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There is no dishonour in not making the top 25 on the list of Maple Leafs prospects. Most years, there's a fairly long list of people someone votes for, and the unanimously unranked players are a few about to age out and have burned up the hope that still clings to some of the others.
This year there was one very obvious player not to rank, and that's where we'll start on this list.
O'Connell is almost 25, and is nearly finished his NCAA career. He was drafted by the Leafs in the seventh round in 2017 out of St. Andrews College in the Canadian High School system. He set his career high in points in that year with 27 assists in 47 games. One of his teammates that year – one of the goal-scorers – was Morgan Barron, who has carved out a career as a depth player in the NHL. He was a sixth-round pick, and is the same age as O'Connell. Teenagers and their points – not much of sure thing.
O'Connell's rights expire in a few days on August 15, so he was eligible for the vote this year, but only just.
Given an NHL contract in an emergency last season, no one bought in on Petruzzelli as an NHL goaltending prospect. He's the third oldest player on the eligibility list, and he should finish out the second year of his deal this season on the Growlers or Marlies where he's been good most of the time.
Fusco is the third unranked player. A defender, he was also taken in the seventh round in 2020, while he was about to leave prep school for the USHL. He played one year there before one at Harvard, but he moved down a level in the NCAA to Dartmouth last season. His prep school team in 2019-2020 was where he got his career high in points, as team captain, with 21 assists in 24 games.
One of his teammates on that team, yes, the goal-scorer again, was never drafted, but he's only 21, about to play for Boston University, and is coming off a very good USHL season. Watch out for the undrafted Doug Grimes, he might grind out an NHL depth career someday.
The rest of those who didn't make the cut got at least one vote from someone. Their weighted average votes range from 23.7 to 25.9, and the highest vote any of the got was 17th. The person who came 25th was at 22.4 in weighted average votes, which marks a significant line between the ranked and the unranked.
Now is a good time to remind everyone about the weighted average. For several years now, we've used a method of vote tabulation that goes like this: first place votes are reversed to 25, second to 24, third to 23 and so on until 25th ranked players get a one, and unranked votes are zero. This adjusts for the situation where one high vote for an otherwise unranked player can move them too far up the list.
To make the ranking understandable, once the reverse average is calculated, they're converted back to 1 through 26 so they make more sense to us when we compare players. Unranked players end up with a ranking of 26.
From almost unranked to the nearly made it in the honourable mentions are:
Kizimov, a forward drafted in 2018 in the seventh round, got one vote. I came very close to ranking him myself, because at 23, he's about to play his sixth year of men's pro hockey in Russia. He's now a KHL-level player as the KHL has regressed to meet his talent, but a pro hockey player at 23 is arguably better than an NCAA player at the same age.
Nonetheless, this is his level, and he's likely to have a career in Russia for a decade or so, but he's not really on the Leafs radar.
Koster got one vote, and I very nearly ranked him as well. I'd call him tied for 25th with a lot of others. I've seen him play a little – he was on Matt Knies team in the NCAA – and he's got a lot of skill, but is an offensive defencemen with very little reliable defensive skills and he is, I think, just too small for the NHL at 5'9". He was taken in the fifth round in 2019 at 146th overall, 39 places ahead of where Noah Chadwick was taken this summer. Chadwick is not small, however.
Schingoethe is a forward drafted in the seventh round in 2020, and he got two votes, and I have no idea why. Sorry to those who ranked him, but he has two points in 29 games in the NCAA. Points aren't everything, but... some points are sort of necessary.
Miettinen got two votes, one of them from me, and it's one I could dole out to Koster as easily. Miettinen, a sixth-round pick in 2020, is a middle-six type of forward in the NCAA who is never going to make the NHL, but then neither are most of the 36 eligible players on this list this year.
Ellis also got two votes, one from me, and I like him as an AHLer who could be called up. He laid down a nice, solid Marlies season after three NCAA years, and he's still only 23. His game is more clearly understood, so if you like to rank on faint hopes, you will pass him over. He also carries the stigma of being undrafted, so he hasn't been building up those faint hopes over years, he just arrived here last summer.
Peksa got several votes, and should likely be considered virtually tied with the two others who got slightly higher weighted average votes. Drafted in the sixth round in 2021, the Leafs signed him to an ELC, as almost all goalies are. He had a good season last year in the VHL and might actually amount to something. I had him near the bottom of my list in a sort of "shrug, he's a goalie, who knows" vote.
Kressler is another undrafted forward, but he's younger than most people likely expect with that history. He's actually a little younger than Matt Knies, even. He moved from the OHL to the Marlies this year, and we'll see who he really is. His OHL career was interrupted by the lost pandemic year and some injuries, so he hasn't played a full season of hockey ever, basically. His counting stats don't add up to much because of that.
Miller, also fairly young to be unranked, got several votes, and there's some good reason to rank him. He was drafted in the sixth round in 2020, but looks at least like a fourth- or fifth-rounder by his results so far. He went from powerhouse USHL team Chicago Steel to Harvard and maintained his points pace. I might say in hindsight, I should have ranked him over a few others.
That's the honourables and the unranked for this year. Did you rank any of them?
The countdown begins next week with the hotly anticipated unveiling of Mr. Number 25!
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