is disappointing to see.

Vyacheslav Peksa (G) was a surprise overage goalie drafted last year in the 7th round, considering he had poor numbers in the MHL junior level as the backup. He’s part of the same organization as Akhtyamov. This year he’s still in the MHL, since Ak Bars are pretty deep in net from the KHL down to the MHL. For his part, Peska has been pretty dominant in junior with a .934 sv% and six shutouts in 43 games. That’s good for third in save percentage among regular starting goalies, and his 43 games are the most in the league. I’m still skeptical of his future since the MHL is far from the KHL, which isn’t all that close to the NHL either. But since that’s the opportunity he was given, he’s doing well with it.

Sweden

Pontus Holmberg (C) is the last but not least prospect to mention. He’s coming off a playoff MVP and championship season in the SHL, where he also signed an ELC with Toronto. He returned to the SHL where he has already set career bests in points with 24 in far fewer games. He’s been on a hot streak of late, with a 7 game point streak in the SHL where he has 2 goals and 8 assists. Holmberg’s season has been strong enough that he may also get to join Team Sweden for their Olympics, now that the NHLers aren’t going.