So the Leafs suck eh? I’ve thankfully not been watching any of their games because I’ve been too busy watching their prospects. And spoiler alert: they’ve been killing it. Two of them are leading their respective leads in points. Two others are averaging 2+ points per game. And two more have been showing very well in European pro leagues.

So it’s been a few weeks since my last prospect update, mostly because there was a whole bunch of prospects who finally started their seasons. I wanted to catch at least a couple of games for each before writing anything on them, but that took a few weeks for me to get that for each of them. But the last two weekends were very, very busy with a lot of games so I wound up seeing more than two games for some of them.

I was originally going to add full updates on Ty Voit, Braeden Kressler, Joe Miller and Dennis Hildeby on top of those I list below, but this already got quite long. I’ll take the opportunity to watch more of Kressler and Miller especially and make an update for them next week.

Hope you enjoy and take some solace from what’s coming!

Fraser Minten

Toronto’s top draft pick this past summer missed the first few weeks of of the WHL season. First because he was still with the Maple Leafs’ pre-season camp, and then because of a wrist injury he suffered during said camp. Thankfully, that wrist injury doesn’t seem to have affected him much because he’s hit the ground running.

Minten’s team, Kamloops, is one of the WHL’s top teams. They are stacked, and as a result Minten has been playing as their third line center. Well, I say third line but they roll their top three lines fairly equal. He also plays on their top powerplay and is heavily used on the penalty kill as well.

But despite not getting “top line minutes” with his team’s best players at even strength, Minten has begun the season with 3 goals and 7 assists in 5 games. That’s a 2 point per game pace, and he’s also averaging just under 6 shots on goal per game. Both are huge jumps from last year (0.82 points and 3.16 shots per game). While there are reasons to think he won’t necessarily continue, but there’s enough in the growth of his game to make me think he has taken a big step in his game offensively.

The reasons why I don’t think Minten will continue at a 2 point per game pace: 7 of his 10 points have come on the powerplay. On the other hand, their top unit does get a lot of play, and they’re such a good team that they draw a lot of penalties. So as long as he gets that many opportunities on the powerplay with the top unit, chances for driving up his points will continue at a much improved pace from last season.

As for why I think Minten’s game has taken a big step offensively, it’s how confident he is in his abilities now and everything is at least a bit better. His skating is better mostly in terms of him being harder to knock off stride. His passing and playmaking is more consistent. The combination of skating, puck handling and playmaking has led to him being a primary puck mover when he’s on the ice.

On the powerplay, Minten mostly plays the Mitch Marner role. He starts on the point, and when he gets the puck he creeps closer to the net and makes a choice: he looks for a passing lane across the ice to feed Logan Stankoven, and if that’s not available he tries to rip a hard wrist shot on net. Either to score, or at the very least create a rebound opportunity in front.

Here’s a bunch of highlights of Minten and his passing and playmaking — he is #16 in either navy blue or white in all the clips.

What’s very exciting in terms of Minten’s development is how far his shot has come. I don’t know if he just didn’t want to really use it last year, but he never flashed a good shot until this season. He can wind up and get a lot of power on it, but his accuracy is not great yet.

Minten’s shot is arguably the most improved of his skills, as he has added a lot of power and occasionally has let rip a hard looking one timer. He doesn’t use it much, and I really wish he’d do it more often. Part of the reason I think it would be good for him to use it more often is that when he gets a cross ice pass, he can be slow to get his shot off. You can see some of his shots in the video above are a bit slow, but he can hide it well or put enough power and accuracy on it that it doesn’t matter as much. But here are two other examples:

What will help him become even more of a consistent goal scoring threat is getting his shot of quicker, with less of a wind up. He’ll hopefully learn that he doesn’t need to put maximum power on his wrist shot all the time, and getting the shot off quicker can make up for the lack of power. The less he lets the goalie and defense shift to face him and cut off the angle for his shot, the more he’ll be able to score on the opportunities he is getting. Right now he’s getting points from those shots turning into rebounds, but in time he may start just scoring them himself.

For the rest of his game, Minten is still showing a strong two-way game. On the penalty kill, he is quick enough and has a long reach to be a pretty big deterrent on trying to make passes around him. He’s also much more aggressive in pursuing puck carriers to steal it, and that has helped him use good defense to immediately generate offense.

Matthew Knies

While I’ve seen four games of Minten, I’ve only seen one of Knies so far. He’s been playing on the top line for Minnesota, but who else has been on that top line has changed. He initially was playing with some of the more veteran forwards, but eventually they’ve bumped two high profile freshmen up to join him: Logan Cooley (3rd overall pick) and Jimmy Snuggerud (23rd overall) who were both first round picks in the 2022 draft.

Knies has had a strong start to the season, but maybe not as good statistically as people may want. He has 7 points in 8 games, and is averaging just under 4 shots per game. Part of that is his role — he’s never been, and likely never will be, the best player on his line. He is a very, very good supporting player thanks to his strengths and weaknesses.

For his strengths, they’re still all on display. He’s big and physical but a very good skater — though not elite. He is an aggressive forechecker and can be a terror to defensemen. But he doesn’t chase hits, he’ll go for body positioning and use his stick to strip the other player. With the puck he can pull off some dangles and elude defensemen with his skating and reach, but again he’s not really an elite puck handler. Here’s a good highlight of all of this: his forechecking, stealing the puck, and creating a scoring chance from it — Knies is #89 in red:

The biggest area of improvement that would take him to another level would be to improve his passing. In short areas he can connect with teammates, but the further away he gets the less accurate he becomes. It can be inconsistent at times. But occasionally, when he’s entering the zone or in tight quarters, he can pull off plays like this:

Unfortunately, I’ve only seen the one game because of the streams available and conflicts with other games. It also seems like I caught probably his worst game of the season so far — not that he was bad, but not as impactful as we may hope for. I’m hoping I can see another game of his this coming weekend.

Nikita Grebyonkin

So I’ve already written about Grebyonkin a couple of times, but this is a fun update. Greb has had a hell of a journey so far this season. He started in the KHL with his main team, Metallurg, but never really got any playing time. Then he was sent down to their MHL team, where he was just laughably too good for the level and had three points in the one game. Then he was loaned to a different club’s VHL team, where he also looked too good for the level though not to the same extent.

Finally, he was loaned to another different KHL club — Amur Khabarovsk. At the time he joined Amur, they had the 2nd worst record in the league and the lowest goals for total. Since he joined them, Amur has gone 2-1-1 and scored 3+ goals in all but one of the games. Before that last game, where they were shutout, Amur scored roughly 13 of their season’s total goals in the three games with Grebyonkin in the lineup. In all four games, he’s averaged 18:17 of ice time and 2 shots per game, to go with 3 points.

That’s a lot of playing time for a player his age in the KHL, but again... Amur is very bad. They are a top heavy team where their top players are just okay, or young like Grebyonkin. But at the same time, Grebyonkin is showing he can have an impact at the KHL level. All the things I’ve said about him in the KHL pre-season, in the MHL and in the VHL are still there in the KHL. As Will Scouch said about him after the draft, Grebyonkin plays a very pro-ready game.

We’ll start with what I think helps him earn his coach’s trust: he can play pretty good defense for a young winger. To be honest I’m waiting for his KHL team to realize he can be an effective penalty killer for them, but he already plays so much they may also realize he’s very important for their offense and want him to focus on that. Here are some good examples of his defensive highlights with Amur — he is always #71 with the jerseys that have the tiger head on them.

When it comes to offensive strengths, Grebyonkin excels in two areas: carrying the puck and dishing it off. He’s heavily relied upon by his team to carry the puck into the offensive zone, something he does very well for the level. With the puck, he keeps his head up and is good at scanning the ice to know where his options are. He is good at seeing lanes to pass it, but also to attack it with the puck himself. If defenses converge on him, he is very shifty and elusive and can protect the puck along the boards. But for the most part, he likes to get the puck off the boards and get it into the middle of the ice.

Here’s a good video showing some of his best highlights carrying and passing the puck. Again, he’s #71 in all the videos. The first clip he’s the player on the boards that makes a little chip pass to spring his teammate on the breakaway.

His biggest weakness offensively is his shot. It doesn’t have a lot of power to it, which is mostly why he has always had a lot more assists than goals. The goals he scores come off of dekes, rebounds, and goals in close, like this beautiful goal he scored as his first career KHL goal.

If he can ever add some power to his wrist shot, or work on a one timer or snap shot, he could become a much more dangerous dual-option threat with the puck. That’s why, on the powerplay, he plays the Mitch Marner role as the primary distributor from the point, on Amur’s top unit.

I am becoming increasingly certain that Grebyonkin is legit as a future NHLer. I’m not sure how high his ceiling may be, but I can clearly see the “pro-ready game” that Will Scouch described. He can skate, pass, play defense, make plays, and transition the puck like an NHLer. At the very least I can see him becoming a sort of Engvall-level player in the bottom six. He may not have the skill to be an impact top 6 guy, but he has enough tools to see a depth forward who can play in all situations.

Miscellaneous Notes

  • Just want to shout out the two players in Toronto’s system who are leading their leagues in scoring. I’ll start with Ty Voit, who as of writing this leads the OHL with 24 points (6 goals, 18 assists, all but four of his assists are primary) in 12 games. Only once all game has he failed to record a point. He has 9 more points than his next closest teammate. He is just a dominant offensive force, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Team USA takes a serious look at him for the World Juniors. He was already invited to their summer camp, so this hot start will only be helping those chances.
  • The other is Nick Moldenhauer, who leads the USHL in both goals (10) and points (17) in 11 games. Chicago has the top three scorers, in fact, and all of them play on different lines. That’s how deep they are, but Moldenhauer has been a leader as one of the older remaining players. He is also apparently close to choosing what NCAA school he will play for next season, and this hot start will probably give him some good choices for top schools.
  • Dennis Hildeby got a good run of starts in the SHL the last two weeks after his team’s main goalie was out with an injury. In three straight starts he won all three, letting in only 3 total goals and stopping 92 of 96 shots he faced (.958 sv%). It raised his save percentage on the season to a respectable .918, which is pretty great after he had two poor games to begin the season.
  • I’ll breakdown his game more next week, but Braeden Kressler is another prospect who — like Minten — returned from an injury finally and is averaging two points per game. He has been playing in all situations, and on the third line left wing at even strength on a stacked Flint team. He has 6 goals and 3 assists in 5 games. And it looks like he had an assist taken from him by the scorekeepers, so he’s actually just short of 2 points per game now. He sorely needed a good start to the season after how much poor injury luck he’s had ever since signing an ELC with Toronto.
  • Harvard and Joe Miller finally started their regular season with two wins last weekend. Miller has been playing on their top line with two top prospects and fellow ex-Chicago Steel players, Matt Coronato and Sean Farrell. Miller was held pointless in the first game, but had a goal and 2 assists in the second. He definitely looks like the third best player on the line, but he doesn’t look out of place with them. He also eventually got bumped up to their top PP unit after starting on the second. /

That’s it for now, since this already got so long with some good long updates on a few very important players in Toronto’s system. I’ll be back next week with more on Voit, Kressler and Miller, and maybe some others if I can catch more of their games.