Let me take you back in time to the summer of 2014, a period in the middle of what Maple Leafs historians refer to as “the Dead Toast Era”.
It was a magical time with Dave Nonis as General Manager and Randy Carlyle as the head coach; Reimernier: Save My Heart made the New York Times bestseller list; a strapping young James van Riemsdyk was about to have a 30-goal season; and, down on the farm, a Maple Leafs 2011 seventh-round draft pick was creating some buzz among the hardcore fans with his minor league goaltending for the Toronto Marlies and Orlando Solar Bears. His name was Garret Sparks, and that summer we ranked him at #18 on our Top 25 Under 25, topping out even Antoine Bibeau at #23 who would go on to see many more starts on the Marlies the next winter.
Sparks’ rank of #18 that off-season would be his peak in our rankings. He eventually fell off the list, but then returned at #24 in his final year of eligibility in 2017. Ian Scott and Joseph Woll broke that mark in 2019, placing at #16 and #17, and then fell right off the rankings again. This round, with three prospects in the Leafs system, only one of actually placed on our Top 25 list, and it turned out to be the new face on the scene who was selected in the fourth round of the NHL Draft this October. Artur Akhtyamov was found by the Maple Leafs signed up with the junior affiliate of the Ak Bars who play in the Russian city of Kazan in the Kontinental Hockey League.
We can’t examine where Akhtyamov was ranked without first briefly touching on the other two goalies in the room, both of whom had different issues impacting their ranking.
The easy one to analyse is Joseph Woll. He simply hasn’t performed. Now at 22 years old he has another year on the Marlies to make an impression as we covered earlier this year.
Broadly speaking, Woll had a bad first season with the Toronto Marlies. He had a .880 save percentage in 32 games, while his counterpart Kaskisuo finished the season with an AHL career average .909 save percentage in 27 games. Being about 30 points behind your goalie partner isn’t a great look and Woll’s stock has naturally taken a hit as a result.
As the Leafs are nearing the end of Frederik Andersen’s five-year contract, and the backup goalie situation only being solved near the tail end of the 2019-20 season with Jack Campbell, it would’ve been really nice to have an internal candidate like Woll looking ready for more responsibility, I feel like it would’ve given him a massive boost in this ranking. But unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
Ian Scott is a question mark for a much different reason in that he hasn’t played in a competitive game for a very long time due to a major injury identified in 2019, and a subsequent decision to have surgery finally made in December after he had already sat out several months of games of the 2019-20 season, but before it was clear it would be shut down because of COVID.
Well over a year will have passed before Scott will return for a game, and that scared off our voters.
Winter T25: Artur Akhtyamov at 21st
|Summer 2020 Rank||N/A|
|Birth Date||October 31, 2001|
|Spread in Rank||6|
All of this draft pick history and results weighed on the minds of our voters. None were very confident in how to rank these goalie prospects at all, with the shaky history of none of them panning out into NHL players at even a regular backup role casting even more doubt. That holds for the new prospect as well as the old:
Brigstew: He’s a goalie, so I know less than usual with prospects. On the one hand, he’s done well at almost any level he’s played, and has already been getting in some VHL and even KHL games. The stats look nice, but I have no idea how that will translate. Russia has been a goalie factory in recent years, and he’s been good enough to be the no. 2 behind Yaroslav Askarov for their WJC team. That seems promising, so I ranked him, but I have no idea beyond that or how it will translate to eventual NHL potential, so I didn’t rank him all that high.
Katya went with a very tried and true method to pick a goalie for the list, the youngest.
Katya: Okay, Joe Woll went to the WJC and wasn’t all that great. Ian Scott bullied his way to the WJC for team Canada and wasn’t all that great. Artur Akhtyamov is going to go watch Yaroslav Askarov be great as this year’s WJC. I put them in a bag, shook them up, and plucked out the youngest to rank 24th.
Are we being fair to all the goalies here? Could any of them have a chance at actually cracking our list, or is there a systemic bias ranking young goalies. Well, there probably is. It may be that we can’t rank a goalie until we actually see them perform for several years in a highly competitive environment, and they are doomed to stagnate at the bottom of our list with other late-round draft picks passing them by even though they will never pan out either. This is certainly the situation I see with Askarov and I am not sure how to get around this. In either case, he’s here now at #21.
One final note is that Akhtyamov is yet another recently acquired player who uses Gold Star Hockey as his agency. I am making only the observation, with no comment, other than I find it interesting the Leafs have managed to mine so much talent so quickly, all of which are affiliated with one particular agency. Gold Star’s roster of players on contract with the Leafs now includes Yegor Korshkov, Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, Ilya Mikheyev, Alexander Barabanov, Rodion Amirov, and now Artur Akhtyamov.
Here’s a highlight pack that is mostly intended for scouting purposes, so it’s not all action-packed diving saves set to club music, but you can get some idea of what he did in his draft year to become a second round pick.
OK. You probably do want some highlights set to club music, so here’s clips from his KHL debut on October 10th with Ak Bars Kazan
The best news is that you should have a chance to see him in a game at the World Junior Championship in Edmonton which starts in about two weeks. While the Russian team will certainly have Askarov as their regular starter, there is a strong chance for Akhtyamov to appear in one of the early round-robin games in the tournament.
Where do you place Akhtyamov vs. Scott and Woll in the Top 25 Under 25?
|I put all three in the top 25 with Akhtyamov on top.||51|
|I put all three in the top 25 with one or both of Woll or Scott above Akhtyamov.||37|
|I have Akhtyamov in the Top 25, but neither of the other two.||148|
|I have Woll and Scott in the Top 25, but not Akhtyamov.||17|
|I don’t have any of the three in the Top 25.||93|