Out of the 45 eligible players for the 2021 Top 25 Under 25, the voters left 13 unranked entirely, and that leaves seven as honourable mentions — players who got at least one vote from someone, but ranked below 25th place overall. There’s a lot of familiar faces in this group and that means that with very few players joining the list via the draft, and four players ranked last time leaving the list, some of these familiar faces did not rise up in the ranks.
One of the themes of this year’s T25 is going to be undrafted free agent signings who happen to be under 25 getting some votes. The last really good free agent the Leafs acquired was Trevor Moore. He was so good, he was used in the trade for Jack Campbell. He’s doing well in Los Angeles and had an outstanding performance at the World Championships this summer.
Before we get to the list, now is a good time to cover the voting process and calculation. As we’ve done for a while now, we use a reverse value tabulation of the votes. This allows us to set every non-vote to zero, and a 25th place becomes 1, 24th is 2 and so on. We then sum up the votes and divide by 10, for the 10 voters this year. This means that the zero vote counts against the player, but not disproportionately.
An across the board number one vote for one player returns a result of 25, like Auston Matthews last winter. That’s not very intuitive to use in a conversation, however, so I flip that average back around for our discussion about the voting as we reveal the list. This year, the 25th ranked player has an average vote (flipped) of 24.6. Last winter, the 25th ranked player, Pontus Holmberg, had 23.2. The cause for the very high numbers at the bottom this year is very little disagreement about who sits below a natural break in the rankings that comes fairly high up.
For today, we’re down in the 25 plus range:
Rubins, 24 in December, is the 10th oldest on the list and is a left-shooting defenceman on the Marlies.
Ranked by two voters, one at 23 and one at 24, Rubins has an average of 25.5 and placed 32nd. He’s been an honourable before, and it’s not a surprise he’s where he is again. He also played in the World Championships for Lativia, and will represent that country at the Olympics, if the NHL agrees to go.
Most viewers think decent mid-level AHL defender is his peak ability, and while lovers of tall defencemen think he might go farther, so far there really are no signs of that happening.
Källgren is a recent acquisition. Technically drafted, the original team let his rights expire, and he counts as a free agent signed by the Leafs. The oldest player on our list, he turns 25 in October, and is a goalie with no NHL games players, 2 AHL games, 3 ECHL games, and one season of 21 games in the SHL after a run of three years in Allsvenskan.
With less of a track record than the younger Joe Woll, who got no votes, it’s a little surprising to see Källgren with one 22nd place and one 25th to end up with 25.5 and a tie with Rubins. He’s 31st by virtue of the alphabet putting him ahead.
Koster, only just 20, might well be ranked if he were a forward. But as another left-shooting defender, he hasn’t got the points to get noticed, and playing in the NCAA last year was a good way to fly right under all radars. Drafted by the Leafs in the fifth round in 2019, he’s been passed by other late-round attention grabbers.
Koster did get three votes, a 25th, a 24th and a 23rd, which puts him 30th with 25.4.
Duszak, just re-signed by the Leafs to a new contract is another free agent signing, defender, and repeat honourable mention. He’s a righty, and very offensively focused, which gets him some notice and points in the AHL, but at age 24, he’s in a class with Rubins in most voters’ minds.
Duszak leveraged the alphabet to come in over Koster, but they are tied at 25.4. He has the same three ranks, one each of 23, 24 and 25.
Hollowell, drafted in the fourth round in 2018 and a former Soo Greyhound has been given the “part of the team” PR treatment lately. Our voters aren’t buying it. He is a right-shooting defender, offensively focused, and very similar to Duszak.
Hollowell finished with three votes, two 24ths and one 23rd, which got him to 25.3 and just above Duszak at 28th.
I ranked both of Duszak and Hollowell, and I’m a little surprised how few people had time for the small, puck-moving right-shooting defenders. I don’t buy in on them much either, but I had them ahead of Rubins and Källgren by some margin.
Rindell, drafted in 2020 in the sixth round, in the category of “plays on the same team as...”, in this case, Mikko Kokkonen, has never been ranked high by our voters. Even though he was drafted as an overager, he is only 21, and just out of junior eligibility. He plays a similar role to Kokkonen and is a right-shooting defender with a good Liiga power play shot.
Ranked 27th last year, he comes in at 27th again with an average of 24.9 and one 21st place vote and two at 23rd.
Steeves is a free agent NCAA graduate who will be 22 this December. He is a centre, and therefore has points to look at. Let’s do that. In 2019-2020, a more normal NCAA year than this past one, Nick Abruzzese led the U21 players in the league with 1.42 points per game. Our friend Cole Caufield was 10th with 1 point per game. Steeves was 30th with 0.78. That puts him in a range with some very good players, and some who are less gifted, but got ice time or power play usage. That alone does say he’s worth a look, however, and he was likely a good signing.
This past year, our buddy Caufield led the NCAA in the U22 category with 1.68 points per game, and Steeves was ninth with 1.1 points per game. He had some growth, just not a lot.
Our voters were faced with a very unfamiliar undrafted player who has yet to do more than play as, essentially, an overager in junior hockey. The NCAA gets touted as tougher than the OHL because the players are older, bigger, stronger — MEN! And yet, the numbers say that’s false. There’s lots of big 18, 19 and 20 year old junior hockey players, and the quality of competition in all the CHL leagues surpasses the NCAA.
It’s hard not to assume a player who is around average size for the NHL and who wasn’t outstanding as a teenager went undrafted for a good reason. Moore scored at a considerably higher rate over his full NCAA career and is a little smaller. You have to buy in hard on the late-bloomer theory to buy in on Steeves.
We’ll know as soon as the AHL really gets going what the Leafs have in Steeves and people like me who didn’t rank him might be eating crow. That’s always the outcome we hope for, but I am heavily skeptical he’s ever challenge Adam Brooks for ability.
Steeves finished 26th with a ranking of 24.7 on one 25th, one 24th and two 21st place votes.
And that’s our not quite ranked list this year. Number 25 will be revealed on Monday.