I (Brigstew) mentioned a lot during our recent Top 25 Under 25 series that I didn’t put a whole lot of stock into precise rankings because they tell you more about the person assigning them than the players who are being ranked. What I did was put them into tiers, and then sort them within each tier according to my vague notion of who was slightly better than the others remaining.

One thing that has become a bit more popular of late is a prospect pyramid, thanks in part to Steve Dangle’s annual series doing this exact thing. After several discussions during the T25U25 series about all of this, Hardev joined me to write an article comparing our prospect tiers.

Prospect Tiers

TIER #HardevBrigstew
1 - Impact NHLerNicholas Robertson, Rodion Amirov, Rasmus SandnNicholas Robertson, Rodion Amirov, Rasmus Sandn
2 - Above 4th LineTimothy Liljegren, Filip Hallander, Roni Hirvonen, Topi NiemeläTimothy Liljegren, Filip Hallander, Roni Hirvonen, Topi Niemelä, Joey Anderson
3 - NHL TalentJoey Anderson, Mikko Kokkonen, Filip Král, Axel RindellMikhail Abramov, Mikko Kokkonen, Axel Rindell, Semyon Der-Arguchintsev
4 - Career AHL StarMikhail Abramov, Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, Nicholas Abruzzese, Mac Hollowell, Pontus HolmbergVeeti Miettinen, Filip Král, Pontus Holmberg, Dmitri Ovchinnikov, Mac Hollowell
5 - Long ShotsVeeti Miettinen, Dmitri Ovchinnikov, William Villeneuve, Kalle Loponen, Artur Akhtyamov, Ian Scott, Joseph WollNicholas Abruzzese, William Villeneuve, Artur Akhtyamov, Ian Scott, Kalle Loponen, Michael Koster
6 - The RestEemeli Rasanen, Ryan O’Connell, Semyon Kizimov, Michael Koster, John Fusco, Ryan Tverberg, Wyatt Schingoethe, Joe Miller, Vladislav KaraEemeli Rasanen, Ryan O’Connell, Semyon Kizimov, John Fusco, Ryan Tverberg, Wyatt Schingoethe, Joe Miller, Vladislav Kara, Joseph Woll

We’ll share who we have in each tier, then sort of discuss our reasons why with each other. Hope you enjoy!

Tier 1: Impact NHLer

Hardev: Nicholas Robertson, Rodion Amirov, Rasmus Sandin

Brigstew: Nicholas Robertson, Rodion Amirov, Rasmus Sandin

Brigstew — No differences here, unsurprisingly. There is a pretty clear divide in quality between this tier and the next. Robertson’s career took a huge jump thanks to a dominating OHL performance, and appearance on the Leafs NHL roster against Columbus. Amirov is our hot new first round pick, and Sandin was our previous hot first round pick. Since our tiers were the exact same, I’ll ask: who do you think will turn into the bigger impact player?

Hardev — For me, Nick Robertson is the cream of the crop for the Leafs and I don’t think the line separating him from his two peers is particularly blurry. With Robertson, you get a goal-scorer that carries the puck with confidence, he works immensely hard and I can see him becoming a two-way threat. I’m fully in love with him. The reason why I think the other two fall short is that with Sandin, I don’t know how high up the lineup he goes. Can he handle second pair minutes? On the Leafs especially it’s a significant jump in terms of competition other good young defensemen haven’t made. I don’t think he’s our first pair guy while I do think Robertson is top-line or top-six at the worst. As for Amirov, I didn’t love what I saw at the WJC, but I won’t hold that against him. I haven’t quite seen enough to get me convinced the way I am with Robertson. Not that he won’t get there as early as this season.

Brigstew — Amirov was almost the most underwhelming of the Leafs prospects in the WJC, relative to expectations. Kokkonen I think was more so, but that’s more because I had believed WAY too much in him before. But I also don’t think the WJC performance for Amirov, or Kokkonen mind you, means too much. I’m still in a place where I want to see Amirov more in the KHL, and eventually the AHL, to really get to know him and his strengths.

Tier 2: Above-the-fourth-line NHL contributor

Hardev: Timothy Liljegren, Filip Hallander, Roni Hirvonen, Topi Niemelä

Brigstew: Timothy Liljegren, Filip Hallander, Roni Hirvonen, Topi Niemelä, Joey Anderson

Hardev — I did it, I took Kokkonen off this tier. I hope he’s just having a Liljegren year (his 2018-19) where he doesn’t involve himself very well in the offense to benefit his defensive development, and in the following season we’ll see him being more confident with the puck (like Liljegren in 2019-20). We saw Liljegren succeed at both offense and defense last year so that’s going to be the bar for Kokkonen. AHL time would be nice, as he’s already playing a game conducive to that league. Overall, I don’t know how high defense is going to get him if he resists moving the puck like he did at the WJC, so jury’s out enough that I bumped him.

As for the players I did keep, I like them all as useful complementary players to the Leafs. You know my thoughts on Liljegren and I stand firm on them. If someone like Dermott is on the outside looking in at the Leafs defense right now, I don’t hold it against Liljegren for not having gotten there yet. Niemela is an offensive RD who can play a smart, albeit limited, defensive game. Most of those guys end up in the AHL but maybe the Leafs like his transition ability and will find a use for him next to a more cautious defenseman (like Kokkonen). Hirvonen is steady on the path to becoming a third liner/complimentary top-six winger ala Andreas Johnsson. That label will probably change as we see more of him but that’s the impression I got at the WJC. I’m excited for Hallander, he’s a clever hockey player with the puck on his stick and knows how to move it in a purposeful way. I like the way he sees the ice and especially when he executes those slick “make something happen” plays I wish Pierre Engvall could do.

I have a question for you, Brigs: do you think all four of our common prospects in this tier will last the season in the Leafs organization? Because if the Leafs play like contenders, this is the poll they’ll likely pick from to acquire a guy for playoff run. You can punt and say it’ll be someone from Tier 3 :P

Brigstew — I certainly think it’s possible, but I’m not sure how much. Without looking into this, my impression is that trades at the deadline (which is what we’re talking about) seem to give up picks more than they give up prospects. I don’t know if it’s because the team giving them up wants to keep “their” guys, or because the team on the other end wants picks more. Either way, I’ll throw out a number and say there’s a 90% chance that all of these guys in our tiers 2 or 3 stay with the Leafs through this season.

We were almost the exact same again, but I added Joey Anderson. I admit I might have had Kokkonen at the tail end of this tier, but still in it, until Katya wore me down with her logic and then I watched him play among the lowest minutes of all Finland’s defense. I think I’d have him as a tier 2.5 tweener, because I can see a world where he winds up being a 2nd line guy who supports a better partner. Another Justin Holl, essentially. But my imagination of that world is a lot fuzzier than it used to be. I take it you think he’s still capable of that as well? Anderson is a guy who already has some NHL experience, albeit on a bad team. He seems to be a Hyman type, and I want to see him more but I am trusting some scouting people who are pretty high on him to think he can be a solid third liner. That technically makes him an above the fourth line guy, so...

Tier 3: NHL talent

Hardev: Joey Anderson, Mikko Kokkonen, Filip Král, Axel Rindell

Brigstew: Mikhail Abramov, Mikko Kokkonen, Axel Rindell, Semyon Der-Arguchintsev

Brigstew — I almost put Abramov in the second tier, but I’ll settle for him being a 2.5 guy like Kokkonen. I can envision a world where Abramov is a viable third line center, or winger, who can drive play but have some warts. His play making is that good, to me. Rindell I consider to be similar to Kokkonen, but with a different profile (offensive vs defensive). SDA is a guy who has had a roller coaster career since being drafted, but after doing well in the KHL I am curious to see how he can do in the AHL. He might wind up being the guy I think Abramov is.

Hardev — We have a lot of differences here, starting with Anderson and Abramov and ending with SDA. Anderson will be fun to watch on the Marlies, and he has a bottom-six role on the Leafs in his future, I just couldn’t put him among the talent in the tier above. He almost feels like a quintessential Keefe/Babcock fourth liner. Good in defensive minutes, moves the puck, doesn’t get in the way. I assume that’s where he’ll end up, a good fourth liner. I was wrong thinking Kokkonen’s transition game was as good as his defensive game indicated, maybe it is, but for now I don’t know. Without both, it’s hard to believe he’ll be an impactful player. A tweener like Marincin, maybe. I like Filip Kral; he’s dynamic and fun to watch for a defenseman. He has an explosiveness in his skating and passing that will take him beyond the AHL. Rindell has a good shot but he feels like a lesser version of Niemela in a similar role. I didn’t like his comparison to Kokkonen because I think they’re different players playing different roles. Still, I put him in the maybe pile.

Tier 4: Career AHL Star, aka “The Adam Brooks”

Hardev: Mikhail Abramov, Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, Nicholas Abruzzese, Mac Hollowell, Pontus Holmberg

Brigstew: Veeti Miettinen, Filip Král, Pontus Holmberg, Dmitri Ovchinnikov, Mac Hollowell

Hardev — Let me talk about Abramov for a second. I like him. He’s a diligent defensive players, which makes me feel better as a Marlies guy because then he’s less of a headache. But his offensive game appears to be less correlated to his points in the QMJHL as I thought previously. I don’t think he dominates the game on a lesser team more than he’s the that gets the minutes and usage to put up those point totals. He wasn’t as effective at the WJC as I thought he was going to be. He made some nice little plays and is a good playmaker, but I said all the same things about Adam Brooks and look what the tier’s called. I’m worried he’s going to be one of those early diamonds in the rough that gives people reasons to be excited, but can’t carry that momentum further than above-average for where they were picked, which is pretty much the Adam Brooks story.

The rest of these players in my tier are like this. Good at nice things you like to see, but not quite good enough at them to put them a tier higher into the NHL. Hollowell is a quick defenseman with an edge to him that I like. Defensively, though, he’s pretty terrible and I’m pretty sure he’s going to end up unable to edge out someone else in a similar sheltered offensive third pair role. You’d have to put three defensmen on the ice and turn Marner into one to make it happen, and I’m buying that video game mod. He’s good, but so was Jesper Lindgren at 22. SDA is a good complimentary centre, like Brooks. I get worried about him because I don’t see him as a centre on the third line or a fourth line in the NHL. Maybe he gets there as a winger as a waiver-hopper. I like him, I want him to find a good role, I just don’t know what that is on the Leafs. Abruzzese has a nice shot, but man injuries and his season shutting down suck. I hope he surprises me, he has the best chance to out of this tier.

Brigstew — Listen. I gushed about Abramov a lot last year (and still am this year), he’s tied into my personal brand now and I’m not gonna move off of that position or get laser tattoo removal — like a coward! I often fall in love with long shot guys and believing in them hard until it’s clear they don’t make it — Adam Brooks is a recent example. I will trumpet Abramov as a future NHLer until he’s 26 and signing a new KHL contract extension. In the meantime, I will just continue saying that I think he’s taken steps in his development that are beyond what you would expect from a fourth round pick, and that’s all we can ask for.

Speaking of that, I’m also big fan of Miettinen. Honestly, I’d probably have all of them in the same “long shots” tier below, but I wanted to have some of them here that I distinguish as being more likely long shots I guess? Even if it’s just like a 1% difference. Miettinen for his shot, Ovchinnikov for his all-round skill, Holmberg for just being a smart, useful role player, and Kral and Hollowell for having exceptional abilities in some areas as defensemen.

Hardev — *steals the mic back* I don’t think it was unreasonable to fall in love with Abramov last year, not at all. When those players show you something to get excited about, follow them because it might keep going. Hitting that plateau before the NHL happens to a lot of AHL guys. Timashov, Marchment, and Alex Barre-Boulet right now in Tampa are ones that come to mind recently. It’s a lot farther than most people get and that’s not a bad thing.

Tier 5: Long shots

Hardev: Veeti Miettinen, Dmitri Ovchinnikov, William Villeneuve, Kalle Loponen, Artur Akhtyamov, Ian Scott, Joseph Woll

Brigstew: Nicholas Abruzzese, William Villeneuve, Artur Akhtyamov, Ian Scott, Kalle Loponen, Michael Koster

Brigstew — Continuing what I said above, all of these players I included I still like enough to not write off completely. But I also think they either have lower ceilings, bigger flaws, or something that makes me think they’re less likely to develop into NHL players. Abruzzese is already 21 years old, which is the same age as Liljegren, a year older than Sandin, and two years older than Robertson. By the time he gets to professional hockey he’ll almost be aged out of being a prospect. Villeneuve has potential as an offensive defensemen who can move the puck, but he has BIG problems with his skating that will need a lot of work. Akhtyamov and Scott are goalies, so I just don’t know. Loponen and Koster are both smaller, semi-skilled defensemen. I almost put Koster in the next tier up, but I want to watch him more in the NCAA. His size is what really makes him a long shot as a defenseman, without him being an exceptional skater and/or offensive talent. Being good or even very good won’t be enough. Loponen is similar, but to a greater extent to me. He has yet to even start playing in the Liiga, so take whatever you think of Kokkonen or Rindell and apply a lower league penalty to Loponen.

So I have a question for you now, Hardev. What’s a name you can pick from your long shots that you are most confident will eventually make the NHL? My heart wants to say Villeneuve from mine, but I think my head is saying it will be one of the goalies only because I don’t know crap all about them. So if I’m undervaluing any of the players in this tier, it’ll be them.

Hardev — I’m surprised you didn’t say Miettinen because if he keeps scoring, someone’s going to eventually give him a chance in the NHL. He has lots of talent, and if he can package his energy into a more controlled game that works defensively (or at least doesn’t hurt) he’s golden. I wonder about Villeneuve because who knows what he’ll look like after the scheduled reconstructive surgery everyone seems to believe the Marlies will do to him. Maybe he becomes passable and a defensive guy with bad numbers that coaches like, he has the frame and passport to make it happen. Right now, that’s not his game so who knows. From your list, I’ll say Abruzzese for what I said earlier. From our common players on this tier, Villeneuve. I like Ovchinnikov too, I’m just not as sure how he stacks up relative to the AHL right now. He’s a lot more boom or bust Jeremy Bracco than mellow Adam Brooks.

I couldn’t separate the goalies because they all showed relatively the same amount of promise in their age-19 seasons so it’s hard for me to know one will be better than the others. I will say I liked Scott a couple years ago when he played. He has that combination of red-hot confidence, size, and mobility that put goalies on the map in the NHL for the brief time they’re good. Woll doesn’t have the same peak and Akhtyamov still looks really wild and I run from goalies who are like that. Yes, I’m rethinking my evaluation of Askarov.

Brigstew — Well I have Miettinen in the tier above, is why I didn’t pick him ;)

Tier 6: The rest

Hardev: Eemeli Rasanen, Ryan O’Connell, Semyon Kizimov, Michael Koster, John Fusco, Ryan Tverberg,  Wyatt Schingoethe, Joe Miller, Vladislav Kara

Brigstew: Eemeli Rasanen, Ryan O’Connell, Semyon Kizimov, John Fusco, Ryan Tverberg Wyatt Schingoethe, Joe Miller, Joseph Woll, Vladislav Kara

Brigstew — Yeah, they’re the rest. They’re either older guys who just never developed, or newer but later round picks that are already longshots and we have yet to see anything special from them. Miller interests me because he’s just so young and small, and as he gets older and bigger maybe he’ll take a bigger leap in his development. I’m skeptical, though, which is why he’s here.

Hardev — Yeah, I don’t know either. I don’t see anything in any of these guys. Koster might show his face in the AHL in a few years, and I was mildly interested in Ryan Tverberg at the Draft, but there’s really not much to get excited about. I assume most of them are going to Harvard — the Leafs have drafted so many Harvard-committed guys recently — so I hope they enjoy that.

Who got it right? Well... MORE right?

No comparables to Wayne Simmonds? 0/10 would not recommend.66