It’s that time of year again, the dull cold middle of January, where we go back to last summer and relieve how very wrong we were about prospects.
What would we do differently if we had it to do over again? Read on and find out. Our votes are here if you want to see them in all their glory.
Who were you most wrong about?
Fulemin: No one. I defy anyone to find one single mistake I made in the 2021 T25U25 voting.
Brigstew: Leaving Miller off was a mistake, I was definitely too high on Miettinen, but perhaps the biggest whiff was not including Tverberg at all. Not that I think anyone could have seen his season coming since he was one of the final picks in the draft and was coming off a meh season. But where, with Miller, I tried including but ran out of spots, Tverberg I didn’t even consider.
Hardev: I was right about everyone.
I’m upset with myself for voting Menell into my 25, don’t know why he ended up there in hindsight. Glad I didn’t vote for Denis Malgin, remember him? I definitely think I could’ve voted Ryan Tverberg somewhere, but in all honesty we didn’t have any information to suggest he would be on Team Canada’s shortlist for the Men’s World Juniors. He’ll be in it this year for sure, as will Joe Miller, who’s having a breakout age-19 season in the USHL.
Katya: Fulemin is correct, he did not make one single mistake.
Okay, I definitely and knowingly ranked Mikhail Abramov too high, but I wanted some potential in over the AHL bubble guys like Joey Anderson and Denis Malgin. Malgin isn’t bad because he went to Switzerland, he’s just a bubble guy. I was too low on Ty Voit because who could have known? But Alex Steeves should have been on this list ahead of about 10 guys.
What opinion do you still stubbornly hold to in the face of the first few months of another season?
Fulemin: I’m refusing to take Mikhail Abramov seriously until he makes me do so. Show me up, Mikhail.
Brigstew: I refuse to not take Mikhail Abramov seriously until Fulemin makes me do so. Your move, Acting. Put William Villeneuve in that group of Leafs prospects I’m probably much higher on than most.
Hardev: Abramov is on the top line for the Marlies and playing centre, so good job there, kid. Sorry for not following the sentence structure, Brigs and Fule. But beyond that, I’m still stubbornly clinging to Pavel Gogolev, despite his medium start to the Marlies season. I still think he’ll be a good role player in the near future.
Katya: Ilya Mikheyev is not suddenly a top-six — whoops, sorry. Um. Ryan Tverberg is still not top 25. Timothy Liljegren is just barely NHL-capable, no I don’t care what his careful deployment in low leverage situations produces in %s. Travis Dermott still looks amazing in that role intermixed with bursts of horribleness.
Who has surprised you in a good way?
Fulemin: For the sake of contributing: Timothy Liljegren. I did not expect him to make the NHL, but the way has been opened ahead of him by Justin Holl’s return to incompetence, and he has done as well with the opportunity as I could reasonably have hoped. The question is still whether he’s more than a guy who can take third-pair minutes, but he is at least that, and that is something.
Brigstew: There are some obvious answer: Knies, Niemelä, Miller, and Tverberg have all had big season or leaps forward. But the one I’ll say I was most surprised by is Alex Steeves. He’s looked like one of the better players on the Marlies, and while I did rank him 24th that was mostly on the basis of what I read from people who had seen him who I trust. Having seen him myself now, in the pre-season rookie camp and NHL pre-season, and now in the regular season in the AHL... I think he’s legit. He may not ever be much more than depth, but that’s still pretty darn good for an undrafted college free agent just over a point per game.
Hardev: Knies having a good season and Men’s WJC was definitely good to see. Helps the perception on his mostly tepid upside people described at the Draft. Ty Voit having a good season too when I voted him 12th was also a relief. We couldn’t say anything about Nick Abruzzese because he was injured for the whole year, so it’s really nice to see a big season from him. He’s 22 now so the clock is all of a sudden ticking.
Katya: I’d say Liljegren and Steeves, with Steeves being much more of a surprise. He’s walked into the AHL undrafted at age 21 (he’s 22 now) and performed like a high second or a low first. He should be considered in a tier with former Leafs prospects Carl Grundström, Yegor Korshkov, and can best Joey Anderson and SDA now.
Would you move anyone into your top five? Higher?
Fulemin: No. I’d still have Amirov over Knies, despite a weirdly inactive KHL season for the former. I feel like maybe the hype train is gaining steam on Topi Niemelä; he’s is having a good year, and you would certainly rather he put up point totals than not, but having nice boxcars in your D+2 in the fifth-best professional league in the world feels like a good way to have the chatter run away. I’m not knocking him, he’s a cool prospect, just he might be getting a little overvalued.
Brigstew: Matthew Knies is likely the only one who has a reasonable argument to break into the top 5 instead of Sandin and Robertson. And that’s also partially because Robertson just has plain not played at all this season. Maaaaaaaaaaaybe Topi Niemelä as well, but I’m less confident in him even if I love him and always have. But no, I’d say Robertson still holds down 5th.
Hardev: With how much Amirov and Robertson have been injured/filled with COVID, I’d feel bad to drop them out of the top-five at the moment. They haven’t done anything to deserve to get pushed down. Knies is definitely in the conversation now and probably ahead of Niemela. The two Finns have had good seasons as well, I just always struggle to believe in yet another offensive shooting from the point defenseman as much as a forward prospect that by definition has a much better chance of making the NHL and therefore making a difference.
Katya: I’m fine with my top 5 and even the order. There’s too much unknown about Amirov and Robertson right now to shift anyone, but I won’t be surprised if in the end it’s Sandin way ahead of them both. My top 10 is okay. I put Knies at 10, and that was basically me saying I don’t think Dermott is going to do anything but fill his role now.
Knies vs Niemelä might become next year’s argument, and here’s my contribution: One plays junior hockey (yes, it is) and one plays pro. One is a forward we can get some idea of his play from his points and one is a defenceman in a big point-shot league where we should utterly ignore his points. One looked good in one WJC game, and one looked a little meh. I lean toward Knies, but I think you could pick either. But top five? Right now? That’s getting very carried away on some junior hockey points from the big man that drives the net.
Back when, I saw Rasmus Sandin, and I just said, oh yes, this is the guy. Maybe I’m giving my feeling too much credit, but it was a powerful certainty that this guy had a game. I don’t feel very strongly about any of the non-NHL prospects currently, and I don’t even feel that strongly about Robertson or Liljegren that there’s much there.
If the Leafs keep their first and their second, which I really hope are essentially a second and a third, we’re going to have to middling draft prospects to work into this list this summer with only Marner leaving out of the top five. It will be an interesting exercise in shades of meh.