Usually the NHL Entry Draft is the big kickoff to prospect season for Maple Leafs fans. After last year’s spree of new draftees and signings, this summer might be a little more low key. As of now there are only three draft picks in Leafs’ possession, all for the Saturday portion of the draft. Last year was the big spend on prospects ahead of what we likely should expect to be frequent purchases at the trade deadline and in the offseason on NHL-ready players.

Last year’s draft dominates the list of unsigned draft picks:

Maple Leafs Unsigned Draft Picks July, 2021

NameBirth DatePositionDraft YearRoundDraft PositionRights Expire
Roni HirvonenJanuary 10, 2002C2020259June 1, 2024
Topi NiemeläMay 25, 2002RD2020364June 1, 2024
Artur AkhtiamovOctober 31, 2001G20204106IND
William VilleneuveMarch 30, 2002RD20204122June 1, 2022
Dmitri OvchinnikovAugust 19, 2002C, LW, RW20205137IND
Veeti MiettinenSeptember 20, 2001RW20206168August 15, 2024
Joe MillerSeptember 15, 2002C, LW, RW20206180August 15, 2025
Axel RindellApril 23, 2000RD20206177June 1, 2022
John FuscoJune 13, 2001LD20207189August 15, 2024
Wyatt SchingoetheAugust 3, 2002C20207195August 15, 2025
Ryan TverbergJanuary 30, 2002C20207213August 15, 2025
Mikko KokkonenJanuary 18, 2001LD2019384June 1, 2023
Nick AbruzzeseJune 4, 1999C20194124August 15, 2023
Mike KosterApril 13, 2001LD20195146August 15, 2024
Kalle LoponenMarch 13, 2001RD20197204June 1, 2023
Semyon KizimovJanuary 19, 2000RW20187211IND
Vladislav KaraApril 20, 1998C20174124IND
Ryan O'ConnellApril 25, 1999LD20177203August 15, 2022
James GreenwayApril 27, 1998LD2016372August 15, 2021
Vladimir BobylevApril 18, 1997LW, C20165122IND
Nikolai ChebykinAugust 1, 1997C20167182IND
Fabrice HerzogDecember 9, 1994LW, RW20135142IND

At the bottom of this list, taken from Cap Friendly, so it includes Fabrice Herzog who I like to forget about, is dominated by players like him who aren’t prospects anymore, but are held by indefinite rights. They come from countries where, at the time they were drafted, there was no transfer agreement with the NHL. This causes a lot of confusion because non-North-American players in the junior systems of Canada and the US can have difficult statuses to track. Cap Friendly confirmed this summer that the Leafs’ rights to defender Eemeli Räsänen have expired upon his return to various European leagues.

I ignore everyone drafted in 2018 and earlier, and I ignore anyone born in 2000 or earlier who were taken in later rounds. The only potential exception is Nick Abruzzese, who has so far done nothing but play well in what is junior hockey. But because he missed an entire season, his “are you a player or not” year is likely this coming season.

Once a player is three to four years out from the draft, if they haven’t been signed, they’re likely to be heard from again only when they sign a minor-league deal for some other team.

Toronto Marlies sign defender Ben Finkelstein to an AHL deal

This is particularly true when a team is not worrying about SPC counts. The Maple Leafs had so many dead contracts, NHL-contracted career minor leaguers, and players taken in trade as cap dumps in 2015 and 2016, that they were careful about who they signed, but that’s no longer an issue. They’ve been signing prospects they like, bringing them to Toronto, at least in the offseason, and deciding their future based on more than hazy ideas of what they wished the player was when they drafted him.

Their list of players who either are now unsigned RFAs or whose contracts expire as RFAs is decently long for a mature team:

Maple Leafs RFAs as of July, 2021

NameBirth Date PositiionDraft YearDraft RoundDraft PositionContract Expires
Rodion AmirovOctober 2, 2001LW20201152024
Nicholas RobertsonSeptember 11, 2001LW20192532024
Mikhail AbramovMarch 26, 2001C201941152024
Semyon Der-ArguchintsevSeptember 15, 2000C20183762023
Alex SteevesDecember 10, 1999CUND2024
Filip KrálOctober 20, 1999D201851492023
Timothy LiljegrenApril 30, 1999D20171172022
Pontus HolmbergMarch 9, 1999RW, LW201861562023
Ian ScottJanuary 11, 1999G201741102022
Mac HollowellSeptember 26, 1998D201841182022
Joe WollJuly 12, 1998G20163622022
Joey AndersonJune 19, 1998RW20163732023
Kristians RubinsDecember 11, 1997DUND2022
Joey DuszakJuly 22, 1997DUND2021
Veini VehviläinenFebruary 13, 1997G201861732021
Denis MalginJanuary 18, 1997F201541022021
Erik KällgrenOctober 14, 1996G201571832023
Nicolas PetanMarch 22, 1995F20132432021

There are again, some older players to ignore here. Anyone older than Joey Anderson is a known commodity, but in the younger set under contract is some potential. With only two first-round draft picks and two second-rounders, it’s muted potential, but again, that’s the expected status of a prospect pool for a team that should be making deep playoff runs by now.

It’s not the end of the world to have only a few names added to this list this year and next, when there are also only three picks, but eventually, creative solutions need to be found, or you end up the Washington Capitals, with no one on the roster on an ELC, cap troubles and a bare prospect cupboard.

The goal, of course, is to not have holes in big-minute roster spots every season, which is not something the 2021 draft can solve. but is likely the more immediate concern than counting up picks.