If there is one clear truth about the Leafs’ offseason, it’s that Kyle Dubas did a great job on the Kasperi Kapanen trade with Pittsburgh. Getting both a mid-first-round pick and neato prospect Filip Hallander was obviously good on its own account, but it also made the NHL entry draft leadup much more interesting than it had been for Leaf fans in a couple of years. 15th overall is right in the range where somebody cool might fall to you.
No one dropped that far compared to pre-draft projections. But Rodion Amirov looked like the best player available at 15th, and the Leafs took him.
We’ve already written a fair bit about Rodion—see here—and since the draft was only two months ago, it still pretty much holds. Amirov is a great skater and transition player. He didn’t blow the doors off to the extent that’ll make you think we just picked up the steal of the draft, but we didn’t reach either, and Kyle Dubas told everyone who wanted the team to pick a big defenceman to shove it. Love you, Kyle.
The Athletic recently did a fun profile of Amirov, where you can find out things like that he had figure skating lessons growing up, which might have something to do with that “best skater in the draft” quote Dubas had about him. He’s pretty slight at this stage in the game, and as with all hockey players he’s probably a bit shorter than he’s listed as being, but I can think of plenty of players who have done just fine at ostensibly six feet tall. Maybe the most encouraging thing would be that Amirov’s brains and versatility, suggesting he’ll be able to fit right in around the stars the Leafs plan to keep for the coming years. Whether Amirov will be a star in his own right is another question.
Amirov, in the words of our own Kevin Papetti, seems like a safe pick. He’s primarily playing for HC Salavat Yulaev of the KHL, which is impressive even in a COVID-warped season, and even given he’s also spent a few games in the VHL. He also went to the international Karjala Cup and dazzled with three goals in three games, being named the best forward at the tournament. He should have a strong showing at the World Junior Championship that’s about to start, where he projects to be one of Russia’s top forwards.
His coach has mostly positive things to say about him while indicating he has a lot to work on. That’s to be expected, and it sounds like Amirov has the drive and the desire to get better. His coach found him not quite ready for KHL second-line duty yet, but indicated his willingness to soak up lessons. Making your coach happy is generally a smart choice at all levels of hockey.
All right, you say, we’ve had enough writing about the player, let’s watch a highlight video with a terrible soundtrack!
Winter Top 25: #6
|Summer 2020 Rank||N/A|
|Birth Date||October 2, 2001|
|Spread in Rank||4|
A significant reason we’re re-doing the T25 this winter is because of Amirov. Sure, there are a surprising number of other new picks as well as Filip Hallander, but Amirov is the new jewel of the system. He represents a big step towards replenishing it after graduations and a couple of dud drafting years left it looking barren. So how do we figure out where to put him?
Plenty of people like to approach rankings like these in tiers. There is a very distinct one at the top, which features the same three stars that have dominated this list since 2016. The next level is for players that have a real shot at being high-impact. As his spot shows, we all agree Rodion belongs in that group. (Glances pointedly at Seldo.)
To put it simply, I’d be surprised if Amirov weren’t a regular NHL forward at some point. With every forward below Hallander on the list, I’d say they’re less likely to make it than not.
Amirov is showing imperfect but impressive development as he pushes for a bigger KHL role at 19. Nick Robertson did unholy things to the OHL for a year before making the Leafs in the qualifying round and potting his first NHL goal. Rasmus Sandin spent half a year looking decent on the Leafs’ third pairing. To me, Robertson has the flashiest single skill, but maybe a little more uncertainty around him given he did most of his damage in the OHL. Sandin is obviously NHL-ready as of this instant, even if it’s in a depth role, but he also likely doesn’t have top pair upside. Amirov looks to me like he falls somewhere between. I anticipate seeing him make it; the question is how big he makes it. If he turns out to be Ilya Mikheyev 2.0, there’s nothing wrong with that, but for a first-rounder you always hold out hope for a true core player.
For that, we’ll have to wait and see how the rest of this ghastly season goes, and how Amirov looks (especially if he comes over to the Marlies next year.) For now, he’s very much still developing. But there’s a lot to hope for here.
Fulemin: I just think he’s neat!
Brigstew: He’s still got that new first round prospect smell. On the one hand that means I don’t know all that much about him, on the other it also means I don’t know enough to really know his flaws or limits. He gets rave reviews as a great skater, reading and anticipating play very well, and both make him seem like a solid all-round winger. The bonus is he has some skill too, for driving play and scoring goals and setting up scoring chances. He was the best non-goalie for Russia when they played in the Karjala Cup with Russia’s WJC eligible roster and beat men’s rosters against other Euro countries. As far as I know, he could be a solid future first liner in the future. I have him in the same tier as Sandin and Robertson as their best prospects not in the NHL yet, and ranked him 6th just because he’s farther away and there’s some more uncertainty.
Katya: Amirov did a stint as the Emergency Top-Six Hologram, and ever since then, the expectation is he should keep that job. That’s the view from the engine of the hype train. Somewhere back a few cars is the more likely take on him. He’s neato. He’s sensible, and a hardworking player who is figuring out the showbiz parts of hockey very young. He’s found a mentor in Igor Larionov [20,000 words on his royal greatness redacted]. He’s going to be someone. Maybe not quite William Nylander, but someone. Nick Robertson level? Yeah, maybe.
Jared: For a guy I knew nothing about until a week after the Leafs traded for the Pens 1st, I’ve nigh on fallen in love with him as a prospect. Full on hype mode for this kid with all those 20 second video clips and snap shot box scores. It’s really fun to get swept up in all that, but there is a good bit of meat behind the hype. He’s basically a coaches checklist of what they want in a player, hard working, smart, skilled, simile, metaphor.
Species: I wanted to rank Amirov at #3, but I couldn’t let go of Willy just yet, so he wound up at #4. Amirov got me to actually wake up really early on Saturday mornings and illegally stream KHL games on sketchy websites that probably installed spyware, but it has been worth it! To watch this guy play, and what he has done, and is doing? It reminds me of waking up early on Saturday mornings in 2014 to watch Willy Nylander on Swedish hockey streams playing for MODO. The excitement at seeing what Amirov can do, the raw skill, the moves; it’s all the same as back then. I can’t wait to see Amirov at the World Juniors, and then in our blue and white uniform.
Where should Rodion Amirov be ranked?
This poll is closed
Higher than sixth (1st to 5th)
Lower than sixth (7th to ∞)
Sixth is about right