I’ll always admit I have a defender bias. It’s my position, I love the back end of the game, and if I have to pick a player in a tie, unless it’s a superstar I’ll always go with the defender.

It was my bias to the position that got him ranked so high on my list, 19th, and species helped with a 15th place vote, and those two combined overpowered the “not ranked” from everyone else and boosted him into 25th on the list. Last year he was 21st, and now with a glut of new defenders to pick from he’s fallen down to 25th overall.

I like Valiev as a defender because he doesn’t worry me as much as others with his attempts to rush the puck out. He defends like I do (at a much, much, higher level), he’s in his own zone watching the play when the forwards are at work, and is a nice, steady, safe wall on the back end.

Rinat Valiev was taken in the third round in 2014, and the only player he was drafted ahead of so far to really make an impact in the NHL was Viktor Arvidsson, who went in the fourth round to the Nashville Predators.

In his article from the rookie tournament, JP Nikota was hoping Valiev would build on an impressive 2016/16 season, as did the player himself:

"I worked hard in the summer to get bigger, stronger. ... I have more power, I would say. ... That gives me confidence because when you feel tired, you make mistakes. You know, when you're tired, you wonder 'should I make this play or not?' then it's too late."

The fact that he's becoming more and more comfortable in the Leafs' organization is helping, too.

"It feels really good. It's nice to get some games going and I'm happy to see the boys. It feels nice. ... It's easier than my first year for sure, because I know the guys, I know the staff."

Asked whether or not he feels that he can be a leader here at this tournament and in the AHL and he responds without hesitation.

"Yeah, for sure. ... I think it's time for me, because I'm not that young anymore."

Last season with the Toronto Marlies Valiev had a rather disappointing year. His games played dropped form 60 to 47 and his points went down as well from 23 to 13 (or .38PPG to .28PPG). Perhaps overshadowed by other defensive prospects in Travis Dermott and Andrew Nielsen, and not given prime playing time in deference to those two, and AHL veteran and team captain Andrew Campbell, his opportunities shrank. Injuries took their toll on Rinat as well - as they did to most players on the Marlies last year.

2013-14Kootenay IceWHL555232868Playoffs1318916
2014-15Kootenay IceWHL529374653Playoffs73250
Toronto MarliesAHL20000
2015-16Toronto Maple LeafsNHL100000
Toronto MarliesAHL604192330Playoffs120004
2016-17Toronto MarliesAHL473101379Playoffs901110

A strong, physical player who isn’t looking to get on the score sheet helps any team at the blue line. To find out more about Valiev, I reached out to Mark Rackham of Maple Leafs Hot Stove (@MarkUKLeaf on Twitter), as he watched the Marlies much more closely than I did last season:

He wasn't able to kick on from a promising rookie year. Was a strange season for him and he failed to hoist himself to the top of the pecking order. I'd put that down to a number of things. He was separated from Andrew Campbell, with whom he had a good partnership during rookie year. Injury played it's part for sure, though why on earth he fought everything that moved early in the year I'll never know! As you know the team went through a terrible stretch after an excellent start and that took it's toll on the defense.

Our own Species1967 weighed in as well, as he was the PPP rep at the majority of Marlies games last season:

Rinat Valiev irked me. He irked me like a lot of the Marlies youth did early in the 2016-17 season. He was undisciplined, and, frankly, looked immature on the ice. Yes, he's young, it's the AHL, and I did not have an expectation of precision focus like an experienced pro-hockey veteran, but, on October 29, 2016, he did something unforgivably dumb. The Marlies were playing the Albany Devils, a division rival that always riles them up. The game was riddled with fights, but almost half way through the third period, while the Marlies were up 3-2, Valiev lost it and got in his second fight of the game with one of the Devils. In case you don't know, fighting twice in one game in the AHL is an automatic misconduct. Additionally, he picked up an instigator penalty. The Devils went on the PK and scored. They ended up winning the game in a shootout. That's the kind of immature crap that can cost you a season. I saw it from a lot of them: Valiev, Nielsen, Rychel, Dermott, Holl; they were easily provoked. It was like the book was out on the Marlies: knock one around a bit and they'll do something stupid that lets you draw a penalty.

But, as I said, that was early on.

One thing that's remarkable when you view the course of an AHL season is how some players can rapidly mature and become real professionals and some can't. Valiev is one who did. In fact, I would say Valiev matured as a professional more visibly than anyone else on the team. It came to a head in a playoff game which was also against the Devils. The game was tied like it was that time in October. Valiev was brutally cross-checked by some goon well away from the play, and out of view of the officials. He turned and looked like he was going to lose it, but, then he turned away, and skated off. He saved his team that penalty and he played well on defence that game with his partner Nielsen (who still appeared to have the short fuse). He made visible progress to the point I think if he can continue that he's going to be on our list all the way until he turns 25.

Valiev is a solid stay at home blue line, and he’ll need to make the most of his opportunities this season on a stacked Marlies blue line with Nielsen, Dermott, Gudbranson, Calle Rosen, Andreas Borgman, Justin Holl, Vincent LoVerde, and other signings I’m sure they’ll make over the summer.

Valiev stuck to the top 25 by a thread, and this is the final year of his contract so he has plenty to play for.

2017 Top 25 Under 25

Would Valiev have made your Top 25 list?

Yes, top 107
Yes, 11-1924
Yes, 20-25391